Health Care

Right to Die or Will to Live

Examining euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is a delicate exercise but critical for culture.

Caroline Camden Lewis · Aug. 31, 2017

The “Right to Die” movement is a growing trend in the U.S. and around the world. It has been labeled as “compassionate,” but it poses great societal risks, namely the compromising of the doctor-patient relationship and endangering the rights of the disabled.

Right to Die encompasses both physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia. Euthanasia refers to a doctor performing a lethal injection and PAS refers to a doctor aiding the patient’s death by giving the means or information to enable the patient’s suicide. This, for example, may include providing drugs and information regarding the lethal dose. Currently, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana, Colorado, DC and Canada have legalized (PAS).

While proponents of “Right to Die” frame the issue as merely a medical “right,” akin to a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, the American Medical Association stands against it on ethical and philosophical grounds. AMA says, “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.”

Liz Carr, a British actress, comedian, disability rights activist and writer of “Assisted Suicide: The Musical,” echoes these concerns about the difficulty to control PAS and its societal risks. She observes that while the law is initially intended for the terminally ill, other groups claim a “right” to it and “in the name of rights and equality [euthanasia] ends up being extended.” Carr also voices concerns for the disabled community, stating, “I fear we’ve so devalued certain groups of people — ill people, disabled people, older people — that I don’t think it’s in their best interests to enshrine in law the right of doctors to kill certain people.” The Right to Die quickly becomes the Right to Kill.

Donald W. Landry, M.D., PhD and chief of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, agrees: “A brave, new world in which physicians routinely take up the cause of death is a world of grave moral hazard. … Imagine that instead of leading you to choose a preferred treatment, [the doctor] is advancing another, more final solution as best for you. This is not the world in which you want to live.” In this brave new world, how do we discern the motives of the doctor? Does he or she want what is best for the patient, or what saves the government and insurance companies money?

This is no longer an abstract scenario. A recent report from Canada mentioned that euthanasia could “save” the government $139 million per year. The insurance company of one 34-year-old Californian, a wife and mother of four, denied coverage for chemotherapy but covered suicide pills, which cost $1.20.

Additionally, we don’t have to look beyond Charlie Gard to see that socialized medicine presents itself as “free” but in reality, strips freedom from the key decision makers in the life of the patient. Administrators, judges and government officials make the decisions rather than family of the patient. Socialism roots itself in atheistic philosophy whereby government (funded by the taxes), not God, provides for the needs of people. In this “efficient” system, the government “saves money” by destroying those who require the most care.

But what about those suffering patients who really do want to die? Diane Severin, M.D., a radiation oncology physician practicing in Canada, states:

“The first time a patient asked to be euthanized, which has increased since its legalization in Canada, my initial response was ‘I don’t believe in that.’ But that made for a difficult discussion. My patient wasn’t asking what I believed in. He was asking about himself. Going forward, I tried to find out what my patients were afraid of. … I discovered that they feared pain and suffering. After describing the resources of our palliative care team, who could provide pain and symptom help, not one patient pushed beyond that initial inquiry. People really do want to live.”

Not only do people want to live, but they long for loyalty, self-sacrifice, purpose and meaning. Atul Gawande, M.D., surgeon and author of New York Times bestseller “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” refers to the philosophy of loyalty espoused by early 20th century Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce. Gawande summarizes it thus: “The individualist puts self-interest first, seeing his own pain, pleasure and existence as his greatest concern.” However, the human being needs loyalty. Gawande notes, “The cause can be large (family, country, principle) or small (a building project, the care of a pet). The important thing is that, in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth making sacrifices for, we give our lives meaning.”

In addition to posing risks to medical ethics, conscience rights of doctors, and endangering the disabled and infirmed, the Right to Die movement conceals socialist government “efficiency” and insurance profits behind words like “dignity” and “compassion.” By trading the values of faith and courage for individualism and avoidance of pain, we have lost, as a culture, a sense of loyalty and self-sacrifice. While the “Right to Die” movement appears to be the choice for the liberated individualist, it only stands as a symptom of godless, socialist secularization that strips meaning from life and dignity from people. Euthanasia and assisted suicide will not cease to be an issue until we address not only our fear of death and lack of purpose, but the larger problem of the atheistic secularization of society. For, only in understanding from whence we have come will we know how to move forward.

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