A Modest Brief Against Euthanasia
I believe a distinction can be made between active and passive euthanasia.
First of all, I understand the argument
that Rachels and others make, and it is a very powerful one. It is also a
consequentalist argument in that the doctor is responsible for the
patientís death, regardless of whether he causes the patientís death
It should be remembered that active
euthanasia involves a doctor injecting a foreign substance into a patient
with the explicit purpose of killing. The purpose isnít to heal or end
suffering Ė it is to hasten death. Now, I donít feel that a doctorís
role is to prolong life, but to heal and treat pain. If a doctor and
patient determine together that further treatment will not result in a
cure, then I see no problem with a doctor doing his or her best to treat
the patientís pain and allow the patient to die a natural death. That is
what happens in hospices all across the country.
I do not dispute that the result will be
the same Ė death. But the doctor has not actively killed the patient Ė
rather, he and the patient have determined that no cure is possible, so
they decide to let nature take its course. The doctor doesnít kill, the
illness does. In the meantime, the doctor makes the patientís last days
as pain-free and dignified as possible.
It is self-evident that this distinction
is vital to the non-consequentalist. In addition, to those who believe in
God (as I do), it leaves open the possibility of divine intervention,
which keeps hope alive, for the patient and the family.
The Right to Die
If the right to die is truly universal,
then it reasonably follows that all people have the right to exercise it
if they wish. They could also choose to not exercise it, but that
doesnít mean they donít possess the right to do so.
The point was made during presentation
that a healthy person could not expect a doctor to aid in a suicide
request. The question is, why not? If the right to die is universal, and
if every person truly has it, then it canít be limited to only one
segment of the population. If the terminally ill have the right to die,
then everyone has to have it. Otherwise, itís not a universal right.
If healthy people cannot choose to
exercise this right, then in reality they do not have the right at all.
What the right to die advocates are saying is that all people have the
right to die, but all people doesnít include the healthy. This is a
The Slippery Slope
I learned in Philosophy 101 at Glendale
College that the slippery slopes was a logical fallacy, and I generally
agree, except when one has been demonstrated. Then itís not a fallacy,
but a reality. Which leads me to the Dutch.
In 1991, the Dutch government produced
what came to be known as the Remmelink Report Ė the first official
government study about the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands.
According to the report, in 1990:
- 1,040 people died from involuntary
- 14% of those were fully competent
- 72% had never indicated that they
wished to end their lives
- In 8% of those cases, the doctor had
performed euthanasia despite the fact that they believed other options
were still available
- In addition to 1,040 deaths, another
4,941 people were intentionally issued an overdose of painkillers
without their knowledge or consent.
- The majority of all euthanasia deaths
These numbers do not include cases in
which life-sustaining treatment was withheld or withdrawn without the
patient's consent and with the intention of causing the patient's death,
nor in cases of involuntary euthanasia performed on disabled newborns,
children with life-threatening conditions, or psychiatric patients.
These facts are rather alarming, and
point to the direction that legalized euthanasia inevitably leads. A case
study will further illustrate the potential (and reality) for abuse.
A Dutch doctor diagnosed a woman with
cancer. He checked her into the hospital on a Thursday and began
treatment. The treatment was quite successful. By Saturday she was
showing definite signs of improvement. On Sunday he was quite hopeful
she would fully recover. On Monday he came to visit and there was a
different patient in her bed. He asked the hospital staff where they had
moved her. "Oh", a resident replied, "we needed the bed,
so we gave her the injection last night". He meant a lethal
injection, of course.
It shouldnít be surprising that
subsequent reports show that many elderly people in Holland are afraid to
be admitted into hospitals, and even older Dutch doctors are fearful of
becoming patients in their own hospitals.
As the Dutch model demonstrates, legal
euthanasia does not lead to greater liberty or individual freedom, as its
advocates claim. Instead, it produces a whole class of disposable people,
who, as former Colorado Governor Roy Romer said, have an ďobligationĒ
to die and get out of the way.
The lessons of history (and particularly
the twentieth century) should show us the folly of such a gross
devaluation of human life.