Further Reasons To Reject Legalised Euthanasia

An incredible story reported in today’s press underscores yet again why we never should legalise euthanasia. It is in fact a bittersweet story, because it could have ended up with such a horrible outcome. Instead it was a delightful and joyous outcome.

The story concerns an Australian woman who was reported to be brain dead, and was about to go six feet under, were it not for the intervention of her concerned husband. Here is how the story goes:

“A woman who was diagnosed as being brain dead has recovered three days after her husband begged doctors to put in a breathing tube before switching off a ventilator at an Australian hospital, the Northern Territory News reported Wednesday.

“Gloria Cruz, 56, underwent brain surgery after a tumor was discovered when she suffered a stroke on March 7 and was rushed to the Royal Darwin Hospital in Darwin, Northern Territory. Doctors told her husband Tani Cruz, 51, the case was ‘hopeless’ and she would probably die within 48 hours following the surgery.

“After two weeks, a breathing tube was inserted in Mrs Cruz’s mouth and the ventilator was turned off. Hospital staff were stunned when she woke from her coma three days later. When a doctor recommended that the ventilator be removed and Gloria Cruz be allowed to die, her husband told them, ‘I’m a Catholic – I believe in miracles. I told him that God knows how much I love her – that I don’t want her to suffer but I don’t want her to leave us,’ he said.

“A doctor described her recovery as ‘a miracle.’ Mrs Cruz is now alert and getting around in a wheelchair at the hospital. ‘She’s well on the way to recovery,’ her husband said.”

What an amazing story. Yet it is not a unique story. Quite often we read in the press of similar situations occurring. Despite the assured word of medical specialists, often they are proved to be wrong, or at least premature, in their assessments.

What we have here is the problem of faulty diagnosis and predictions. To terminate a patient’s life, a doctor must have pretty good assurance of his diagnosis/prognosis. But the truth is, surveys have found that one-half of responding physicians said they were not confident to predict that a patient had less than six months to live.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that there is an astonishing level of misdiagnosis of persistent vegetative state. The study of 80 patients supposedly in a deep and presumably irreversible form of coma found that three-quarters of them had been misdiagnosed. Many of the patients had either woken up spontaneously or had shown signs of brain activity.

One study found that eleven patients admitted to a New York hospital who were diagnosed as having “advanced cancer in its terminal stages” did not have cancer at all. Indeed, as one doctor put it, “Significant numbers [of patients] have been told by doctors that they have only months to live, and have lived on, often with a good quality of life, for many years. As with capital punishment, if you get it wrong, it’s too late!”

Examples are common. Doctors at a Sydney hospital decided that a man who lapsed into a coma after a drug overdose would be better off dead, claiming he had irreversible brain damage. His sister intervened, and with the help of a NSW Supreme Court judge, managed to prevent the hospital from shutting down his life support. Four weeks later the man was smiling, and kissing loved ones. A Queensland grandmother, ill with bowel cancer, who had demanded the right to die, has now gone into remission, and is living a healthy and happy life.

Surgeon C. Everett Koop speaks about “how difficult predictions might be”. He speaks about one woman “with myasthenia gravis who lived ‘artificially’ for 652 days in intensive care and then made a remarkable recovery. Said a hospital [staffer], ‘She made us recognize that there was no such thing as an inordinate effort. She had such a tenacity for life we felt that everything we did, no matter how extraordinary, was appropriate to the situation’.”

One man from Arkansas who was barely conscious for twenty years because of a severe brain injury recently stunned doctors by regaining speech and movement. It seems his brain rewired itself. And an English woman in a vegetative state after a car accident has amazed doctors by responding to voices.

Wesley Smith also offers some examples. Let me share one of them: “In Los Angeles, Maria Lidia Lopez, six months pregnant, collapsed from a blood vessel disorder in the brain and entered a coma. After only three weeks waiting for her to awaken, doctors declared that her brain was so injured that she could not survive. All life support was about to be discontinued, which would have caused not only her own death, but that of her twin unborn children – but Maria awakened, and slowly improved to the point that the doctors were able to deliver her two healthy babies by Caesarian section.”

More recently a Texas man who was declared to be brain dead was on the verge of having his organs removed for transplant. As family members were saying their final goodbyes, the man’s hand and foot moved. After a period in hospital, the man is now recovering at home. Amazingly, he recalls doctors pronouncing him brain dead while in hospital.

The story is the same at the other end of life. For example, a faulty prognosis about unborn twins was recently made. A mother was told by a specialist that her twins were deformed with abnormalities and would not survive. The mother did not heed her doctor’s advice to get an abortion, but instead gave birth to two perfectly healthy daughters.

With such a high range of faulty or uncertain assessments of a patient’s condition and likelihood of survival, it would surely be folly to legalise euthanasia. Add this to a number of other compelling reasons why we should not head down this path, and we have a very strong case indeed to resist the death merchants and their gruesome agenda.


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13 Replies to “Further Reasons To Reject Legalised Euthanasia”

  1. Hi Bill – I knew you’d like this story if you hadn’t already read it! Good article.
    In His grace,
    Ed Sherman, Holland

  2. Many thanks indeed for the tip Ed.

    I had not seen it previously. You obviously thought I was being too idle, and you wanted me to pen another article! Well, it worked. Thanks again.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Great article. Once we get beyond the media hype around specific cases, we find the real world to be much more murky and unpredictable to allow euthanasia.
    Lee Herridge

  4. Thank you for making these stories known. Might I suggest we pay attention to the characters of the leaders of the pro-euthanasia movement. Years ago I read a scathing assessment of one of the leaders of the Hemlock Society. Then there is the nutty Kevorkian. In my own experience I had a euthanasia loony ask me what hospital my mother died in and he would be able to tell me whether or not she was euthanised! Apparently he had a god-like knowledge of who did what to whom in Australian hospitals 10 years ago. Some of these people will say anything.
    John Snowden

  5. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for another timely article. If you don’t mind, I’d like to help clarify a few things that you have mentioned. First of all, some distinctions between various “near-death” states:

    Coma = A person is unconscious and unresponsive, but critical parts of the brain (eg. the breathing controls) are still intact

    Persistent vegetative state = A state of coma where a person is thought to be unconscious but shows some signs of arousal — eg. they may respond to stimuli

    Brain death = Critical parts of the brain, which control breathing and reflexes, are dead. In a brain dead person, the heart and lungs are kept functioning only by life support.

    Organ donation is only allowed in brain death. It isn’t allowed in coma or PVS.

    It is also important to distinguish between different things that people might call “euthanasia”:

    1. Withdrawal of artificial feeding & water — The person is kept alive by artificial feeding alone (through a stomach tube). Other body systems, such as breathing and kidney function, are normal. They die naturally (over a course of hours to days) when feeding is withdrawn.

    2. Withdrawal of medical treatment — The person’s body is failing, and they are kept alive by medical interventions such as drugs, antibiotics, chemotherapy, dialysis. If these things are withdrawn, they die (over a course of hours to days) by a natural process.

    3. Withdrawal of life support — The person is kept alive by artificial ventilation (breathing) because they cannot breathe by themselves. When the ventilator is switched off, the person dies within 10-15 minutes.

    4. True euthanasia — Nothing is keeping the person alive — all their body systems are functioning normally enough to sustain life. A drug is administered to deliberately kill them, (usually within a few minutes).

    With people in a coma or PVS, usually the issue is artificial feeding (1), and sometimes continuation versus withdrawal of medical treatment (2). With brain death, it is always a question of life support / artificial ventilation (3).

    The difference between 1-3 and true euthanasia (4) is that death comes naturally in cases 1-3, whereas in true euthanasia death is artificially inflicted. The current political debate in Australia concerns true euthanasia. Withdrawal of artificial feeding, medical treatment, and life support are already allowed by law and done every day in our hospitals.

    From a Christian ethical point of view, true euthanasia is always wrong. Withdrawal of life support in a brain dead person (provided the diagnosis is confident) is very rarely an issue of contention — I think the cases that Bill reports above are extremely rare exceptions where the doctors got it wrong. Withdrawal of medical treatment (eg. drugs, chemotherapy) in a severely ill person is sometimes contentious, but it is not something that most Christian ethicists regard as inherently wrong.

    There is a real difference of opinion, however, over withdrawal of artificial feeding in a permanently comatosed / PVS person. This is where there have been some political, legal and theological clashes (eg. Terri Schiavo). Some conservative Catholics and evangelicals have argued that every person has a right to food and water, even if that is given artificially, and therefore artificial feeding should never be withdrawn (to do so is equivalent to euthanasia). Others argue that artificial feeding is a form of medical intervention (like dialysis and drugs) and therefore it is morally legitimate to withdraw artificial feeding if a comatose patient has no hope of ever recovering.

    Hope that helps!
    Jereth Kok

  6. Good stuff, Bill. I’ve been following what you have to say on this issue for a while. For personal reasons, I’m strongly against legalized euthanasia, but I’m not going to say why here.
    Ross McPhee

  7. Thank you Bill,
    This article and the many examples of people recovering from seemingly impossible situations also showed me what is possible through prayer and trusting in the power of God. It’s time that we as a nation return to trusting in Him, rather than placing our trust in the godless such as Nitschke and those who advocate euthanasia and abortion on demand. A few years ago my wife was diagnosed with a serious medical condition and told to go hospital urgently. On the way there we prayed and put our faith in God, accepting His will. After further tests at the hospital my wife was told that there was no problem and she has been OK since. I will never know if this was a misdiagnosis or a healing, but I will keep putting my faith in God that He knows what is best for all of us. The information and examples in your article will be useful in overcoming those who relentlessly push for euthanasia; however that depends on whether we have the courage and perseverance to keep up the fight.

    Yours faithfully,
    Michael Palma

  8. Bill, your Texas man example triggered an old memory.

    I think it was Mary Pride (radically reformed feminist) who alerted me to the change in definition of death from heart stoppage to cessation of brain activity. Sorry I can’t recall which of her books it was in, but I will try to find out.

    The gruesome intent was to allow for harvesting of body parts ie. the transplant industry (as per Jereth’s comment).

    John Angelico

  9. Hi John,

    I don’t think Christians should be opposed to organ transplantation. I am a registered organ donor and have made that clear to everyone in my family. I hope that if I ever end up brain-dead from a car accident, my organs can give someone else a second chance at life.

    Most of the time, especially in a country like Australia, doctors diagnose brain death with great care and expertise. It is usually a legal requirement that 2 qualified neurologists certify someone as brain dead before transplantation can occur. And a brain-dead person will always be given a fair amount of time on a life-support machine to make absolutely certain that there is no hope of recovery.

    Some organs, such as the cornea and heart valves, can be transplanted even after full cardiac death. The organ donation registry allows you to select which organs you want to donate. If you feel uncomfortable with the concept of brain death (which is fair enough), you can still volunteer to donate these other tissues.

    Jereth Kok

  10. Bill, have you written anything on organ transplant? I am still not 100% comfortable with it. To declare death at heart stoppage rather than brain dead would be a more surefire way to make sure someone is really dead though? It is just another one of those areas where fallen man is given a responsibility that we are probably not equal to, hence the massive exploitation and illegal trade in human body parts. When you put it into an equation, I wonder how many people needlessly died for the sake of harvesting of their body parts compared to the ones whose life was saved.
    Thanks for the article. It was only last week I tried to get people to sign the AFA petition for better consideration of palliative care as an antidote for the perceived need for euthanasia laws and the petition returned to me blank. Amazing, the lack of understanding among Christians.
    Many blessings, Ursula Bennett

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