Is Euthanasia Lobby Already Forcing 'the Hard Choice?'

Pressure to Die Picks up Steam

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, OCT. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In a number of countries around the world the pro-euthanasia forces continue to press for the legalization of assisted suicide.

Australia's Dr. Philip Nitschke recently broke the law by handing out copies of his book "The Peaceful Pill" in Sydney. The book was banned by authorities in 2007, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Oct. 2.

He gave the book away following a speech made at Sydney's Opera House to a group of about 200 people.

Meanwhile, according to an Oct 16 report in England's Guardian newspaper, the commission headed by Lord Falconer that was established to investigate possible reforms to the law on assisted suicide is expected to hand down its report in November. The commission has been widely criticized for its pro-euthanasia bias.

Even without any changes to the existing laws there is already concern over how they are being applied. In February 2010 new guidelines on prosecution were published, which reduced the possibility that someone who helps another person to die would suffer any penal consequences.

Since then police have passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service 44 files on cases with firm evidence regarding cooperation in assisted suicide, the Telegraph newspaper reported Sept. 3. In not one single case has the person been prosecuted.

The article quoted Keir Starmer, the director of Public Prosecutions, who said he believed incidences of assisted suicide were on the rise following the implementation of the new guidelines.

One person who escaped prosecution was Janet Grieves, who helped Douglas Sinclair end his life.

She helped him prepare for his trip to Switzerland, where he ended his life at the euthanasia clinic Dignitas. After a lengthy police investigation Grieves learned she would not be prosecuted, the Times newspaper reported May 30.

A recent case in Scotland shows the problem is not confined to England. Actor Stuart Mungall smothered his terminally ill wife, Joan, last December and has now walked away free, the Scottish Herald newspaper reported Sept. 24.

Mungall was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years. Testimony was given showing Mungall was suffering from depression at the time he killed his wife.

According to the prosecutor, Mark Dennis QC, the case was much more serious than assisted suicide because the accused's wife had not asked to die.

Suffering

Changes to euthanasia laws are being recommended in Holland, the country that pioneered its legalization.

The Dutch Physicians Association (KNMG) released a position paper proposing a widening of criteria for permitting euthanasia, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported Sept. 8.

Under the 2002 law that regulates euthanasia it is only allowed if the patient is suffering from unbearable and lasting suffering. According to the KNMG social factors along with diseases and ailments that are not terminal should also mean a person can request euthanasia.

The head of the organization, Arie Nieuwenhuijzen Kruseman, admitted that evaluating these other factors would be difficult. "It's quite possible that the same constellation of factors would be experienced as unbearable and lasting suffering by one patient but quite tolerable by another," she said according to the Radio Netherlands report

The report also said that doctors are obliged to take requests for euthanasia seriously. If a doctor does not wish to carry out the request then as well as giving the patient a full explanation of the refusal they should transfer them to another doctor.

Relaxing the criteria for assisted suicide runs the risk of allowing more cases like that of Nan Maitland. She was not terminally ill, but decided that at the age of 84 she wanted to end her life, the Times newspaper reported April 3.

According to the article she simply wanted to avoid "the long period of decline" as she grew older. Like Douglas Sinclair she went to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

"Any change in the law would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones, carers or the state," Dr. Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing told the Times.

Transplants

Additional concerns over assisted suicide were raised by the news that in some cases patients who take this option have their organs used for transplants. According to a June 10 press release from Pabst Science Publishers, four lung transplants were carried out in Belgium in the 2007-09 period from euthanized people.

The information came from a report published in the journal Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology.

According to a June 14 report by London's Telegraph newspaper the study said that about 23.5% of lung transplant donors in Belgium and 2.8% of heart transplant donors are killed by euthanasia.

The Telegraph quoted Dr. Peter Saunders who expressed concern over the matter of fact way that this was reported. After all, he pointed out, half of the euthanasia cases in Belgium are involuntary.

Still, there is some positive news. An English court denied a petition that a brain-damaged woman, known as "M," have her life support removed, the Independent newspaper reported Sept. 29.

Given that she is partially responsive and aware of her environment Mr. Justice Baker declared that the principle of the preservation of life should be given priority in her case.

This principle is not, however, inviolable as the BBC noted in its report published the previous day. The judge also said that if the patient were to have a heart attack the current "Do Not Resuscitate" order should prevail.

Often cases like that of "M" are used to sway opinion in favor of allowing euthanasia. Nonetheless many people who suffer severe medical problems have no desire to end their lives prematurely.

A study published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year reported that 47 out of 65 patients suffering from locked-in syndrome were happy, the Associated Press reported Feb. 23.

People with this syndrome, caused by severe brain damage, are paralyzed and communicate mainly by moving their eyes.

The survey was carried out under the direction of Dr. Steven Laureys from the University Hospital of Liege. The respondents were members of the French Association for Locked-in Syndrome and they were asked about their medical history, emotional state and views on euthanasia.

Adapting

Laureys said that the survey results should not only change the way such patients are treated, but also our attitude toward euthanasia. Requests for euthanasia should be received with sympathy but should not be acted on until the patients' condition is stable.

Moreover, he noted, the longer a person suffers from locked-in syndrome the more likely they were to be content, suggesting that many succeed in adapting to their extreme disability.

A vivid personal testimony that supports this position was published in the Irish Times on April 12. Simon Fitzmaurice, who suffers from motor neurone disease, was taken to hospital with serious respiratory problems.

He was told by the medical staff that the hospital did not support artificial respiration for when he returned home and was told that: "It is time for you to make the hard choice."

One of them, Ronan Walsh, a neurologist, questioned why he would want to continue to live as his condition would only worsen as the paralysis spread through his body.

"I think that to them, it is inconceivable that I would want to live," Fitzmaurice wrote. "But not for me," he added. His love for life is undimmed and unbroken, he declared.

At the time of writing he was in hospital and his family had found out that home respiration was in fact covered by their insurance. In a few days he was to return home. Thankfully, his life was saved, but if the pro-euthanasia lobby has its way many like him will not have the chance to live.