DEATH: Who Chooses When It is All Right to Die?

In a recent article in the The Weekly Standard it was reported that twenty-three percent of Dutch doctors feel they have no obligation to report any time they have completed a euthanasia procedure. That isn’t all, in Flemish, Belgium thirty-two percent of euthanasia procedures take place without the request, consent or even notice to a relative of the person euthanized. If you think that through, once the “patient” is deceased, who is to know if they ever consented to their own death? Who is the wiser?

Oh, but not to worry, that is in the Netherlands and as liberal as they are, there is no real risk of such practices coming here, right? Not exactly. In the states of Washington and Oregon, euthanasia is legal. In fact, not only is it legal, it is easier to complete than it is to witness a Last Will and Testament. According to the The Weekly Standard report, in Seattle Washington, a person cannot be a witness to a will if that person is also a recipient of an endowment from the will, for fear of duress or undue influence. However, according to a Seattle attorney, quoted in the article, an heir can witness a request for euthanasia, can go to the pharmacy to pick up the deadly prescription, and can administer the lethal dose up to a year after the prescription is written to their relative with no other witnesses present, and this heir need not have any medical training whatsoever to administer the lethal ‘medicine’.

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Consider for a moment how many due process arguments and hearings must take place before a convicted criminal is executed. “But the protections accorded to those accused of capital crimes- however imperfect – are completely out of reach for a patient that doctors, health care facility, insurer and family have decided would be better off dead.”[i] (emphasis added) And that is in the United States! According to the report, “Oregon and Washington have no meaningful precautions against wrongful euthanasia, no procedures for discipline, or hearings or board of review. Doctors report their own cases and there is no penalty for not doing so.”[ii] (emphasis added)

Returning briefly to the Dutch, Dr. Joris Slaets, a professor of geriatric medicine estimates the patient’s life goals, vitality and life expectancy before he decides whether they are “worthy of further therapy.” He unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade an 80 year old woman from heart surgery, a surgery from which she recovered and is doing well.

The Hippocratic Oath, as translated by Michael North, National Library of Medicine, states “…I will do no harm or injustice to them. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”[iii] Not that I hold much concern for an oath made to Apollo and a stack of other Greek gods; but when anyone makes an oath in solemn acceptance of its wording and then so flagrantly disregards it, even one made to ancient gods and goddesses, where is the line that they will not cross?

There is an old joke that goes… ‘Be kind to your children, they are the ones who will chose your nursing home.’ Well, perhaps it is much more of a concern than choosing a nursing home when they are able to decide not where you will live but if you will live. It may be, not even they who decide, since in the Netherlands the doctors can choose what to do with you without even telling your children. Perhaps it is some form of misguided justice… the generation that failed to speak up for the unprotected unborn becomes the first generation to be the unprotected too old to live.


[i] Schulman, Sam “Last Rights” The Weekly Standard” Nov. 12, 2012

[ii] Ibid.

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