Euthanasia: The Latest Threat Is on the Rise
from The Uncertified Human
A year and ahalf ago two things used to be said: that the euthanasia movement would take ten years to materialize and that perhaps it never would. The first prediction is coming true eight years too early and the second statement is being made considerably less often.
In the January 14, 1972 issue of Life Magazine, an article appeared outlining the dilemma of the mother of a 1-year-old mongoloid child "still unwanted and unnamed" who cost her parents much time and expense in treatments and care. The mother is quoted as saying: "Why, when there are too many people in the world, keep alive an unwanted, malformed child. . . . I still say if there was a place where I could take this child and she would be put to sleep permanently, I would do it." The story is a very sad one. It follows two articles on men who personally decided to discontinue agonizing treatments for terminal diseases and so die in peace. Yet strangely, the story of the mongoloid girl was also headed, "The Right to Die". Now really, the woman was campaigning for the girl's death, not her own. She admitted in a subsequent letter her intention to get a bill passed permitting her to put the child to sleep. Wouldn't "right to kill" be more appropriate?
The Executive Director of the fastgrowing Euthanasia Educational Fund, centered in New York State, informed the editor in a recent personal letter that
Your letter is very perceptive about the other questions which arise and many of our members as individuals do believe in making a means of dying available, in providing for those who cannot speak for themselves and in the humane withdrawal of support from defective babies. However, all of these are illegal and as an organization we do not advocate any of them.
If "providing for those who cannot speak for themselves" were legal, what provisions might they advocate?
Public Support for Mercy Killing
A Gallup Poll published in the Toronto Star for Sept. 27, 1972, indicated that the majority of people in Canada seem to favour mercy-killing at the patient's request. Yet, on the opposite page, there was a much-featured article by the United Church's former moderator (for our American readers, the United Church of Canada is one of the bastions of lethal liberalism in this country) concluding that the only reason we do not similarly end the lives of those who have not requested it but whose existences have become meaningless is "selfish indifference." It seems that the idea of killing at the patient's request and killing without it when we feel justified are difficult to separate. People are becoming particularly vocal on the question of deformed or defective children, who are generally considered, as such, to be unwanted. Dr. Colin Ferguson, president elect of the Canadian Paediatrics Society, addressed the annual meeting, called for life-and-death guidelines for mongoloid children. (Toronto Star, July 16, 1972). He said, "It is a supreme penalty to put on some families to save the life of a mongolian idiot." He noted that a young mother could have other normal children if the defective baby were phased out and the total happiness would be easier for all concerned if socially acceptable guidelines were available", he concluded. Dr. Ferguson mentioned that another type of child also merited infanticidal consideration, those afflicted with myelomeningoceles, resulting in leg paralysis and lack of bowel control. He cited a Dr. David Morley of Britain who claims that such children cost the state one million dollars per year. Interestingly, on August 8, 1972 a surgeon at London's Hospital for Sick Children told the London Sun that these children should be left to die. He believes that a more selective approach is needed with respect to survival of the handicapped. Of course, selectivity can pose problems, too. A controversy arose recently among anaestheticians, reported in Ob Gyn News, January 1, 1971, No. 1, p. 1 as to whether an anaesthetician should attempt to revive an infant he had accidentally anaesthetized during the birth process, insofar as that infant might be mentally retarded. One doctor objected to allowing the infant to die on the grounds that, without prior knowledge of the actual IQ potential of the infant, one could not gauge how much below normal it would be if at all.
There is a good deal of confusion about the meaning of the term "euthanasia." To some, it means allowing a person to die who wants to, and to others it means putting a person to sleep. It has been used to mean withdrawal of support without the patient's consent or putting the patient to sleep without his or her consent.
The "Honourable" Man
Chaplain Reeves at Columbia University remarks that the dilemma in his view is basically this: there are two supreme challenges facing us all: to find an honourable equivalent to Spartan exposure on the rocks at the beginning of life and an honourable equivalent to the Eskimo hole in the ice at the end of life. (Not. Observer, Mar. 4, '72) One wonders in passing just what it is that the Reverend Reeves finds to be less than "honourable" about the Eskimo way if the end results are the same. Is it the primitive methods he objects to? Are antiseptic hypodermics more "honourable" than the ice?
Like the Abortion Campaigns
All this bears a profound resemblance to many a successful abortion campaign, a fact which may disturb those who "fear that this sort of thing may get out of hand." Indeed it may--in fact it already is, out of hand. Let us elaborate. In the article in Life, the emotionally wrenching plea for a very hard case is reminiscent of the earlier pleas for abortion. "The mother whose child will almost certainly be born deformed" drew a great deal of sympathy for the "right to abortion". The mother whose child is born deformed is beginning to draw sympathy for infanticide. It does not really matter how you define infanticide; whether it involves "withdrawal of support" or drowning the child in a bucket is immaterial: If you want the child to die and you make that child die--that is infanticide.
On March 5 of this year Time Magazine reported on an even clearer case from the Netherlands; this time it was senile euthanasia. The case was very bad indeed, as the old mother was quite sick. Her doctor daughter put her to sleep without her consent, and then because she was a "woman of principle" informed the nursing home director. The police were described as failing "to act against the popular doctor" and, prevailed upon, the public prosecutor charged her "reluctantly". Thus the stage is set: a hard case (hasn't anyone heard the principle that hard cases make bad laws?) a doctor of remorseleessly high ethical principles, a popular doctor at that, and a judicial group which unwittingly makes a verdict out of its obvious unwillingness to act. By the time the case goes to trial it is a public issue and everything about the actual case except its emotional aura is forgotten. For one thing, someone started a foundation for voluntary euthanasia, either forgetting or not caring that this case was about involuntary euthanasia. A group of doctors signed an open letter to the Minister of Justice accusing themselves of the same crime. This is very similar to the "abortion forums" where doctors admit to performing illegal abortions. The fact that the government was unwilling to bring Dr. Postma to trial gave safety in numbers to other physicians and it soon began to be supposed that whatever a number of physicians do must be morally right. In other words, as soon as the government admitted that the hardness of the case made them reluctant to try Dr. Postma on the principle, they found themselves having to accept the principle itself. The euthanasia foundation acquired 3,000 members in a week. The petition in support of (presumably involuntary) euthanasia that was circulated in Dr. Postma's town got two thousand signatures. The Minister of Justice pointed out the difference between active and passive euthanasia, admitting that the latter is widely and justifiably used in hopeless cases. Then he illustrated a common confusion in thinking by asking rhetorically, where would active euthanasia lead? This allowed many people to get the idea that mercy-killing would be all right as a principle so long as it did not overstep some mythical boundary of propriety, to be defined by the Minister of Justice perhaps, or whoever else feels qualified. No wonder then, that so many euthanasia lobbies flourished in the utter confusion of the case.
An Easy Excuse
Dr. Postma pointed out that her mother's suffering was not "unbearable", and said, "Her physical suffering was serious, no more. But the mental suffering became unbearable." For some reason, euthanasia advocates, like abortion advocates, always fall back on "mental suffering". Because it admits of no particular definition or alleviation, as physical suffering does, it makes a much eaiser course to plead at an emotional trial. Dr. Postma said that the mental suffering "was most important to me. Now, after all these months, I am convinced I should have done it much sooner." Should she have done it before her mother started to suffer mentally? She was given one week suspended sentence and a year's probation. Her friends handed her a single flower each in sympathy. Her supporters considered it a defeat that she was not acquitted.
What is important about this case is only partly the suffering involved. Perhaps Dr. Postma's mother was better off dead. What the case shows as far as the staff of the Uncertified Human is concerned, however, is the appalling inability of the courts to understand that they are dealing, not with a particular emotional case but with a principle of whether or not we are to legiislate into existence a concept of "life without value". The Dutch judiciary did realize that the situation "might lead" to unpleasant consequences but what they did not see is that the situation is an unpleasant consequence in itself.
Have they forgotten so soon?
Background graciously provided by: