Posts Tagged ‘Euthanasia’

The Cruelty of Euthanasia

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

One thing is very clear from the ongoing debate about physician-assisted suicide — the advocates for death are never satisfied and will never give up. The advocates who are pushing for doctor-aided death try to convince people that they’re only interested in helping relieve suffering of people who are close to death with an incurable terminal illness. The reality is that they want to legalize and normalize not just assisted suicide but also euthanasia — a polite name for murder by doctor. Under the guise of “compassion”, they are actually pushing a cruel agenda that stigmatizes and dehumanizes persons with disabilities and that will harm vulnerable people and their families.

This can be seen by the latest initiative from End of Life Choices New York, the leading advocate for legalizing assisted suicide in our state. They have published a document they call the “Advance Directive for Receiving Oral Food And Fluids in Dementia”. The primary stated reason for this document is to enable patients to require their legal representatives and health practitioners to “stop efforts to provide assisted oral  feeding because of an advanced dementia.”

Let’s be clear about this. The document is designed to facilitate and normalize killing patients who do not have a terminal condition, but who are experiencing cognitive decline. It is intended to legally require family members, doctors and other caregivers to obey the directive. The inevitable result – and the explicit intention – is the deliberate killing of patients by dehydration and starvation.

This can be seen by looking at the way the advanced directive works. It is supposed to take effect only if a patient is “in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s or other incurable, advanced dementing disease” and they are unable to make health care decisions or feed themselves.  This is a dangerous definition. While the directive provides a reference to a recognized test for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, there is no definition for the term “other incurable, advanced dementing disease”. So who will decide that? What criteria will they use? Will there be any review by another physician? The risk of abuse is massive.

These triggering conditions contain other dangerous elements. The phrase “unable to make informed decisions” is also used without any further specificity as to what standard will be used or who will make that determination. Again, the lack of clarity opens up a real possibility of abuse, for example collusion between self-interested family members and a doctor who is sympathetic to euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Once the directive takes effect, it gets even worse. It offers the patient two alternatives concerning feeding and hydration. Option A is the most radical, and calls for the withholding of all medication and all food and water under all conditions. Even if the patient is clearly willing to accept food and water by hand, this directive would require caregivers to refuse them and then watch their loved one die of dehydration. It’s mandatory murder by neglect.

Option B also calls for the withholding of all medications and assisted food and water. But it also permits feeding by hand only if the patient meets some very ambiguous and subjective standards, like if she “appear[s] receptive and cooperate in eating and drinking by showing signs of enjoyment or positive anticipation”. It requires denial of all food and water “when I no longer seem to enjoy or appear willing to eat or drink”, or “once I no longer willingly open my mouth or I appear indifferent to being fed”, and adds that “I do not wish to be coerced, cajoled or in any way forced to eat or drink.”

There is no indication who is making these assessments, what standard is to be used, whether there is any review or accountability, and whether there is any opportunity for a patient to change their mind. The use of such vague standards (e.g., “showing signs of enjoyment”, “appear indifferent to being fed”, “cajoled”, etc.) leaves the fate of patients at the whim of some unknown person, who will interpret ambiguous signals from the patient and decide whether they will live or die. The vulnerability to abuse is obvious and severe.

Remember, this directive is not dealing with medical treatments for any kind of disease or disorder – it involves food and water, which are basic human needs. Nor is it limited to simple medical interventions like the insertion of a feeding tube. It would require family members and health professionals to stand idly by while an otherwise healthy patient, who is perfectly capable of eating and drinking with assistance, dies from dehydration and starvation.

One of the critical moments in the history of euthanasia advocacy came in 1920, with the publication in Germany of the book Permitting the Destruction of Life Not Worthy of Life. That book, written by a leading lawyer and an influential doctor, rejected the inherent and equal dignity of human life for those with disabilities, and coined the infamous phrase “lives unworthy of living”. The authors said, “It can in no way be doubted that there are living human beings whose death would be a deliverance both for themselves and society, and especially for the state, which would be liberated from a burden that fulfills absolutely no purpose”.

This is what we are coming to, where people with dementia are deemed to be “lives unworthy of living” and who will be killed by their relatives and doctors. It is cruel and barbarous. We must resist this with all our might.

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.