Tag archives: assisted suicide

The UK Is at a Crossroads of Conscience Concerning Assisted Suicide

by Arielle Del Turco

September 16, 2021

A bill proposed in the Scottish Parliament would legalize physician-assisted suicide, adding Scotland to a growing list of countries that allow the practice. What the Scottish Parliament eventually decides to do with the bill will reveal something about the conscience of the nation. Will Scots choose to tell their fellow man their lives are worth living, or not?

Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament, proposed the bill, which would allow terminally ill patients thought to have six months or less to live to choose to end their lives. All forms of assisted suicide are currently illegal across the United Kingdom (UK), but recent polling suggests the UK public is increasingly favorable towards the practice.

Critics of the bill from the medical field say that policies allowing for physician-assisted suicide fundamentally reorient the purpose of medical care. In July, 200 medical professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill, saying, “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life.”

The bill in the Scottish Parliament is part of a wider push for assisted suicide across the United Kingdom. Baroness Meacher introduced a bill in the UK Parliament in May that would similarly legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, demonstrating a failure to acknowledge that any person—even those who are terminally ill—who seeks to end his life is in need of love, support, and treatment for depression.

UK Bishop John Sherrington warned of the dangers of a gradual expansion of the criteria by which one might be eligible for physician-assisted suicide. Indeed, other European countries have slipped further down this dangerous slope. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands allow physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons, even for patients in perfect physical health. Such an allowance makes it clear that a state’s endorsement of assisted suicide is really an endorsement of all suicide. Not surprisingly, both countries have seen a sharp rise in assisted suicide in recent years.  

A major victory for proponents of assisted suicide was announced on September 14 when the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue when they had previously been against it. The vote was narrow—with 49 percent of the association in favor and 48 percent against the “neutral” stance—but the effects will be substantial. Members of Parliament had often pointed to the medical community’s opposition to assisted suicide when Parliament voted against it previously.

Proponents of assisted suicide say they are motivated to end physical suffering. But the reality is that many patients who choose assisted suicide do not cite pain as the primary reason. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund reports:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the people in Oregon who have reportedly used that state’s assisted suicide law wanted to die not because of pain, but for reasons associated with disability, including the loss of autonomy (89.9 percent), the loss of the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable (87.4 percent), the loss of dignity (83.8 percent), and the loss of control of bodily functions (58.7 percent). Furthermore, in the Netherlands, more than half the physicians surveyed say the main reason given by patients for seeking death is “loss of dignity.”

The legalization of assisted suicide is intrinsically linked with devaluing the lives of people living with disabilities. While the reasons many people choose assisted suicide are not related to pain and suffering, they are related to struggles people with a disability face every day. Although not everyone with a disability has a terminal illness, everyone with a terminal illness eventually develops a disability. Society cannot condone those with terminal illnesses killing themselves without simultaneously condoning those with disabilities killing themselves. The message to those with disabilities is loud and clear: a life with a disability is not worth living. 

In addition, a 2007 study about assisted suicide patients in the state of Oregon found that 45 percent of assisted suicide patients made that choice out of fear of becoming a burden to their families. Thus, assisted suicide does not primarily serve to end suffering, as its advocates would have us believe.

Elderly patients, especially those who fear being a burden, are vulnerable to manipulation or family pressure, and it can be difficult to comprehensively safeguard against this. Even knowing that assisted suicide is an option can pressure some people into choosing death if they think they will become a future burden to their family or society. Instead of offering them assisted suicide, these concerns should be met with assurances that their lives are worth living and that we are prepared to love and support them to the end.

At its core, assisted suicide promotes a false compassion. It benefits caretakers or families who prefer not to observe or care for someone experiencing trials at the end of their lives, rather than the patients themselves. We ought instead to exercise true compassion, the root of which means to “suffer with.”

Even if assisted suicide was primarily utilized to end suffering, it focuses the efforts of doctors, medical professionals, policymakers, and others toward the wrong goal. The goal ought not to be ending human suffering at all costs. In a broken world, suffering will always be with us.

An appropriate goal that truly treats humans with dignity is to love people well by providing everyone with the best medical care, emotional and spiritual resources, and community support possible until their lives come to natural ends.

Doctors should be focused on healing patients and enabling them to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Premature death is not an equally valid option in the category of health care—rather, it sidesteps health care entirely.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the issue this fall, and the UK House of Lords will debate its bill later this year. One thing is for sure—this issue will test the conscience of the people. Concerned individuals should reach out to their members of Parliament about the dangers of assisted suicide and the value of all human life.

Those in favor of assisted suicide have co-opted the phrase “death with dignity,” but they fail to recognize that human dignity cannot be taken away by life’s circumstances.  It is because human beings have dignity that all people must be loved, supported, and cared for until natural death.

Terri Schiavo and the Slippery Slope of Assisted Suicide

by Worth Loving

May 23, 2019

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” -The Hippocratic Oath

On March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo died after nearly 14 days without food or water. Over 14 years have passed since her court-ordered death by starvation and dehydration. Even as I write this, Vincent Lambert, dubbed the “French Terri Schiavo,” is facing the same death that she faced unless the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities intervenes. Recently, a so-called “right-to-die” or “death with dignity” bill was passed by the New Jersey legislature and signed by Governor Phil Murphy. In Maryland, a similar bill passed the House of Delegates but failed in the state Senate by one vote. Last month, the Nevada legislature defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide. Amid the renewed debate on such legislation, it’s important to understand the implications of such laws and how the story of Terri Schiavo relates to them.

Terri Schiavo’s Story – Timeline of Events

In the early morning of February 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed at her home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Although no diagnosis was made, her medical records indicate a deprivation of oxygen to the brain. After being placed on a ventilator for the first few weeks following her collapse, it was soon removed, and she was able to breathe on her own for the rest of her life. The collapse left Terri with limited ability to communicate or move. Due to difficulty swallowing, a feeding tube was inserted to keep her nourished and hydrated.

In June of 1990, Terri’s husband, Michael, was granted healthcare power of attorney status because Terri had not designated a healthcare power of attorney in the event she could not speak for herself. She also began physical therapy at a rehabilitation facility in Florida where she would say words like “No,” “Stop,” and “Mommy.” In July of 1991, Terri’s physical therapy sessions were mysteriously stopped. This was the last documented therapy that Terri ever received.

In 1998, the fight for Terri’s life began. With the help of right-to-die attorney George Felos, Michael Schiavo filed a petition to withdraw life support. Judge George W. Greer heard Michael Schiavo’s petition in January of 2000. In his testimony, Michael Schiavo stated that Terri had told him in the 1980s that she would not want life support. Convinced by the testimony, Judge Greer ordered that Terri’s feeding tube be removed. On February 11, 2000, Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, appealed the order to the Second District Court of Appeals, which agreed with Judge Greer’s ruling. Both the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case.

On April 21, 2001, Judge Greer’s order was carried out and Terri’s feeding tube was removed. But after over 60 hours without food and water, a judge issued an injunction, allowing the feeding tube to be reinserted. Judge Frank Quesada ordered that Terri’s case be reheard based on new evidence. In October, Judge Greer denied a Motion for Relief from Judgment filed by Terri’s parents based on new evidence and testimony that Terri’s neurological condition had improved. After Terri’s parents appealed the ruling, Judge Greer was forced to hold a medical evidentiary hearing.

In October 2002, Judge Greer held the medical evidentiary trial. Florida law defined a persistent vegetative state as the “total absence of awareness and ability to communicate.” However, Terri did not meet this definition as she was able to, albeit on a very basic level, respond to her surroundings and communicate with her family. Judge Greer ignored this evidence and ordered her feeding tube removed once again, at the mandate of the Second District Court of Appeals.

Terri’s story gained nationwide attention in October 2003 after Judge Greer had ordered her feeding tube to be removed. At least 180,000 people had signed a petition to Governor Jeb Bush, requesting that he invoke Florida’s Adult Protection Custody statutes based on allegations of neglect. Five days later, Governor Bush called a special session of the Florida legislature. Both the Florida House and Senate passed Terri’s Law, granting Bush the authority to order Terri’s feeding tube to be reinserted.

Michael Schiavo’s right-to-die attorney George Felos immediately challenged the constitutionality of the law. Judge Baird of the Sixth Circuit ruled Terri’s Law unconstitutional on May 5, 2004. His ruling was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Terri’s feeding tube was removed for the third and final time on March 18, 2005 at the order of Judge Greer. In a rare weekend session, Congress passed the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo Act, which allowed Terri’s parents to have a federal court review their case. Robert and Mary Schindler’s subsequent request was denied by both U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore and the U.S. Supreme Court.

At 9:05 a.m. on March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo died from severe dehydration. But Terri’s story did not end there—it was only the beginning. Her death ignited a powerful movement to save thousands of other Americans like her.

Death Without Dignity

The so-called “right-to-die” or “death with dignity” movement has established a powerful influence, particularly in the medical community. They have been able to successfully reclassify a feeding tube as “medical treatment,” making it somehow acceptable to starve and dehydrate an innocent human being to death even though we all need food and water to survive. But perhaps even more disturbing is how they have convinced the general public that some people’s lives are not worth living because of their age, illness, or disability.  

The effectiveness of the death with dignity movement, coupled with changes in public policy, now puts the lives of many people like Terri in the hands of doctors, medical boards, and ethics committees. In other words, families are being completely removed from the decision-making process of what care their family member should receive.

Contrary to the picture painted by Michael Schiavo’s attorney, right-to-die advocates, and the mainstream media, Terri Schiavo’s death was anything but “peaceful and painless.” After nearly two weeks without food or water, Terri’s lips were extremely cracked and blistered. Her skin began turning different shades of yellow and blue. Her breathing became shallow and rapid, and her moaning indicated the excruciating pain she was experiencing. Her face became extremely thin and bony, with her teeth protruding forward. Blood began to pool in her deeply sunken eyes.

This is the way Terri Schiavo died. Anyone who calls this type of death “peaceful and painless” is either ignorant or lying. There is a reason the court ordered no cameras or video in Terri’s room—they wanted to hide the truth and conceal a murder.

The Spread of Assisted Suicide and Its Slippery Slope

Laws decriminalizing assisted suicide are gaining traction. Currently, seven states plus the District of Columbia allow physician-assisted suicide. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that nothing in state law prevented a physician from helping a terminally ill, fully aware patient commit suicide. Twenty states are debating such legislation this year alone. And while right-do-die advocates argue that these laws allow people to die with dignity, the case of Terri Schiavo proves otherwise.

Assisted suicide laws put the United States on a very slippery slope, a slope that will ultimately lead to more cases like Terri Schiavo. Most “death with dignity” laws require a doctor’s prognosis of six months or less to live in order to administer drugs that will end the patient’s life. And although doctors have far more knowledge than the average person, a prognosis is still an educated guess. That person could live weeks, months, or even years after their predicted death date. In short, assisted suicide laws could kill people who have a lot of life left to live.

Furthermore, assisted suicide opens the door to euthanasia. Assisted suicide always requires the patient’s consent and participation to hasten death, whether by taking lethal drugs or other means. Euthanasia, on the other hand, does not require the patient’s participation but can be administered completely by a doctor. Even more disturbing, not all euthanasia is voluntary. Some patients are euthanized without the consent of themselves or their family.

For example, last month, Fairview Hospital in Edina, Minnesota had threatened to remove oxygen from Catie Cassidy, a 64-year-old lung cancer patient who would have suffocated to death without oxygen. In video documented by the Life Legal and Defense Foundation, Cassidy clearly states that she wants to live. Thankfully, the Life Legal and Defense Foundation won her case and she continues to receive oxygen. But Catie Cassidy’s story represents what will happen when patient consent is disregarded and families are excluded from end-of-life decisions. As the government takes over more and more of the health care sector, they will naturally be more involved in the decision-making process. What is stopping governments from passing laws to weed out the disabled, elderly, or terminally ill—people who some would say cannot contribute anything to society?

In fact, this is already happening. Oregon, ironically the first state to legalize assisted suicide in the U.S., passed a law last year allowing patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental illnesses to be starved and dehydrated to death. If the patient had not previously given directions about their healthcare (known as a “contrary advanced directive”) should they become mentally impaired, this bill now allows caretakers to deprive the patient of food and water. Countries that have had assisted suicide for years now—like Canada and the Netherlands—are now looking to expand their laws to allow for more and more assisted suicides, even for those who haven’t requested it. This is eerily reminiscent of the eugenics espoused by Charles Darwin and put into practice by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. It is also the premise upon which Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood. America, the freest nation in the world, will cease to be free if it embraces these philosophies.  

Life is Precious at All Stages

Who are we to decide when a person should die or when a life is not worth living? Just because a person cannot care for themselves doesn’t mean they can’t contribute something to society, as Terri Schiavo’s life so clearly demonstrated. All life is precious and created in the image of God. We all have something to contribute, regardless of our age, disability, illness, or prognosis. As a nation that boasts of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” we must protect life at all stages—from conception until natural death. 

Enlightened Death: The Argument for Assisted Suicide

by Sharon Barrett

November 19, 2012

Since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, science has offered a panacea for mans problems. From the vaccine to the internal combustion engine to the computer chip, man has discovered that whatever his need happens to be whether it is transportation, communication, or that all-important commodity, health he can invent a solution and put it on the market.

The Enlightenment worldview affected more than Western cultures view of science and technology. It also affected our view of God first, by denying His supernatural intervention in the world, and second, by rendering His moral revelation unnecessary.

As a result, human needs and desires replaced transcendent truth as mans measure of morality. For instance, Frances Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, adopted in 1789 in the wake of the bloody French Revolution, declares that law and government derive their authority from the general will of the people. In other words, mans inalienable rights do not come from his Creator, and neither do his moral duties to other men.

The end result of this worldview is the radical individualism of the Romantic era that followed the Enlightenment. The only thing that matters is whether the individual finds fulfillment in his circumstances. If his circumstances dont meet his needs and desires, he has the right to change them.

The twentieth century saw the effects of this thinking in social issues like no-fault divorce and abortion on demand. In the twenty-first century, another issue arose, making its way onto two state ballots this November: assisted suicide. As MARRI intern Maria Reig Teetor points out, modern medicine has empowered us to eliminate many causes of death, so legalizing the choice to end ones life medically is ironic.

More than ironic, it is an illustration of the decline of Western culture:

The key to this discussion is to acknowledge that when we eliminate religion from a culture, when we deny moral values and human dignity, were left with our own self-preservation as our only ethical guiding light.

When justice and human dignity are no longer a priority, we go to every length we can to prevent suffering and to create comfort. As with numerous other areas of life, like education, sexuality, marriage, friendship, and leisure, our culture teaches us that its all about our personal satisfaction. When there is no ultimate respect for human dignity, its natural for men to elevate health to their highest goal in life.

Health, comfort, protection from suffering, personal satisfaction…these are now rights that outweigh the protection of life itself. Using right-to-die language places assisted suicide on the same level as the right to kill implicit in most abortion legislation. Maria Reig Teetor follows this line of reasoning:

What if a person has the power to decide for someone else that his or her life is filled with pain or distress, as Terri Schiavos husband did in Florida in 2005? Or to decide that someone elses life is causing him or her to suffer, so he or she has the right to eliminate that suffering by eliminating the other person? (This is an argument used to support abortion, when an unborn baby causes financial or personal inconvenience to the mother.) Has our society drifted so far from ethical moorings that we would legalize murder on demand?

Modern medicine cannot solve the question of legalized murder. Neither can a worldview that ignores moral revelation. Without the enlightenment of Gods Word (Ps. 119:104-105), our culture will continue its unassisted slide toward suicide.

Ted Kennedys Widow on Massachusetts’ Death with Dignity ballot initiative

by Cathy Ruse

October 31, 2012

Five years after the state of Oregon legalized doctor-assisted suicide, the Center for Ethics in Health Care at Oregon Health & Science University conducted research on how the law was being utilized. Their findings, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were shocking. They found that nearly 90 percent of people who ask their doctors for help in killing themselves later change their minds, and that what motivated most seriously ill people who asked was fear of pain — a fear that might be misplaced.

In one example, a man just 47-years old with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, sought suicide because he was scared to die like his father, who had died from colon cancer in great pain without adequate medication. But when he learned that ALS does not cause a painful death, he gave up thoughts of suicide.

Last week Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, published an op-ed against Question 2, the so-called Death with Dignity initiative on the Massachusetts ballot.

In it she blasts the measure, saying it is not about bringing family together to make end of life decisions but is intended to exclude family members from the actual decision-making process to guard against patients being pressured to end their lives prematurely.

Most of us wish for a good and happy death, with as little pain as possible, surrounded by loved ones, perhaps with a doctor and/or clergyman at our bedside, she writes, [b]ut under Question 2, what you get instead is a prescription for up to 100 capsules, dispensed by a pharmacist, taken without medical supervision, followed by death, perhaps alone.

In reflecting on her own husbands death, she closes this way: I know we were blessed. I am fully aware that not everyone will have the same experience we did. But if Question 2 passes I cant help but feel were sending the message that theyre not even entitled to a chance. A chance to have more time with their loved ones. A chance to have more dinners and sing more songs. A chance for more kisses and more love. A chance to be surrounded by family or clergy or a doctor when the end does come. That seems cruel to me. And lonely. And sad.

Living Will Suicide Was Lawful, Says UK Coroner Inquest

by Cathy Ruse

October 7, 2009

Last week I mentioned the tragic death of a depressed young woman who drank antifreeze and presented a Living Will forbidding treatment to save here. According to a Coroners Inquest this week, the doctors who let poor Keri Wooltorton, 26, die acted lawfully:

Doctors who allowed a young British woman to die in hospital after she swallowed poison and declared her intention to commit suicide acted lawfully, according to the findings of an inquest this week. Under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the coroner’s inquest ruled that doctors had no choice but to allow the woman to die after she had written a letter saying she did not want to be saved.

Read the full story here.

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