If we legalise euthanasia, this will not be a compassionate move, but a very ugly move, for those who are most vulnerable will be most at risk. All those needy, fragile and defenseless people who most need protection and nurturing will instead likely become victims.
The elderly are especially going to be at risk. A poll taken in the Netherlands found that almost all of those living in nursing homes opposed euthanasia. And with good reason. Given the problems with euthanasia in that country, and the number of cases of it occurring without the consent or request of patients, the elderly have very much to be fearful of.
Legalised euthanasia will put pressure on people for a number of other reasons. For example, family members who may gain from a person’s will may wish to speed along the death of someone in the family. And the most vulnerable will be on the defensive. The entire class of the elderly, terminally ill and disabled people, says Paul Chamberlain “would be forced to justify their own continued existence, and this at the most vulnerable time in their lives.”
Indeed, that is one of the most troublesome aspects of legalised euthanasia: it puts a great burden on people to have to justify their existence. Many will feel guilty about simply existing. And all sorts of guilt trips are already out there: we are overpopulated; there are too few hospital beds; the infirm should make way for the fit, and so on.
As Joe Hildebrand puts it, “Because more important than any individual’s ‘right to die’ is the right of all of us to be free from any pressure to die – and by that I mean the slightest, tiniest, most minuscule suggestion that the world or their loved ones might get along easier without them. If you legalise euthanasia, if you institutionalise the concept that people should be weighing up the pros and cons of their own existence, that pressure is inevitably going to follow.
“People battling vicious diseases or just the onset of time may start to feel selfish for doing so, when in fact the will to live is the most fundamental and decent desire within all of us. It drives our quest for peace, for democracy and for progress. If my grandmother or anyone like her felt guilty for living because of a new law passed in her own country, it would be a country that had betrayed its weak and muffled the divine spark in each of its citizens.”
C. Everett Koop also speaks to this: “It is very easy to slip into moral deception in a discussion of euthanasia. . . . Euthanasia opens up the opportunities at this early stage of the game for almost inconceivable fraud, deception, and deceit. Think of the burdensome elderly people, economically burdensome, whose rapid demise could be looked upon as an economic blessing for their family. Think of the temptation to hasten a legacy. Think of how easy, when there are ulterior motives, to emphasize the surcease from suffering and anxiety that comes with painless death.”
The disabled are another group who are very much at risk here. As Hiram Caton says, “A similar impact is being experienced by disabled persons, who report that they are being roughly treated by medical staff who resent their ‘hopeless’ condition. They also feel threatened by the school of medical ethics that advocates letting die, or even active euthanasia, for persons whose quality of life is deemed to be either too painful, too degrading, or too insensate to warrant continuing.”
Or as Herbert Hendin notes, “No group is more justifiably concerned about legalization [of euthanasia] than people with disabilities. When people with disabilities become depressed and suicidal, their condition is mistakenly viewed as the inevitable and untreatable result of their disability.”
Diane Coleman founded the disability-rights group Not Dead Yet in the US in 1996. She notes how “the disability community’s opposition to legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia has become increasingly visible” in recent years.
She says that the “widespread public image of severe disability as a fate worse than death is not exactly a surprise to the disability community. Disability rights advocates have fought against these negative stereotypes of disability for decades in the effort to achieve basic civil rights protections.”
Disabled groups of course have very good reasons to be concerned about moves to legalise euthanasia. They have seen it all before in the death camps in Nazi Germany. And with “ethicists” such as Peter Singer today also championing the cause of euthanasia and infanticide, these groups still very much have a right to be concerned. Indeed, so concerned are such groups, that when people like Singer seek to speak in Germany, disabled groups rightly come out to protest. Some of his talks have been cancelled as a result.
But it is not only the elderly, the infirm or the disabled who are at risk. Soon everyone could be at risk. If someone is suffering from depression or loneliness or some other non-life threatening illness, cannot they ask for euthanasia as well? After all, if we decide that people are entitled to take their own lives, why limit it to the elderly? Why not terminate any life at any time?
If we declare that everyone has a right to die, then how can we say only certain people can be euthanased? In an age fixated on rights, and on equal rights for all, anyone can demand, and receive, the same treatment. Indeed, doctors in Holland have been reported as taking the life of non-elderly people who asked to be euthanased simply because they were depressed.
The Royal Dutch Medical Association has said that teenagers and children should have the right to choose to be killed, even without parental consent. As David van Gend put it, “Once the fundamental ‘right’ to euthanasia is created, that right must be and is being extended to all who claim fundamental humanity”.
Indeed, the situation in the Netherlands continues to deteriorate. A new bill introduced recently in the Dutch government would allow anyone over twelve years of age to choose the right to die. In case of 12 – 16 year-olds disagreeing with their parents, the child’s wishes will be met. One Dutch cancer specialist said this in support of the bill: “I think if these people want to die then it is their right. There are situations where a 16-year-old manic depressive should be allowed to die”.
And a recent case of a 15-year-old Dutch girl who was euthanased shows this is not just theory. And recall that on April 11, 2001, a vote in the Dutch Senate allowed the Netherlands to become the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia.
Giving depressed young people an easy way out is simply unthinkable, given our very high rates of youth suicide. Indeed, some euthanasia advocates would only compound the problems. Consider the proposal by Dr Philip Nitschke to allow anyone, including troubled teens, to get access to suicide pills.
And we should be able to pick them up in supermarkets! In an interview he said this: “This would mean that the so-called ‘peaceful pill’ should be available in the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing.”
In America there are 31,000 suicides annually, of which only 2 to 4 per cent are by people who are terminally ill. With suicide such a pressing problem throughout the Western world, we dare not go down the path of legalised euthanasia, and further compound these massive social problems.