By Carol Tobias, NRLC President & Pro-Life Perspective Host
The fight over euthanasia has not been like the fight over abortion. Indeed, it’s almost been more insidious as pro-death advocates have worked quietly to change laws and redefine medical treatment.
As I noted yesterday, the trends in medical practice, in the courts, and in the legislatures, have been all too clear. The assumptions of 30 years ago, that the presumption in all medical cases is for life, has been virtually reversed. Advocates of euthanasia began in the 1970s by building on an almost universally accepted premised that, in the absence of truly exceptional circumstances, a competent adult may accept or reject any medical treatment. Rooted in the doctrine of informed consent and long accepted by common law, this principle became the starting point for their efforts.
The first step came in the movement from voluntary to non-voluntary deprival of life-saving medical treatment. The case of Karen Ann Quinlan in 1976 inaugurated the doctrine of “substituted judgment” under which it was argued that an incompetent individual could not be deprived of the right to reject medical treatment “merely” because she or he could not choose to do so. Rather, it was held that another party–be it the court, family member, or government bureaucrat–could step in and exercise that right on the incompetent person’s behalf. Ignored was the person’s parallel right to choose to accept treatment–to choose life.
The next steps were to move from rejection of medical treatment to rejection of food and water, initially for a competent adult and then through “substituted judgment” for an incompetent person who had never expressed an opinion. At first, the rejection for food and water meant “artificially administered” food and water, but soon it included spoon feeding.
Direct killing was first legalized by a 1994 referendum in Oregon, whose assisting suicide law became effective, after withstanding court challenges, in 1997. While the Oregon law, on its face, legalizes only voluntary killing, both court precedents and the words of euthanasia advocates strongly suggest they will move to include non-voluntary – or surrogate authorized – killing once the first step gains a sufficient foothold. In the Netherlands, the first country in modern times to legalize assisted suicide, official government reports have found that over 1 out of 10 cases of active euthanasia occur without the consent of the person being killed.
Meanwhile, in 1992, the state of Virginia passed a statute explicitly legalizing involuntary denial of treatment when a doctor thinks a patient’s expressed desire for life would be “medically or ethically inappropriate.” Fortunately, some years later Virginia amended the law to at least give patients a limited time to transfer to a more sympathetic health care provider before treatment is cut off. Again, the Netherlands points the way on direct killing: active euthanasia leader Dr. Pieter Admiral openly predicts that in the future, direct killing will be involuntary as well.
In this context, two things are necessities if we wish to save our own lives and those of our families. First, we must individually get all of our family members to sign a Will to Live to protect themselves – and ourselves – from the now-commonplace non-voluntary denial of treatment, food, and fluids to those who have never made their preferences clear. It would also protect them from the very real possibility of non-voluntary lethal injections to come.
The Will to Live is a pro-life living will developed by National Right to Life. However, it differs in that it makes a presumption for life-saving medical treatment.
Second, we must collectively press, at the minimum, for legislation that will protect us from involuntary denial of treatment, food, and fluids despite our Wills to Live.
All of this may seem like science fiction, but unfortunately it is not. Protect yourself and your family. Visit www.nrlc.org/MedEthics/WilltoLiveProject.html and download your Will to Live today.
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