Euthanasia-A History of a Good Death
Death is often ignored or feared. Death. As a modern people we watch people dying on the tube daily, but we rarely really think about it. Unlike the Native American of the past, we do not have a death song to sing. Modern medical science has depersonalized death. Death is an inconvenience to life to avoid and it is a definite encroachment on life rather than being a part of life. (R. David San Filippo, Ph.D.)
History of Euthanasia
Physician assisted death/suicide is not a modern idea in fact its been around a long time and can be traced to Rome and Greece. In the 4th Century BC, the Hippocratic Oath was written by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. In part, the Oath states:
“To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary [device] to procure abortion.”
Although the Hippocratic oath was given to doctors for over 2400 years; today doctors are not required to swear to it. To understand the “Good Death” movement we must know a little of the history. (All American Life League):
1938: Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) was founded in New York its goal was to gain social and legal acceptance for the “right” to kill vulnerable human beings (“mental defectives” and “incurables”).
1939: ESA made its first attempt to legalize “voluntary” euthanasia—the right to die than the right to kill, even though the latter be in mercy.” (ESA pamphlet Merciful Release.)
1940s - Nazi Use of Involuntary Euthanasia Changes Public Perception of Euthanasia in the US "When the 1940s dawned, many in the euthanasia movement believed it was only a matter of time before euthanasia became legal in the United States... But when World War II broke out, and Hitler's war machine Marched eastward across Europe...news of Nazi atrocities against mental patients and handicapped children filtered back to America... As a result, in the late 1940s, the euthanasia movement found itself increasingly on the defensive, scrambling to deny that the form of euthanasia it supported was the same as Nazi murder." (Britannia Pro Con. https://euthanasia.procon.org/historical-timeline/)
Physician-Assisted Death/Suicide Legal Practice in The United States
There are no federal laws on physician assisted death and assisted suicide at this time. However, President Biden has made past statements on the subject.
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) on Assisted Suicide and the Pain Relief Promotion Act
(20 years ago) (http://www.euthanasia.com/biden.html)
Mr. Chairman, I want to say a few words about the Pain Relief Promotion Act, a bill which I am proud to support. This bill does two important things: it makes clear that prescribing pain medication -- even when it may increase the risk of death -- is a "legitimate medical purpose" under the Controlled Substances Act and it makes clear that prescribing medication for the purpose of assisting suicide is not. Now, truth in advertising here – I am opposed to legalizing physician-assisted suicide in this country, period. In contrast to abortion – where some may argue about whether or not there is a life at stake – in assisted suicide there is no question that there is a human life in being. Physician-assisted suicide is the most dangerous slippery slope, in my view, that the nation can embark upon. (Britannia Pro Con: https://euthanasia.procon.org/states-with-legal-physician-assisted-suicide/)
Currently and legally the question of Physician-Assisted Death/Suicide rests with each State in the United States. There are nine (9) States that have Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide. These are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state and the District of Columbia (DC). In addition, Montana has legal physician-assisted suicide via court ruling. Three States (AL, MA, and WV) prohibit Physician-Assisted Death/Suicide by common law. Four States (NV, NC, UT, and WY) have no specific laws regarding assisted suicide, may not recognize common law, or are otherwise unclear on the legality of assisted suicide. In the rest of the States (34) Physician Assisted Death/Suicide is considered a crime of manslaughter and is a felony. (Britannia Pro Con: https://euthanasia.procon.org/states-with-legal-physician-assisted-suicide/)
Ethical Issues of Physician-Assisted Death/Suicide
Here are some ethical questions regarding Physician Assisted Death/Suicide (Ethical aspects of PAS):
· Does the State have that right to deny the terminally ill the ability to end a poor quality of life and pain?
· The three great religions: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish all teach life is God’s right alone and suicide should never be an option. However, the deeply religious are almost now a minority and is it right for them to deny relieve or a dignified death to the nominally religious and seculars, atheists, and agnostics?
· Is it good to engage in extremely expensive treatments for the dying who may only extend their lives for a few weeks and deplete the funding and resources that could be used for the living?
· What are the chances of abuse in PAS? Newsweek reports that PAS could lead to organ harvesting. In Belgium and Holland mentally ill and disabled people are killed and their bodies are harvested (Life News)
“Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.” (American Medical Association)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following about euthanasia and assisted suicide.
· 2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
· 2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus, an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
· 2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
· 2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
· 2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
· 2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
· 2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
· 2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
R. David San Filippo, Ph.D. Historical Perspectives on Attitudes Concerning Death and Dying. Kimball Publishing – 2006 Orlando. Florida U.S.A.
All American Life League, Building a Culture of Life. https://www.all.org/learn/euthanasia/historic-review/#:~:text=A%20basic%20knowledge%20of%20the%20history%20of%20the,was%20written%20by%20Hippocrates,%20the%20father%20of%20medicine
Britannia Pro Con. https://euthanasia.procon.org/historical-timeline/
Britannia Pro Con. https://euthanasia.procon.org/states-with-legal-physician-assisted-suicide/
Ethical aspects of PAS. Religious Tolerance. http://www.religioustolerance.org/euth7.htm
Life News. Doctors are Increasingly Euthanizing Patients to Harvest Their Organs. https://www.lifenews.com/2020/01/07/doctors-are-increasingly-euthanizing-patients-to-harvest-their-organs-2/
American Medical Association. Physician-Assisted Suicide. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/ethics/physician-assisted-suicide