Does medical decision making confuse or intimidate you? If so, you are not alone. This is partly so because, for many people, medical language is a foreign language. However, much of the confusion has been deliberately sown by the “right to die” movement which is determined to make euthanasia and assisted suicide socially acceptable and legal everywhere.
Proponents of imposed death have carefully chosen imprecise, acceptable-sounding words and phrases to mask realities that make us uncomfortable or to conceal serious moral problems.
Consider the terms “death with dignity,” “aid in dying,” and “compassion in dying.”
The “right to die” movement uses these and other nice-sounding terms in place of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Helping vulnerable people end their lives is not compassion and does not respect their human dignity. Rather, it manifests indifference toward them and neglect of their genuine needs.
Patients with terminal or serious illnesses may wish to die when they don’t feel well. However, they often change their minds when they feel better. The answer, then, for patients who are suffering from pain, fear, loneliness and other forms of distress is found in aggressive pain relieving treatment, competent care, compassionate counseling, spiritual support and loving attention—not in being killed.
Persuading society to accept the notion that killing certain people is compassionate is an ongoing effort. At the 1984 meeting of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies1, Dr. Helga Kuhse explained the strategy of the “right to die” movement:
If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care, especially the removal of food and fluids, they will see what a painful way this is to die, and then, in the patient’s best interest, they will accept the lethal injection.
Perhaps, in many countries, we are not quite ready to legalize the lethal injection, but can this be far off now that death by dehydration has become a legal “choice” and a common medical practice?
You may not be concerned because you think that you or someone you trust to protect your life will be making all of your medical decisions. Think again. While doctors routinely go along with patients’ or families’ choices to stop treatment, requests for treatment may be refused because of hospital “futile care” policies. “Futile care” theory is the proposition that a physician is entitled to refuse to provide life-sustaining measures—including food and fluids—when he or she believes the quality of a patient’s life is too low or the cost is too high to justify further treatment. Doctors, of course, rightfully withhold or withdraw treatment which is truly useless. However, in a “futile care” policy, what’s deemed useless often is not the treatment, it’s the patient!
If a person wants to fight for every last moment of life, this should be his or her right. Physicians are not infallible. Many people have lived longer than predicted and have even recovered from conditions pronounced hopeless—but only when life-sustaining measures were continued.
Most people will not even know that “futile care” policies exist until a loved one or they themselves are denied wanted medical treatment.
Another recently coined medical term unfamiliar to many people is “terminal sedation,” also referred to as “palliative sedation” or “total sedation.” This controversial “treatment” has been incorporated into the practice of palliative2 medicine and hospice. “Terminal sedation” (TS) means that a patient is given drugs to render and keep him or her unconscious until death occurs. No further active treatment is done and food and fluids are withheld.
TS does not present a moral problem when it is limited to patients who are so near death that further treatment is useless and whose suffering cannot be relieved with less extreme measures. However, TS is more often used to deliberately end the lives of patients who are otherwise not dying or not dying quickly enough to suit themselves or someone else. Dying from dehydration while under sedation can take up to two weeks. For this reason, TS is sometimes called “slow euthanasia.”
A sweeping change in medicine is underway. Medical ethics are increasingly becoming empty ethics—that is, ethics emptied of morality, of a true sense of right and wrong. Therefore, it is often impossible for a person to make morally sound medical decisions based on the imprecise language and morally problematic advice offered by health care providers.
In the final analysis, some delicate and careful medical decisions may need to be made for yourself or a loved one. It is right that such decisions are difficult. They are difficult precisely because life is precious. Your most important ally and advisor will be a physician who has not succumbed to the new empty ethics of medicine, a pro-life physician who treats every patient as worthy of diligent care and unwavering respect.
1. The World Federation of Right to Die Societies, founded in 1980, is the umbrella organization for groups promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide throughout the world.Back
2. The word “palliative” describes care that comforts and relieves pain and suffering.Back