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Euthanasia Replacing Medicine

Gary L. Morella

Many questions rise regarding the application of physician-assisted suicide. In particular there is this one, "How do we strike a rational balance among all the considerations and ensure approximate 'equal justice under the law'"? Typically, advocates admit to "not having answers to these questions," but go on to offer some interesting "suggestions".

One suggestion that I've noted deserves examination: "In the absence of a power of attorney the patient-doctor relationship should be the main focus on terminal decisions. If, however, medical personnel refuse to follow patients' wishes ... they should be subject to legal liability."

An old woman in a hospital bed
Protect your loved ones from euthanasia
What do you do when someone in a fit of despair is heard to say, "I don't want to live any longer", and horror of horrors, a family member, neighbor or "friendly" doctor just happens to take this literally? Is this carte blanche for the plug to be pulled on this individual's life should he find himself incapacitated in a hospital at some future date?

If so, the Hippocratic oath has become the "hypocritical" oath, and no medical professional could ever be trusted - which is the consequence of subjecting caregivers to "legal liabilities" for keeping patients alive. Legal liabilities for keeping patients alive - is this what advocates call a "rational balance"? If something sounds wrong, more often than not, it is. Such uncertainty and confusion demonstrates why there are no strictly legalistic answers to these questions.

According to a Dutch Commission report, 11,800 patients were euthanized in 1990 through active measures, most often by administering lethal drugs, and 5,941 of these were performed without the patient's consent. Only 400 patients opted for assisted suicide. An additional 13,506 patients were denied "non-futile medical treatment with intention to terminate life," a practice the Dutch call "euthanasia by omission" because it denies lifesaving treatment. The great majority of these cases, 64%, involved persons who had given no prior consent to such a fate.

A Dutch physician, Richard Fenigsen, in the Journal of Issues & Law & Medicine states, "Euthanasia is not just changing medicine; it is replacing medicine. This suppression of traditional medical thinking, medical working habits, and the medical way of reacting to events has an impact on both the emergency care and the long term care of patients."

Fenigsen describes several case studies. In one teaching hospital, anesthetists stopped providing anesthesia for cardiac surgery involving Down's syndrome patients. In other cases, hospitals and doctors refused to apply simple, lifesaving measures to patients whose lives they determined were "unlivable."

In one case, a physician did not administer insulin to a 6-year old, mildly retarded boy who developed juvenile diabetes, thereby causing his death. In another, a doctor persuaded an elderly woman to stop taking medicine needed to treat an enlarged heart because she was living a "limited life" - she depended on several medications, needed help cleaning her house, and could walk only a few blocks at a time.

In all, 65% of Dutch doctors believe that physicians may propose active euthanasia to patients who do not ask for it themselves, according to Dutch surveys.

A study recently published in the British medical journal Lancet looked at patients who expressed a desire to end their own lives - the sort of patients who would be most likely to seek a physician's help in committing suicide. Doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that 80% of such individuals were suffering primarily from clinical depression, rather than from unendurable pain. With the help of modern pain-killing medication, most terminal cancer patients can be spared extreme suffering, the researchers point out.

Chris Korda holding a protest sign

The crazy Church of Euthanasia founded by singer Chris Korda, above
Since clinical depression can be treated successfully through the use of medication and counseling, the Lancet report suggests that four out of five potential candidates for physician-assisted suicide could change their minds with appropriate medical diagnosis and treatment.

More to the point, if 80% of the people who opt for suicide are clinically depressed, it follows that an overwhelming majority of such individuals are not able to make clear and logical decisions. Thus, prudent lawmakers should protect these vulnerable patients from the potential consequences of a decision they might make under the influence of an emotional disturbance.

In the United States, the movement to make assisting suicides legal was made virtually inevitable by the Supreme Court's creation of a right to abortion, since in effect abortion is nothing more than pre-natal euthanasia and euthanasia is post-natal abortion.

Since we have made it legal to destroy human lives for the convenience of others via abortion, what's to stop us from terminating dear ole Mom and Dad when they become inconvenient? After all, isn't inconvenience - situated on the extreme ends of the bell curve of life - defined by those currently in power? Minus a moral compass rooted in recognizing universal truths, the answer is quite simply, nothing stands in the way.

As Judge Robert Bork has pointed out in Slouching towards Gomorrah, "It is ironic that our supposed 'freedom' to choose death has made it far easier for others to choose our death, as the autonomy is often theirs, not ours."

Posted May 1, 2009

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