Health News Digest

aid in dying

April 8, 2019

A Look At Aid In Dying

By Michael D. Shaw

According to Compassion & Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), Aid in Dying is: A medical practice that allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults to request a prescription for life-ending medication from their physician, which the person may self-administer if and when s/he chooses. Another not quite so euphemistic term for this is “Physician-Assisted Suicide.”

The first country to legalize euthanasia was the Netherlands, under the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act, (effective 2002). Several provisions apply:

  • The patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement.
  • The patient’s request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request cannot be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness, or drugs).
  • The patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects, and options.
  • There must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above.
  • The death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, and the doctor must be present.
  • The patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents).

However, disturbing facts are emerging from this country, as the practice becomes more established. In 2017, it was reported that euthanasia was responsible for 4.5 percent of all deaths, and this includes a number of people who were not terminally ill. For example, there was the widely publicized case of 29-year-old Aurelia Brouwers. She had no terminal illness, but had some psychiatric issues, her physical health was fine, and she was completely coherent. “I’m stuck in my own body, my own head, and I just want to be free,” she said. “I have never been happy…I don’t know the concept of happiness.” Her own doctors would not approve the procedure, so she had to take her case to a special last resort clinic in the Hague.

Apparently, some good Dutch folks killed in this manner had no say whatsoever. Official statistics admit to 431 assisted suicides classified as “termination of life without request.” In April, 2011, an article entitled “Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls” is quite troubling, with its litany of reported abuses.

It is noted that during World War II, the Netherlands was the only occupied country whose doctors refused to participate in the German euthanasia program–considered a war crime. As Malcolm Muggeridge observed…

“Surely some future Gibbon surveying our times will note sardonically that it took no more than three decades to transfer a war crime into an act of compassion, thereby enabling the victors in the way against Nazism to adopt the very practices for which the Nazis had been solemnly condemned at Nuremberg.”

Regarding the situation in the US, aid in dying is currently legal (via state law) in Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. In Montana, it is mandated via court ruling. Oregon holds the distinction of being the first state to legalize euthanasia, under its Death with Dignity Act (1997). Here again, it was originally geared toward the terminally ill, but numerous abuses have occurred, including…

The Act applying to three patients with no known illness at all; 19 patients who died from the drugs, having been diagnosed as having less than six months to live in previous years; and such conditions as “benign” and “uncertain” tumors. As to the promised “sure and peaceful” deaths, this is not always the case, and problems here are not generally documented.

The American Medical Association’s stand on assisted suicide is quite clear: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.” Still, this topic is contentious within the organization.

In a stinging and scrupulously footnoted 2010 article, distinguished Washington State-based attorney Margaret Dore sums it up this way:

Death with Dignity Acts in Oregon and Washington State are not about patient “choice” and “control.” These laws instead enable people to pressure others to an early death or to even cause that death on an involuntary basis. What was previously “homicide” is now “death with dignity.” Elderly persons with money, i.e., the middle class and above, appear to be especially at risk. Don’t let “death with dignity” come to your state.