Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Gard’

Dangerous Signs of the Times

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

We have been fighting against the legalization of assisted suicide for years, and we have been constantly warning about where that would lead — to direct and involuntary euthanasia of vulnerable people. We have been consistently accused of lying, scare-mongering, and exaggerating. But in the past few weeks, we have seen increasingly dangerous signs of the times that have confirmed all of our fears and warnings about the dangers of opening the door to euthanasia.

The first sign was the terrible tragedy of the Charlie Gard case. Charlie was an infant in the United Kingdom who had a very grave genetic disorder that was growing progressively worse. He was hospitalized and he was breathing with the assistance of a ventilator. His parents wished to take him out of the hospital and bring him to other hospitals for an experimental treatment that other medical teams thought had a chance of reversing the course of Charlie’s condition. Astonishingly, the doctors and the hospital resisted that request, and the case went to court. Equally astonishingly, the UK courts ruled that Charlie’s parents could not transfer him to another hospital, nor were they even allowed to bring him home for his last days. He died in the hospital after doctors removed the ventilator, against the parents’ wishes.

Prof. Charles Camosy, a theologian who specializes in medical ethics, has written a penetrating analysis of the case, and some of what he said is worth quoting directly (although you should read the whole thing). Commenting about the court’s decision, he noted that:

Implicit in this judgment is the view that the harm that would have been done to Charlie by his parents was so obvious and of such magnitude that the decision had to be taken out of their hands… Those who held power over Charlie decided that his life was not worth living. They reached this judgment on the basis of his expected mental disability. They denied him treatment, and ordered his ventilator removed, not because of the burden of the treatment, but because of the burden of his life. In a cruel act proposed by doctors, approved by courts, cheered by the press, and blessed by certain high clerics, Charlie Gard was euthanized. It was euthanasia by omission, but it was euthanasia all the same.”

This is chilling indeed, and it is a frightening sign of where medicine is heading. Similar judgments about “quality of life” and “medical futility” are being made in secret all the time by doctors against the desires of patients and even without their knowledge. The result is an unknown number of cases of passive euthanasia – death caused by omitting treatments that would extend life. Legalizing assisted suicide would bring these decisions out of the shadows, and would inevitably increase the number of cases like Charlie Gard’s.

This is not fear-mongering, it’s current events. All we have to do is look at studies of the Netherlands that have recently come out. One study came out in May from the Dutch Regional Euthanasia Commission, the government agency responsible for oversight. The other study was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine just last week.

The NEJM study found some alarming things. Doctors report that 4.5% of deaths in that nation are due to euthanasia. That is a staggering number. If it were in the United States, it would represent almost 120,000 deaths per year and would be the sixth leading cause of death – more than Alzheimer’s, diabetes, suicide, murder or drug overdoses.

Even  more alarming is what was found in the official Dutch study. They reported that euthanasia cases aren’t limited to the superficially sympathetic cases of people with terminal diseases. Instead, there was an increasing number of psychiatric and dementia patients who were being euthanized– 141 in 2016 compared to only 12 in 2009 – and that 431 people had been euthanized without their explicit consent. This is so shocking that one of the leading euthanasia supporters accused the Euthanasia Commission of concealing that “incapacitated people were surreptitiously killed,” and even went so far as to say that “executions” were taking place.

None of this should really be a surprise. As Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht commented, “When one breaks the principle that human life is an essential value, one steps on the slippery slope. Dutch experiences teach that we will be confronted time and again with the question whether the ending of life shouldn’t also be possible with less serious forms of suffering.” The principal author of the NEJM study also saw what was going on: “When assisted dying is becoming the more normal option at the end of life, there is a risk people will feel more inclined to ask for it.”

We cannot afford to ignore what is happening around the world, and we must stop it from happening here. We are talking about the most vulnerable lives – handicapped children, old people with chronic problems, mentally ill people. Health care professionals are already being confronted with the question of whether their lives are worth living. If we allow assisted suicide, it is certain that doctors will become accustomed to doing it and will start recommending it, the secret euthanasia that is already happening will become more mainstream and open, and more people will start asking for it.

Prof. Camosy makes a crucial point that we have to focus our attention on:  “Nothing moral follows from medical facts. Judgments about whether or not treatment is worth pursuing will have to be made. And physicians, even with perfect medical knowledge, are not the best persons to make them.” I would add, neither are the government or insurance companies.

These decisions must be made by families and patients, and we in the Church need to do much more to make sure that they are informed by the truths of Church teaching about the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of condition or capability.