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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


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 or not.

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 glaring contradiction.

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 euthanasia
  • 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 were involuntary.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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