Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Pandora Box of Euthanasia

The subject of euthanasia is coming before our MP's again.

Several months ago I dedicated some time to preparing an article on euthanasia for the local newspaper, an article which never did get published due to wording restrictions.

Euthanasia is a growing threat throughout the Western world and will likely soon come to a town near you unless Christians get sufficiently energized and organized to put up a strong opposition by means of proclamation of the truth.

I think it would be ideal if our Bishops gave greater attention to this menace than minor issues like capital punishment because legal euthanasia threatens to be a holocaust of far greater proportions than ever abortion could be.

May the Holy Spirit help our Bishops to not wait until the horse has bolted the stable before finally making a little noise in the legislatures and writing a few letters to the Prime Minister or the Minister of Justice.

And if only Catholics would wake up and in a grand enterprise demand accountability of their Bishops to the Magisterium (body of official teachings) of the Church (after first submitting themselves), this would transform the Canadian landscape in so many exciting new ways!

In any case, I present the article here and now.


The Pandora Box of Euthanasia

Some time ago Canada’s Bill C-407 died. But it seems inevitable that a future government is likely to introduce other legislation to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal in Canada.

Polls show that many Canadians are in favour of the notion of legal euthanasia but their support falters when presented with the specifics of following through. Why is this? Quite simply because euthanasia or “mercy killing” reveals itself at the critical point to be much less about “mercy” and much more about “killing.”

The recent case of Terri Schiavo graphically illustrated that distinction. But the urgent question is how might Canadians be best and wisely informed about euthanasia?

Important Definitions

First, two important definitions will be useful. Euthanasia has been described as the deliberate killing of someone by action or omission, with our without that person's consent, for what are claimed to be compassionate reasons. A doctor’s lethal injection is usually implied, thus we have the term PAS, physician assisted suicide.

Palliative care (PC), according to the World Health Organization, is the active total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems is paramount. The goal of palliative care is the achievement of the best possible quality of life for patients and their families.

Philosophy of Euthanasia

Interestingly, in modern times it was the Nazis who popularized the term “euthanasia” which they described as a program to eliminate "life unworthy of life." Some of our current thinking, similar to Nazi philosophy and contrary to age old Christian truth, is in the area of utilitarianism which measures life by its usefulness. People are thereby treated as disposable objects, noticeably so when they no longer show evidence of being useful or productive members of society, or when they become burdensome financially or emotionally to other more productive citizens.

Another faulty foundation of euthanasia is the belief that life has meaning only as long as an individual is achieving goals or receiving pleasure. Pain, suffering or hardship is rejected as having no purpose or value and renders a life “unworthy” to be lived. Proponents of euthanasia also believe that the individual (and nobody else, including God) has the right to choose life or death in “hopeless” situations.

Arguments for Euthanasia

PAS is purported to offer relief from untreatable, chronic, physical (or even mental) pain at the end of life. Yet with conventional medications such as morphine which are able to control up to 97% of pain, it is unlikely that anyone would be required these days to make the awful choice between intolerable pain and suicide.

Incidentally, in Oregon, USA, after the first year of legal euthanasia, all but one individual requested suicide not because of pain but for fear of losing functional ability, autonomy, or control of bodily functions. More than half the doctors surveyed said the main reason given by patients for seeking death was “loss of dignity.”

This naturally brings us to the “dignity” argument for PAS. It is said that suffering and physical deterioration, such as the inability to get out of bed or get onto the toilet, leads to an undignified death. People say they can’t stand the thought of a mother or a husband wiping their behind and they should be spared such indignity by ending their own lives at will.

But someone has wisely said that we cannot simply inject dignity into somebody’s bloodstream when they are at their lowest point. Indeed suffering, sorrow and loss are common to the human experience. Like many of our enjoyable times each one of these painful aspects of life makes us who we are and contributes, with God’s grace, to the richness of our personalities. Dignity is a prized possession derived from a lifetime of such living.

PAS will inevitably lead to the so-called “duty to die.” Do our parents have a duty to die and make room for younger generations? Is this the flip side of the cruel coin that calls to abort babies because they will interfere with the lifestyles and future of parents? Ask many older people and already they report that their one remaining goal in life is not to be a burden to their loved ones. Their rationale for death is their love for family members. To place the serious psychological pressure of choosing death upon vulnerable citizens such as the elderly and disabled because they view themselves as burdensome is surely immoral in itself.

This ‘choice’ mantra of PAS could very well play into the hands of unscrupulous family members who already conspire in a significant amount of well documented elder abuse in this country. Also, having a legal option to die would actually lure vulnerable people into death due to a LACK of choices because they lack good health care, or in-home support, or the prospect of a nursing home terrifies them. This is fake freedom and bogus autonomy.

Any useful discussion of legalized euthanasia must include the reality of depression, since it is the most common factor in requests for PAS. A request for assisted suicide must be considered a call for help. People facing new disabilities or terminal illness frequently go through initial depression and suicidal feelings but later adapt well and find great satisfaction in their lives. Unfortunately this takes longer than the mere two week waiting period proposed by some euthanasia advocates.

Radical exploitation of PAS

Remember Terri Schiavo. It’s a frightening time to be disabled, chronically or terminally ill in Canada. Hospital and healthcare bureaucrats are already assessing quality of life criteria, sometimes overruling doctors’ treatment decisions, sometimes hastening patient’s deaths in an effort to balance dwindling and depleted health care budgets.

Food and fluids are being re-categorized as ‘medical treatment’ to make it ‘ethical’ to remove this most fundamental basic care from the medically vulnerable. A lethal medication is far cheaper than the cost of treatment for most long term medical conditions so if PAS were legalized, the incentive to save money by denying treatment would be overwhelming.

In addition to healthcare economics, other factors such as care giver burdens and prejudice against people with disabilities, the chronically ill and the frail elderly leave the doors wide open for the abuse of legal PAS.

Euthanasia an insatiable evil

Voluntary euthanasia is a stepping stone to involuntary euthanasia. Of course the “experts” will protest but as proof look at the Netherlands where, over the past two decades, they have moved from assisted suicide to active euthanasia. Doctors have decided patients should die without consultation with the patients.

Active euthanasia, which is the legalizing of lethal injections by doctors, is an inevitable next step for Canada if it accepts assisted suicide as a legitimate legal option.

A wise and loving counterproposal

Dr. Barrie deVeber M.D. of Children's Hospital in London sums it up well:

To truly care for a dying person is to ensure that someone is with them in their time of need, that their pain and symptoms are compassionately managed, that their life is treated as sacred until its end.

The determined provision of universal palliative and hospice care services is one powerful means of stopping the call for legalized euthanasia. More research and training in the field of pain control is required, as well as better-funded home-care so that loved ones can be looked after in a comfortable environment as they face their final days.

These are the commitments that Canadians need to be demanding from their elected representatives during this election campaign. It might appear to be a costly proposition but it never costs to live as humane and compassionate people; rather it pays because it promotes the strongest possible society.

What you must do

Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a moral, ethical and financial whitewash! Oppose any political action aimed at legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Advance planning about healthy care is not only for those very sick and very old. Considering that some health care providers have taken it upon themselves to put Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders in place without the patient’s authorization, it’s wise for anyone 18 years or older to have an advanced directive.

The most protective and the most flexible type of advanced directive is the Power of Attorney for Personal Care (health care) which is recognized in all provinces in Canada. With this type of document you designate someone else to make health care decisions on your behalf if you’re temporarily or permanently unable to make these decisions for yourself. Info is available from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition www.epcc.ca or 1-877-439-3348

Canadians at crossroads

Canadians are at a very unique crossroads right now. They are being called upon to decide laws about how they themselves in the not too distant future will be treated during their failing difficult years. If they choose to open the Pandora Box of euthanasia they will be the very ones who first live (and die) regretting it.

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