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Slippery Slope To Euthanasia

February 20, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By MIKE MANNO

“Death with dignity,” they call it; others claim it is a “compassionate choice.” To me it is “doctor-prescribed death.” But no matter what you call it, it is the road to euthanasia; a path that has been tread by far too many venues already.
The concept of voluntary — or even involuntary — death to prevent suffering goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and was a fairly universally accepted proposition in pagan societies. However, as Christianity spread throughout Europe, suicide — voluntary or not — became a moral issue and emphasis was placed on the dignity of life, as society tended to follow the teachings of the Church and life was treated as a gift from God, and disrespect for it was considered sinful.
Challenges to the prevailing Christian view of suicide came over time, but in 1917 a doctor’s public decision to allow a newborn with numerous physical ailments to die rather than perform surgery started a national debate about death and suffering. In the early 1950s several British and American groups petitioned the United Nations to amend its Declaration on Human Rights to include the right of “merciful death,” which included euthanasia.
Then in the 1970s cases like that of Karen Quinlan opened the debate again when the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed Karen’s parents to discontinue their comatose daughter’s respirator. The 1990s saw the rise of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and serious efforts to legalize doctor-prescribed death; a few cases did reach the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled there was no constitutional “right to die.”
Oregon in 1994 then became the first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide, passing its Death With Dignity Act. There followed numerous nations and states which legalized assisted suicide, including the states of Washington, Vermont, Montana, California, Colorado, and the District of Columbia, as well as the nations of Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
Each step along the way the proponents of assisted suicide claim that it is humane, that there are safety precautions, and that it will not lead to euthanasia. Here in Iowa there is a barnyard epitaph that one could use to describe those claims.
In the states, most assisted-suicide laws follow similar patterns. First, a patient must make a request to a physician, who if he approves, must have another physician also approve. The requirement for receiving the lethal prescription is that the patient be of sound mind and have a terminal illness. However, that is no longer the case.
First, terminal illness was defined as an illness or condition that untreated will lead to death within six months. Diabetes and many other conditions qualify, even though, properly treated, a diabetic can live a normal life for many years. In Oregon it was found that some terminally ill patients were taking the “suicide pills” three years after they were prescribed.
The request to a physician usually needs to be written and made in front of a witness. There are no guidelines as to whom that witness need be. So one who stands to inherit or who is just tired of being a caretaker can sign for Uncle Ned and the requirement is met.
After that there is no requirement that there be a witness to the patient taking the drugs; literally, if Uncle Ned is having second thoughts a caretaker could easily slip the drugs into his food. In a survey of Oregon and Washington deaths, the range of time between when the drugs are requested and used is between 15 and 1,009 days, and, of course, some never take the drugs at all, suggesting that there may be a lot of changing of minds.
A safeguard that could have been in the law is that of a psychiatric evaluation before a death-dealing prescription could be writ, but no, it’s not there. In fact, the Oregon Department of Health reported that only 5.5 percent of all such patients received an evaluation.
And, of course, now the purveyors of death are actively seeking the right to serve the mentally ill. Now see how far all the “safeguards” have gone. You don’t need to be terminal, your caretaker can grind up the pills and put them into your oatmeal, and now you need not be of sound mind.
In Delaware, for example, the sponsor of a bill legalizing assisted suicide has amended the bill to include “intellectually disabled” in the definition of terminally ill. According to the bill, an intellectually disabled person will be assigned a social worker to explain things to the patient.
Understand, these are people who — due to their mental impairment — have no right to provide for their own medical care, enter into a simple legal contract, or even vote, yet they are expected to understand what a social worker is telling them about their own “choice” of suicide.
Then there is the question of costs. Dr. Brian Callister, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, was a guest on my old Faith On Trial radio program, where he told of transferring two patients to doctors in California and Oregon. Neither patient was terminal, but in both cases the companies handling the insurance asked if he had thought about assisted suicide for them.
Then there are the well-known stories about Oregon residents who applied for cancer-treating drugs, but were told the state couldn’t pay for the drugs but would pay for a lethal prescription from a death doctor. Think there won’t be pressure on poor old Uncle Ned to seek the less expensive “treatment”?
We keep pushing the envelope and bit by bit we end up equating assisted suicide with euthanasia. Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, is reporting this month that Oregon is debating a bill allowing the withholding of nutrition and hydration from people who are incompetent but not necessarily terminal. What it means is they can be killed by dehydration.
If we are not careful and become too accepting of the mantra of death, we could easily end up like Belgium, where children can now be euthanized, and the Netherlands, where people have been euthanized for such trivial conditions as tinnitus, a ringing in the ears.
There was a troubling case in the Netherlands involving an elderly woman who had signed a directive asking to be euthanized in case of dementia. There was some difficulty with the wording and her intention was not clear. Her doctor was called to her home where she denied that she wanted to die and became quite agitated.
To settle her down, the doctor put a sedative in her coffee and as he attempted to deliver the fatal injection, she fought back. Finally, her family members held her down while the doctor successfully executed the patient.
There was an investigation of the doctor but the appropriate authorities found that he had acted in “good faith.”
In another case a 29-year-old mentally ill woman was euthanized just last month.
It should be noted that both Belgium and the Netherlands permit euthanasia for the mentally ill along with harvesting their organs.
The Dutch National Institute of Health found that between 2012 and 2016 there were 33 cases wherein regulators found that physicians dispensing death had broken at least one rule while providing their services, but none was found to be serious enough to warrant a criminal complaint!
And so it goes, as Andrew T. Walker wrote in National Review, once the regime of death has a foothold it is hard to restrict. And, of course, this doesn’t include efforts by the merchants of death to force reluctant physicians and hospitals to cooperate with killing patients — as reported in my column last week.
Yes, it is very hard to restrict; we’re finding that out now — the hard way.

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