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Euthanasia: it’s a long, long, long way down
One way to get rid of slippery slopes is to deny that they exist
Margaret Somerville | Jan 10 2017 |
For a long time, it’s puzzled me how proponents of the legalization of euthanasia can confidently claim, as they do, that in the Netherlands and Belgium, the two jurisdictions with the longest experience of legalized euthanasia, there have been no slippery slopes, when the evidence is clearly otherwise.
The “logical slippery slope” occurs when the legalization of euthanasia for a very limited group of people in very limited circumstances is expanded to include more people in more situations. This has been described as “scope creep”.
The “practical slippery slope” occurs when euthanasia is carried out in breach of the legal requirements as to either who may have access or the situations in which they must find themselves for euthanasia to be permissible.
The logical slippery slope is inevitable once euthanasia is legalized and becomes commonplace, as we can see in what has happened in the Benelux countries. It’s been rapidly expanded to more and more people in more and more situations. This is entirely foreseeable and to be expected. As we become familiar with interventions which we once regarded as unethical our moral intuitions and ethical “yuck” factor responses become blunted and we move from rejection to neutrality often even to approval of the action involved.
Legalizing euthanasia means that the rule that we must not intentionally kill another human being – this line in the sand which we must not cross, this most ancient ethical and legal barrier – is breached, indeed annihilated, and beyond it there is no other obvious stopping line which we must not violate, perhaps not even that euthanasia is only acceptable with the consent of the person on whom death is inflicted. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have been euthanized in the Netherlands and Belgium.
There could also be a further explanation for the denial of a logical slippery slope by pro-euthanasia advocates, such as Oxford University bioethicist Professor Julian Savulescu and Andrew Denton, which is less obvious at first glance. This is that no potential slippery slope exists.
The basis for the pro-euthanasia case is that we must have respect for an individual’s autonomy – their right to self-determination – including with regard to a decision that they prefer death to continued life and want help in terminating their life. Once that rationale is accepted and applied in its fullest sense, it’s difficult to justify restrictions on access to euthanasia.
Consequently, the diminishment or repeal of existing restrictions is not recognized as a slippery slope, rather, it’s seen simply as more fully implementing respect for individual autonomy and the right to self-determination, the rationale used to justify euthanasia in the first place.
Consequently, it should not be surprising that the Dutch are now considering a special form of access to intentionally inflicted death for those who believe they have a “completed life”, which they do not want to call or treat as euthanasia, although it involves the same type of death-inflicting intervention.
The movement to legalize such an intervention started with a petition to the Dutch Parliament that those who were “over 70 and tired of life” should be able to have assistance in terminating their lives. The age requirement can be questioned as being inconsistent with the right to self-determination rationale for allowing the intentional infliction of death.
Pro-euthanasia advocates’ denial of a practical slippery slope – administration of euthanasia other than in compliance with the law – despite clear evidence to the contrary, might also be able to be explained on a related basis. If one believes there should be more or less open access to euthanasia, then legal requirements are annoying impediments and their breach is a trivial matter and as the old saying goes “de minimis non curat lex” – the law does not concern itself with trifles.
Another element in this denial might be acceptance of the “non-deprivation justification” of euthanasia, which was considered approvingly by Canadian courts in ruling that an absolute prohibition of euthanasia was unconstitutional.
The rationale of this argument is that a person’s quality of life can be so bad, that the bad in continuing to live outweighs any good experienced in doing so, such that nothing good is lost if one is euthanized – there is no deprivation of anything worthwhile or valuable. Indeed, death can be seen as a benefit.
A breach of the law which is seen as trivial and as conferring a benefit is unlikely to be characterized as an abuse by those supporting euthanasia and so, like the logical slippery slope, the practical slippery slope is defined out of existence.
Margaret Somerville is Professor of Bioethics in the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame Australia. Until recently, she was Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, and Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, Montreal. Her most recent book is Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars.
Republished from MercatorNet.com
Margaret Somerville’s latest book is available for loan from the Action Life office.
Lifenews.com reported on Vermont’s assisted suicide law on July 2016. An excerpt from Micaiah Bilger’s article follows:
“Three years after Vermont legalized assisted suicide, pro-lifers are beginning to witness the abusive effects of the law on the elderly and disabled.
Mary Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, shared the story of a 91-year-old woman who was staying in a rehab facility because she broke her wrist. When her family was not in the room, Beerworth said rehab staff repeatedly asked the elderly woman if she was in pain or depressed; then they would remind her that she could commit doctor-prescribed suicide under the new law. Beerworth said the woman never was diagnosed with a terminal illness; she just was old and had a broken bone.”
What is the purpose of repeatedly reminding someone that they can kill themselves by assisted suicide? Vulnerable persons may perceive this message as one that says that their lives are no longer worth living. Such pressure can lead some individuals to end their lives.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates tell us that persons should be able to decide when they die, it’s a matter of choice they say. Well, sometimes choice is an illusion. When, you are constantly told as reported in the story from Vermont that you can avail yourself of assisted suicide, is this choice? Hearing the refrain that you can kill yourself and the state will provide the means can hardly be good for patient morale.
Kids with Trisomy 13 and 18 can have good quality of life
by Michael Cook | 27 Aug 2016 | Link
Should babies with Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18 be given life-sustaining treatment? Both conditions are associated with severe physical and intellectual disabilities and most children die in their first year. So until recently, few of them were treated. Doctors regarded the conditions as “lethal congenital anomalies”.
However, according to a surprising study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, it turns out that the consensus was wrong. Bioethicist John Lantos, a former President of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, commenting on an article about the survival rates, says:
“In the age of social media, however, everything changed. Parents share stories and videos, showing their happy 4- and 5-year-old children with these conditions. Survival, it turns out, is not as rare as once thought. Children who were not institutionalized looked happy, cared for, and loved. It became increasingly awkward to describe these conditions as incompatible with life to parents who had ready access to information showing that it was not true.”
One of these babies was Bella, the child of Senator Rick Santorum, a former presidential hopeful. He and his wife were told ““You realize that your child is going to die. You have to learn to let go.” The Santorums did not follow the doctors’ advice; their daughter is now 8 years old and in a stable medical condition.
This story illustrates how predictions of lethality become self-fulfilling prophecies [writes Lantos]. If Bella had not received supplemental oxygen or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, predictions that she would die early in life would have turned out to be true. Clearly, her chances of survival were not just a function of her underlying condition. They were also determined by the treatment she received.
Lantos says that decisions to withhold medical treatment can be based on a doctor’s assessment of the child’s future quality of life. A bad mistake, he contends:
“The concept of quality of life is too vague and subjective to be helpful as a criterion for deciding about the appropriateness of treatment. No one can know with certainty what any infant is thinking, feeling, or experiencing, but what is observed can be interpreted. Children with trisomy 13 and 18 smile and laugh. They are not in pain. They give and receive love. These factors suggest that their subjective quality of life is not so poor that life-prolonging treatment should not be offered. Generally, the phrase quality of life is misused as a synonym for physical or neurological impairment. But if impairment is to be discussed, accurate terminology should be used. Some infants and children can have severe impairments and still have an excellent quality of life.”
Source: Republished from Bioedge.org
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Abortion advocates lobbied for the legalization of abortion under the banner of ‘choice’. Abortion was a woman’s choice they said. People who support abortion call themselves ‘pro-choice’. Yet, abortions have been paid from public funds since 1970 following the passage of the amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada in 1969 allowing for legal abortions under certain conditions.
- Abortion is elective surgery which does not cure any medical condition.
- Pregnancy is not a disease.
- The vast majority of abortions are performed for social or financial reasons.
- The leading cause of death in Canada is abortion. At least 100,000 unborn children die by abortion every year.
On October 31st 2001, Marilyn Wilson, Executive Director of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League said in a submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee that women who decide to abort :
“…do so for socio- economic reasons. Sometimes, it is a desire to complete their education and become financially independent. It(sic) many cases, couples with children wish to restrict their family size in order to provide adequate financial support. Often choosing abortion is a conscious decision not to become a socio-economic burden on society.”
The Canada Health Act does no require that elective procedures be funded. Provinces must pay for services which are deemed “medically necessary”. Choice does not imply medical necessity. Every province provides taxpayer funded abortion in Canada.
For years, knowledge about the development of the heart of an unborn child pegged the beginning of the beating of the heart at around 21 days after conception.
Now, new research finds that these first heartbeats occur at 16 days after conception. The Ottawa Citizen reported on October 13 :
“A human heart will beat some three billion times over an average lifespan, and now British scientists say its very first beat comes much earlier than anyone realized. The early stage of heart muscle starts beating in mouse fetuses 7.5 days after conception, which is the equivalent of 16 days after a human fetus is conceived.
The new study comes from the University of Oxford. The British Heart Foundation, which funded the work, says about one in 180 UK babies has a congenital heart condition. By understanding how the heart develops in pregnancy, the researchers hope to improve the chances of treating these conditions at the earliest possible stage before a baby is born.
But the Oxford heart scientists say there’s a second reason to learn about the heart’s earliest days. It may help us decades later to recover from heart attacks.”
In an article published in the September issue of the journal Bioethics on the matter of conscientious objection, bioethicists Udo Schuklenk of Queen’s University and Julian Savulescu of Oxford University argue against maintaining this fundamental right for physicians. Both are known for their pro-euthanasia views. The National Post reported on the paper in a piece entitled Conscientious objection by MDs stirs heated debate by Tom Blackwell. He writes:
“They suggest doctors do not necessarily have to perform the service themselves, though they must at least ensure someone else provides it.”
These two academics brook no dissent. They would not only deny freedom of conscience to physicians who will not participate in abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide but ultimately seek to bar like minded applicants from the medical profession. Forcing physicians to refer for services to which they object on moral grounds contravenes their right to freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A refusal to be involved with killing is not unprofessional, it is good medicine. Lethal injections and lethal prescriptions are not health care. The majority of physicians do not wish to be involved with these procedures. Eliminating the right of conscientious objection for physicians would be detrimental to the practice of medicine. Many patients would like to receive care from physicians who abide by the Hippocratic tradition to “do no harm”. Conscientious objection protection must be maintained for healthcare workers.
Larry Worthen of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada comments in the National Post article:
“The only governments in the history of humanity that have stripped away the conscience rights in this way are totalitarian governments. Are we going to get to the point where there’s an ethics test at the beginning of medical school, and if you have too much in the way of ethics, you’re going to be screened out?”
Yes, well that’s exactly what Schuklenk and Savulescu would like. If you are unwilling to put aside your morals and integrity, then they say you shouldn’t be allowed in medical school.
The beginning of human life is really a matter of simple biology. Scientific evidence shows that each human life has the same starting point at conception. Consider:
1- “A new individual is created when the elements of a potent sperm merge with those of a fertile ovum, or egg.”
From Encyclopedia Britannica,”Pregnancy”, page 968, 15th edition, Chicago 1974.
2-“Development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an ovum to form a zygote; this cell is the beginning of a new human being.”
From: Moore, Keith L. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, page 12, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1974.
3- “The development of a new human being begins when a male’s sperm pierces the cell membrane of a female’s ovum, or egg…The villi become the placenta, which will nourish the developing infant for the next eight and a half months.”
From: Scarr, S., Weinberg, R.A., and Levine, A. Understanding Development, page 86, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1986.
4- “Conception. A new child is coming to life. The child was conceived when a sperm from the father united with an egg from the mother. The union of a sperm with an egg is called fertilization.”
From: Coming to Life. Health and Welfare Canada, Medical Services Branch, 1987, page 3.
Still some prefer to pretend that they do not know when human life begins in order to defend their support of abortion. An editorial from California Medicine in 1970 had this to say on the topic:
“…Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death… The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not put forth under socially impeccable auspices.
From : California Medicine, Editorial, “A new Ethic for Medicine and Society,”page 67, September, 1970.
We are told that persons should have the right to control or choose the moment of their death. Yet euthanasia in reality and practice sometimes means that someone else will decide when you die. This happens in Holland and Belgium where euthanasia is legal in spite of supposed safeguards. Physicians will intentionally cause the death of the patient without’s the patient’s consent or request.
In 2013 more than 1,000 patients were killed by euthanasia without explicit request or consent in Flanders, Belgium. Once euthanasia is permitted, inevitably we descend in time into the nightmarish world on non-voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia and assisted suicide offer the illusion of control and autonomy.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 2015 on the practice of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium in 2013 found that euthanasia deaths without explicit request were 1.7% of all deaths. In numbers, this amounts to approximately 1,047 deaths hastened without explicit request.
Study at http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMc1414527