The debate that surrounds euthanasia and assisted suicide has been going on for centuries. Beginning in ancient Greece, it has played out in various forms over the years with proponents and opponents giving voice to their views on this sensitive and emotional subject. Today we are facing a push by those in favor of euthanasia and assisted suicide to gain widespread public acceptance of these practices and legalize them in countries around the world. The United States is currently faced with health care reform that may open the door for euthanasia and assisted suicide, all in the name of “cost cutting” and “efficiency.”
Definitions and Legality
Assisted suicide is the process by which an individual, who may otherwise be incapable, is provided with the means (drugs or equipment) to commit suicide. In some cases, the terms “aid in dying” or “death with dignity” are preferred. These terms are often used to draw a distinction from suicide; in some legal jurisdictions, “suicide” (whether assisted or not) remains illegal, while “aid in dying” is permitted.
The term euthanasia refers to an act that ends a life in a painless manner, performed by someone other than the patient. This may include withholding common treatments resulting in death, removal of the patient from life support, or the use of lethal substances or forces to end the life of the patient.
In her article “Prescribing Death – Euthanasia Exposed,” Carrie Gordon Earll explains clearly the differences between euthanasia and one type of assisted suicide. “The terms “physician-assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” are often used interchangeably. However, the distinctions are significant. The act of physician-assisted suicide involves a medical doctor who provides a patient the means to kill themselves, usually by an overdose of prescription medicine. Meanwhile, euthanasia in the true sense of the word involves the intentional killing of a patient by the direct intervention of a physician or another party, ostensibly for the good of the patient or others. The most common form of euthanasia is lethal injection. Euthanasia can be voluntary (at the patient’s request), non-voluntary (without the knowledge or consent of the patient) or involuntary (against the patient’s wishes).
As of 2009, forms of assisted suicide or euthanasia are legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States. Assisted suicide is legal in the three American states of Oregon (via the Oregon Death with Dignity Act), Washington (by Washington Initiative 1000), and Montana (through a trial court ruling).
Assisted suicide and euthanasia reflect how we value life for all people – including the elderly and those that suffer with disabilities and illness. It is clear that there are vulnerable populations that must be protected legally, socially and medically. These people must be given the greatest amount of care possible, not ushered toward premature death through legislation, policies, lack of appropriate treatment, etc. Once the door is opened to allow “aid in dying,” we fundamentally and irreversibly change the way we view human life and the value we put on it.
Supporters of assisted suicide and euthanasia express the need for compassion and dignity as terminally ill people struggle in pain at the end of their lives. No one would argue against a need for compassion and dignity as people struggle in pain, but as one author put it, this is truly “compassion run amok.” Compassion does not require taking the life of someone, even if they are enduring great difficulty and pain. Voices now speak out in favor of allowing severely depressed people, even teenagers, to end their lives. We cannot accept the notion that some people deserve to live more than others, and allow society to embrace policies that promote the killing of a vulnerable segment of our population.
Carrie Gordon Earl explains that “physician-assisted suicide opens the door to euthanasia abuses. Allowing physicians to cross the line into killing does not stop with willing patients who request it. A case in point is in The Netherlands where doctors have practiced physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia for more than a decade. Two Dutch government reports, conducted in 1990 and 1995, found that, on average, 26 percent of euthanasia deaths in Holland were “without the explicit consent of the patient.” In 1995, 21 percent of the patients who were killed without consent were competent. Dutch physicians have also extended the practice of euthanasia to include comatose patients, handicapped infants and healthy but depressed adults. In 1996, a Dutch court found a physician guilty of euthanizing a comatose patient at the request of the patient’s family. Although the court determined the patient was not suffering and did not ask to die, the doctor was not punished. In 1995, Dutch physician Henk Prins was convicted of giving a lethal injection to a baby born with a partly formed brain and Spina bifida. The court refused to punish Prins. Likewise, though psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot was found guilty in 1994 of prescribing a fatal dose of sleeping pills for a woman who was suffering from depression, Chabot was not penalized. That same year, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that physician-assisted suicide might be acceptable for patients with unbearable suffering but no physical illness. A 1996 survey of Dutch psychiatrists found 64 percent of those responding “thought physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric patients could be acceptable.”
While these examples may seem extreme, they reflect a view that not all people should be allowed to live, especially when there are financial costs to consider.
“Escalating health care costs coupled with a growing elderly and disabled population set the stage for an American culture eager to embrace alternatives to expensive, long-term medical care. The so-called “right to die” may soon become the “duty to die” as our senior, disabled or depressed family members are pressured or coerced into ending their lives. The move toward managed care also threatens to promote euthanasia as more and more doctors are offered financial incentives to decrease the number of health care dollars spent per patient.
Another concern among opponents of physician-assisted suicide is that legalizing the practice will make patients vulnerable to coercion by family members who are motivated by fear or greed. Physician-assisted suicide also threatens the doctor-patient relationship by endangering the trust patients have in their physician.”
UK and Canada
The debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia is continuing around the world. In early July, Lord Falconer proposed an amendment in the UK House of Lords that would decriminalize the actions of people who help others commit suicide. This amendment is believed to be the result of recent highly publicized cases in the UK of people seeking assisted suicide services in Switzerland at the Dignitas clinic. These cases have been discussed in the media with a focus on the unfair laws that forced the families to seek treatment outside England. Their solution is to attempt to change the laws of England.
The amendment was defeated, however, due to the efforts of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, another member of the House of Lords. She was born with a degenerative muscular condition and understood fully the implications of such an amendment. She spoke in opposition to the amendment and circulated a letter of opposition which was signed by many organizations that support individuals with disabilities.
Canada is also currently grappling with the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia. In early July, Bloc Québécois Francine Lalonde introduced for the third time a private member’s bill in the House of Commons that would allow doctors to end the life of a patient in certain circumstances. It has received a first reading and is likely within the next month or two to receive the standard one-hour of debate by MPs at second reading unless an election is held. A majority vote could send her bill for study by a Commons Committee.
As U.S. President Obama’s healthcare reform plan, H.R. 3200, makes its way through the House of Representatives and the Senate, it has touched off more debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide. “A health economist warns that President Obama’s government-run healthcare plan may result in denying care to a significant number of Americans, especially senior citizens. Conservative opponents of President Obama’s healthcare plan argue that a government takeover of healthcare will allow Washington bureaucrats to use “comparative effectiveness research” to dictate to doctors which treatments they should prescribe and how much those treatments should cost. Critics say this will lead to rationing of care.”
Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Florida) says the House healthcare bill essentially tells senior citizens to “drop dead.” Despite their promise to care for our seniors, Democrats have decided that it’s too expensive to care for my senior constituents and everyone else’s constituents,” she contends.
President Obama recognizes that under his proposed system there will have to be rationing of care and that it is not feasible to cut costs and give everyone the treatment they may want. In a “town hall” meeting he discussed these issues and left many people wondering if this bill opens the door to a thinly disguised form of euthanasia – simply denying the care needed by elderly or disabled people would most likely hasten their death.
Throughout the world, citizens of a variety of nations are faced with policies and legislation that would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. These practices devalue human life and create a society that takes advantage of its most vulnerable members. In the United States and in Canada we must stand now against legislation and “reforms” that do not value life. We have an opportunity to make our voices heard and stand for life.
We must stand up and let our voices be heard!
– 3 things you can do to stand for life –
1. Let your government officials know that euthanasia devalues life and cannot be accepted in any society that values its citizens.
2. Forward this email to 10 of your friends and family – people must be educated on this issue so that we can make a difference.
3. Donate to UFI – If protecting your life is important to you, please consider making a $25, $50 or even $100 donation today to help us continue to stand for life.
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