"choice" and "autonomy"
CAN THERE EVER BE A RIGHT TO BE KILLED?1
BY CHERYL ECKSTEIN , Founder and President of the Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN)
Unless we explore the historical underpinnings for prohibition against mercy-killing, our society will never be able to make informed decisions on euthanasia policy. Psycho-historically speaking, the tragedy in the sophistry used before the infamous period of Nazi Germany, is speciously being repeated today. References to merciful or compassionate euthanasia of human beings, were, and are today, cloaked in euphemisms. (Euphemism is defined as the substituting of gentle or ambiguous expression for harsh or straightforward ones). Death with dignity, relief for the suffering, therapeutically terminating the pain, and, aid or care for the dying, are confused and intertwined with other phrases which describe good palliative care. Such terms are used vigorously in the campaign for legalizing euthanasia. Compassion and mercy are the most common terms used; but in defence of euthanasia, they are red herrings used to camouflage a whale of a lie.
Helping someone to commit suicide makes mockery of mercy; and murder is the antitheses of true compassion. These are ultimately acts of desertion. They are the most pitiful excuses for justifying homicide. Compassion, which means to "suffer along with" is not a crime—it is an act of agape , that kind of love which does not seek to get its own way— it is love, without the crime.
Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide "have found the ultimate marketing technique to promote the normalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia" by presenting hard cases that focus on "nightmarish images of unnecessary prolonged dying or on predictions of severe disability."2 Such implied impending misery fills the 'worried well' with such trepidation, that it has caused many to sign vague and dangerously worded living wills.
Many others show their open support for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, without realizing that legalizing euthanasia will only protect physicians from prosecution, but not protect patients from abuse. At the nucleus of the argument is "choice" and "autonomy". They claim that with the institution of safeguards, only a competent, terminally ill patient may request and be granted physician assisted death, at the time of their choosing, and insist that this would be "good medical practice." Advocates of euthanasia purposely divert attention from the risk of being killed involuntarily. (For example, in the Netherlands, over 1,000 deaths were first reported by doctors death by natural causes, but later reported to the Remmelink Committee as involuntary euthanasia). This begs the question, "why ask for safeguards unless there is a known risk?"
The only way to rationalize medical killing and to gain wide acceptance of euthanasia, would be to mute the terms "killing" or "murder" by the use of euphemisms.3 Consider this statement made by a Dutch physician to a group of Senators, studying euthanasia:
[N]o physician, in my opinion, performs euthanasia with the sole intent to kill his patient. His intention can always be described as trying to relieve the suffering of his or her patient. That, by the way, is exactly what infuriates Dutch physicians when they are treated as criminals or murderers after having performed euthanasia. [Dr. J.J.M. Van Delden, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Senate of Canada, (1994) Issue No. 21:12]
Rhetoric plays an important role in this debate. As we see from above, euthanasia sounds reasonable, civilized and humane, since the given motive is to deliver a compassionate release from suffering and pain. In order to legitimize the criminal offence of murder, Dutch pro-euthanasia doctors claim for euthanasia is a "defence of necessity," performed only in the name of compassion. Furthermore, the doctor must be self-convinced that he or she has not deviated from the role of healer, by claiming the patient was not killed, but only had his or her pain relieved. This reminds me of a statement made during the Nuremburg trial:
. . . the chief female nurse, when asked whether she considered the Russians and Poles to have been murdered, answered, "Murder? How do you want me to understand murder? They died from injections." But pressed further whether in her opinion that was murder, she answered, "Yes". [Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, BasicBooks, (1986):†101.]
Regarding euphemisms, Butler, et.al, says:
Unless the desire to use a euphemism is inspired by the necessity to soften a blow or avoid offensiveness, the more factual term is to be preferred. Ordinarily, avoid euphemisms - or change the subject.4
Another source says euphemisms are used to:
distract us from the realities. . .is at best misleading and at worst dishonest and dangerous. . . if the terms make us forget. . .reality. . .Use euphemism when tact and genuine respect for the feelings of your audience warrants it. Do not use it to deceive.5
Therefore, I believe we should cease using counterfeit terms to describe euthanasia, and call it deliberate murder—for unquestionably that is what we are talking about. Our laws were formulated to grant everyone in society equal protection from abuse; not to encourage wickedness, nor protect law breaker s from punishment. Neo-humanitarian medicine must not include procedures that would involve the intentional taking of life. Even if you painlessly kill a person, it is still murder. Many murders, like suicide, are executed without inflicting suffering. Physicians may lavishly dispense compassion, time, and understanding; but physicians must never dispense death. That is not in their job description. Killing in the name of compassion and mercy is wrong for all the right reasons.
To create a new law that would sanction mercy killing; and grant impunity to those who take a life, whether or not the person is competent, non-competent and/or disabled for reasons of suffering—would be to cross the Rubicon and consummate a partnership with a statute that would subjugate protection for all people.
1. Section 14 of the Criminal Code maintains that: No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.
2. Herbert Hendin, "Selling Death and Dignity", Hastings Center Report, May June (1995):19.
3. Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society and now president of the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization ( ERGO!) says: "We are definitely not about murder or killing or getting rid of the less fortunate people within our communities . . . As we debate many complicated topics let us never lose sight of the main target: helping human beings to suffer less." Derek Humphry, Dying With Dignity, Birch Lane Press, (1992):166
4. Butler, Hickman & Overby, An Auto-Instructional Text in Correct Writing, D.C. Heath & Co., (1980):374.
5. Leggett, Mead Charvat, 7th edition Prentice-Hall Handbook for Writers, (1978) 316.