HomeoldDespite “death with dignity” rhetoric, involuntary euthanasia is the ultimate goal

Despite “death with dignity” rhetoric, involuntary euthanasia is the ultimate goal

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In a new article in the journal Bioethics, “On the Moral Acceptability of Physician-Assisted Dying for Non-Autonomous Psychiatric Patients”, author Jukka Varelius openly argues that assisted suicide should be extended to those suffering from any kind of mental distress – even those who never request it,

Given that the suffering of a psychiatric patient can be very severe, and that there are not always adequate means to alleviate it (short of ending the patient’s life), the idea that psychiatrically assisted dying might sometimes be morally acceptable deserves attention. However, it seems that the suffering experienced by psychiatric patients who lack autonomy can be as bad as, if not worse than, that experienced by autonomous or rational psychiatric patients. Accordingly, it may be asked why physician-assisted dying should be limited to the cases of autonomous or rational patients if it is advocated in psychiatry. [internal quotations omitted].

While this argument may seem shocking, especially to those whose lives have been touched by suicide and mental illness, it is what our near neighbours in Canada have just legalised, and it is exactly what the country’s leading euthanasia-promotion organisation, Compassion and Choices (C&C), is aiming for.

C&C, formerly the Hemlock Society, is responsible for promoting dangerous legislation to allow state-sanctioned suicide. Fresh from a major euthanasia victory in California, it will no doubt use the newly enacted assisted-suicide law to motivate death advocates and influence legislators.

While over 25 states did not advance legislation this year, we can be sure that there will be stronger efforts in the next legislative session.

As part of a calculated effort, believing that Americans are not yet ready for widespread euthanasia, C&C is currently promoting the creation of state laws that allow doctors to write lethal prescriptions for patients who request them, as long as some illusory ‘safeguards’ are followed. This type of assisted suicide is legal in 4 states, California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont.* In the two states that have had this law the longest, Oregon and Washington, there is mounting evidence that the safeguards do not work.

There are state-issued reports that provide evidence of non-terminally ill people receiving lethal prescriptions. Furthermore, there is nothing in current law in any state that requires physicians to refer patients for evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist to screen for depression or mental illness. Nor is there such a requirement in any current proposal in any state.

Doctors can make a referral, but they almost never do. In fact, according to official state reports in Oregon, in 17 years of legalised doctor-prescribed suicide, only 5.5% of suicide candidates have been referred for psychological evaluation.

In short, there is evidence that the so-called “safeguards” do not work. Worse, this is exactly what C&C President Barbara Coombs Lee wants. She would prefer to expand the list of those who can receive lethal drugs to include any kind of ailment from which a person believes he or she is suffering.

In the USA Today article “Half of U.S. states consider right-to-die legislation”, Coombs Lee told reporter Malak Monir: “It’s not as simple as pain. Everyone has their own definition of suffering. (emphasis added)

In another telling comment, Coombs Lee congratulated our close neighbours in Canada on their astonishing Supreme Court decision to allow euthanasia for virtually any reason, and possibly for people whose wishes are unknown. In a press release she wrote: “We are encouraged because the availability of aid in dying in Canada will have an impact here, especially in border states like New York and Maine.

The situation in Canada is grim. On 6 February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found a constitutional right to “end life” for anyone with an “irremediable medical condition” who wants to die.

Unlike the doctor-prescribed suicide laws in California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, which are theoretically limited to those with terminal illnesses, the sweeping ruling allows the killing of any Canadian who has a “grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes continuing suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition”.

So even if you don’t live in Canada or one of the states where physician-assisted suicide is legal, if more states join the ranks of California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont – and especially if 2016 sees the election of a president and Senate who are likely to use the next Supreme Court vacancy to nominate and confirm a pro-euthanasia justice – there is a real risk that the US Supreme Court could in the future follow Canada’s lead and rule that there is a federal constitutional right to assisted suicide.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called assisted suicide “an appropriate right to have”.

If the Court were to follow Canada’s example, such a ruling could not, even nominally, apply the right only to the ‘terminally ill’. Instead, it could include anyone who “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes prolonged suffering that is intolerable to the individual”.

Indeed, as in Canada and as argued in the journal Bioethics, the same opinion could suggest that “surrogates” could order the killing of disabled children, mentally ill people or elderly people with Alzheimer’s who have never asked to die but are deemed incapable of deciding for themselves.

No one should assume that the death advocates will stop at voluntary or even involuntary euthanasia. Involuntary euthanasia is the ultimate goal. In a book published in 1998, Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society (a predecessor of Compassion and Choices), wrote in support of the use of assisted suicide as “a cost containment measure”.

“The elderly,” he wrote, “place a burden on the health care system that will only increase and cannot be sustained.” Of people with disabilities, Humphry wrote: “People with chronic conditions account for a disproportionate share of health care utilization, both services and supplies.

He wrote of recognising a ‘duty to die’, citing the precedent of hospital ethics committees, which then, as now, routinely deny life-saving medical treatment and even assisted feeding against the will of patients and their surrogates. Other proponents of the death penalty have made similar predictions about the need to demand that burdensome people with a low quality of life be given lethal prescriptions against their will.

It would be foolish to underestimate the impact of California’s decision. But it is to be hoped that the gravity of this defeat will shock and energise those who recognise that you don’t solve problems by killing those to whom the problems happen.

Instead, it may lead us to redouble our efforts to block the further expansion of the culture of death and, above all, to prevent the election of a president and senators who will use every opportunity to entrench it irreversibly.

*Assisting suicide may have some legal immunity in the state of Montana due to a state supreme court decision.

** Irreversible,” the Canadian Supreme Court stressed, “does not require that the patient be subjected to treatments that are unacceptable to the individual. Thus, as in the Netherlands, a depressed patient who refuses treatment for depression has a “right” to be killed.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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