While once commonly understood as "mercy killing," the term "euthanasia" now encompasses acts from lethal injection, to "assisting" in suicide, to withholding basic levels of care from non-terminal patients. In all cases of euthanasia, the action or omission is expressly intended to cause the death of a person.
Traditionally persons suffering from a terminal illness were allowed to die naturally. Under this centuries-old ethic, patients are not obligated to use extraordinary or heroic medical treatment that would only prolong the dying process. Ordinary care and treatment should be provided to all patients to sustain their daily needs and comfort. When a person has clearly reached their "last days," the focus of medical treatment may be switched from curing to caring, but never to killing.
In the name of true human dignity, we commend those in the medical profession who have committed themselves to advancing pain and symptom management and hospice care. Real compassion for the dying comes through meeting all their needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual. The goal must be to eliminate suffering, not the persons who suffer.
When certain issues or proposals of public policy are debated, one often hears the term slippery slope. The debaters assert that certain allegedly benign actions will be the first steep onto a downward slide into a series of increasingly repugnant actions and consequences.
In the case of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, the advocates cannot claim Pro-Lifers and other opponents are engaging in idle speculation. Physician Assisted Suicide will lead increasingly more gruesome consequences. We have history to prove it. It is a current history being lived out in The Netherlands. The physician assisted suicide practice in Holland has led to non-voluntary and involuntary killing of patients by doctors. The Dutch, the people who gave the world Corrie Ten Boom and the family that protected Anne Frank have now turned their back on the old and the frail and permit their doctors to kill them. The Dutch ignored the history of their neighbors, the Germans, and their dealings not only with the Jews and other inferior races but what the psychologists and medical doctors did to the mentally ill and the physically handicapped between the two World Wars. There were in the interbellum period in Germany two parallel lines of thinking, which for brief periods merged into the same track, but were for the most part separate. These two lines of thinking shared common ideas. One line produced the Nazi regime. The other through death emptied the mental institutions and exterminated the handicapped including war veterans. (For a more through discussion of this phenomenon see Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia Past and Present by J. C. Wilke, MD et. al., Hayes Publishing, © 1998.) In the United States, we are already on the slippery slope. The victories won by the advocates of physician assisted suicide had not been consolidated and they were calling for expansion of the practice. History does repeat itself.
One of the nations leading proponents of doctor assisted suicide is Jack Kevorkian. His latest patient (as of March 6, 1998) was his youngest ever, Roosevelt Dawson, 21 years old. Mr. Dawson was quadriplegic. He was paralyzed in his arms and legs due to a viral infection that attacked his nervous system. The question arises: How much assistance does a man without use of his arms or legs need to commit his own death. 50 percent? 65%? 80%? The Associated Press shortly after Dawsons death reported that he had received a lethal injection near his shoulder. It does not take a great deal of careful reflection to realize that most likely the amount of assistance required by Dawson was 100 percent. Does this set circumstances merit the application of the term suicide, or is another term more appropriate?
When dealing with the treatment of the terminally ill, most people do not have a great deal of difficulty if heroic measures are avoided, death results in a very short period of time and the cause of death is the immediate, underlying illness. When deviation from that standard is permitted, serious dangers enter. The case of Roosevelt Dawson tragically illustrates that point.
Overlooked in the public discourse on doctor assisted suicide is that psychiatry has recognized suicide attempts not so much as singled minded desire to die but rather a cry for help and attention. Often times those attempting suicide have suffered from depression which is often treatable. Once the depression is treated, the desire for death subsides.
Brian J. Johnson in Death as a Salesman: Whats Wrong with Assisted Suicide © 1994, 1997, points out that physical pain and emotional suffering are used to argue for the hastening of death. This argumentation does not take into account what modern medicine has learned about pain management. He shows that many physicians practicing today have not had adequate training in pain management and there is a need to upgrade the knowledge of this element of care among those treating the chronically ill. Furthermore, when it comes to emotional suffering, hastening of death not sought so much for the relief of the patient, but for his relatives!
The assisted suicide movement is full of dangers because it sets the nation on a very real slippery slope. It ignores the well-known fact that suicide is a cry for help and responds not with help but death. In the rush to destroy people, not only is the word suicide redefined as so tragically pointed out by the Roosevelt Dawson case, normal care such as food and water are being redefined as medical treatment. In such an ethical environment only the most vigorously health are safe, and they not for long.Euthanasia is widely practiced in Holland, even though it's against the law. It's "overlooked" as long as doctors report the cases to the authorities, knowing that there is an open agreement not to enforce the homicide law. But a recent study (The Dutch Government Report on Euthanasia) reported that only 15% of the Dutch Doctors reported themselves. In 1990, 1030 Dutch patients were killed without their consent. Of these, 140 were fully competent and 110 were only slightly mentally impaired. Another 14,175 patients (1701 of whom were mentally competent) were denied medical treatment without their consent, and died. In the report, the Remmelink Committee documented that 27% of the Dutch Doctors admit to having practiced euthanasia on patients who had not given permission, and 41% would be willing to do so.
Dr. Leon Kass (bioethicist/University of Chicago) voiced his concerns, stating "the trust patients have for their physicians is based on an ancient code of ethics, The Hippocratic Oath, which reads, 'I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect' ". He went on to say that "the very nature of medicine is a healing, not a killing profession".
Imagine this scenario.... "Doctor Assisted Suicide" is legal in Florida.... You've been in the hospital for a long time, and your savings (your children's inheritance) is slowly dwindling away. You're awakened in the night by a nurse coming in to inject a syringe into your IV line,.... Will fear overcome you? It shouldn't.... But it will. Dr. Edmund Pellegrino (Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics at Georgetown University) reported that older and handicapped people are fearful of entering Dutch hospitals. In fact, older Dutch Physicians told him that THEY'RE fearful of entering their OWN hospitals.
If our country succumbs to these "Aid In Dying" initiatives, we'll begin to see "suicide clinics" going up everywhere (as we did with abortion). They'll be staffed by 2 doctors, since 2 will be the magic number required to make the "fatal" decision, who'll target groups representing the elderly, physically and mentally handicapped, as well as family members who are just too inconvenienced to care for their parents (again, just like abortion).
Lawyers are already arguing for the new legal doctrine of "substituted Judgment", where a person's right of "self-determination" is extended to a third party, as in the Nancy Cruzan & Christine Busalacchi cases. Both were brain injured by auto accidents. They were NOT on life support; they were initially hand fed, but had been converted to feeding tubes for long term care. They could follow you around the room with their eyes. In fact, Christine could speak simple words, move her hands and legs ON REQUEST, form emotional attachments, smile, and interact with people in her room. They were NOT dying, and were NOT on any kind of life support systems. But their parents convinced the courts that it was their daughters' wish that they would want to die. Since there was no life support to disconnect, the courts determined "sustenance" to be "life support" and therefore allowed (forced) the medical staff to discontinue their food and water. In essence they were painfully starved and dehydrated. Less than 2 weeks later, both girls were dead.
I might add, that in BOTH cases, Pro-Life organizations petitioned the courts to adopt the girls with the commitment to care for them and work with them for the rest of their lives. Their petitions were denied. The courts decided on behalf of the inconvenienced parents, that they should be killed on the basis of someone else's estimate of what kind of life is worth living.
Derek Humphrey (Founder and President of the Hemlock Society) has also expressed his desire to see "terminal health care" extended to handicapped and Alzheimer's patients. He calls this "compassion", however compassion is CARING for people, making them comfortable, and easing their pain...... Not killing them.
Those in support of Euthanasia are confusing "compassion" with "convenience."
Compiled by Kris Dotts
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