Euthanasia: When the Doctor Kills the Patient

Qualifying euthanasia by calling it active or passive, direct or indirect, voluntary, nonvoluntary, involuntary, or assisted suicide only confuses the picture.

HIPPOCRATES lived before the time of Christ. Prior to his time, the medical practitioner had a dual role. One was to cure. One was to kill.

The great contribution of Hippocrates, which passed into the Christian era and guided the medical profession for the next two millennia, was to separate the curing and killing functions of the physician. Henceforth, a physician would only cure. Down through the centuries in the Hippocratic oath has come the phrase, primum non nocere, “First do no harm.” Now the oath of Hippocrates is no longer sworn by graduating medical students. With abortion, and the onrush of euthanasia, doctors, tragically, have again assumed that dual role.

Price Tag
When you take the giant step of placing a price tag on human life, judging that it has only relative value, then you have made a fatal move, for price tags can be marked down. The Nazis marked them down. Holland marked them down. Abortion demonstrated the same thing. Make no mistake, the slippery slope is a startling reality. Recall William L. Shirer who interviewed a Nazi judge condemned to death at Nuremberg. The judge wept saying, “How could it have come to this?” Mr. Shirer responded, “Herr Judge, it came to this the first time you authorized the killing of an innocent life.”

Tubes and Tubes
Proponents of euthanasia are quick to accuse doctors of not letting a patient die in peace. The typical picture drawn is of an old man strapped in bed, in constant pain, clearly dying. He has tubes in every natural body orifice and in several artificial ones. The doctor is keeping him alive, perhaps to obtain a larger fee, perhaps because the doctor does not want to admit that he has lost the battle for this man’s life.

A common observation in a retirement community is, “I don’t want to be kept alive with all those tubes and painful and expensive treatments.”

Rather Compassionate Care
Years ago, truly life-saving treatments were limited. Only too often, the physician’s role was to comfort and eliminate pain as the patient progressed to an inevitable death. Then, with the advent of antibiotics, better surgery, intensive and coronary care units and new drugs, it became possible to prevent death from occurring. For physicians, there was a learning process, from excesses in keeping dying people alive “too long” to learning how to “let go” and allowing natural death to occur. Today, almost all doctors handle dying patients well. Except in rare cases the caricature of the old man above is no longer valid.

Intensive Care Units
Is the intensive care unit such a frightening, painful place, that people do not want to return to it? A major study sheds light on this.1

Senior patients, previously treated in an intensive care unit, were asked if they would be willing to again undergo treatment in an I.C.U. “if it prolonged your life as perfectly as it could be?” For 10 years? 96% said yes. The percent remained at a very high level when asked for 5, 2 and 1 year each, for 6 months and 3 months. 74% still said yes for just one month.

Biologically Tenacious
Patients who are dying, do go on to die. While the proponents of euthanasia constantly speak about such cases, these are not their target at all.

They are, rather those who somebody thinks ought to die, but who won’t….the biologically tenacious. Commonly, such people are not in pain, are not on life support systems, but are, by some judgments, a burden to society. These are people with strokes, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, head injuries, quadriplegia, etc.

Pain
Pro-euthanasia literature constantly emphasizes pain, constant, intractable, unrelieved, agonizing pain. Physical pain, with rare exceptions, can be controlled. Sound advice, when confronted by a story of a person’s loved one being in constant pain, is “Get another doctor.” If yours can’t control pain, get one who does.

“The claim that serious physical pain is a valid reason to kill a patient does not hold up.”2

The second type of pain which is the main reason why people ask to be killed, is emotional pain, despair, hopelessness, being unloved, anguish, isolation, loss of dignity, weariness with life and not wanting to be dependent on others.

Suicide
Suicide among those with serious handicaps is almost non-existent. It is the “normals” around them who judge their quality of life to be unacceptable, and who want them dead.3

With rare exceptions, those who commit suicide are clinically depressed. Clinical depression is usually a biochemical dysfunction that can be helped with drug therapy.

Over half of those who commit suicide saw a doctor in the prior month. Their complaints had been insomnia, no appetite, fatigue and other symptoms of depression. Sadly many doctors do not diagnose the underlying depression or treat it.

Patients usually tell others of their wish to die. Whether they continue to feel this way and request or commit suicide is heavily influenced by the response they receive.4

Comfort Care
Comfort care consists of TLC, Tender Loving Care. This includes bathing, clean sheets, a warm room, a smile, a bath, proper positioning, pillows, food, water and other personal care.

Therapeutic Care
This entails the use of drugs, surgery, etc. directed toward curing a disease, repairing an injury, removing a tumor, etc. Such therapy can be divided into usual and customary, such as giving antibiotics, splinting a broken bone and removing an appendix; and extraordinary care, such as heart surgery, organ transplants, etc. The care giver has always been seen as negligent if comfort care is not given. Extraordinary treatment has never been mandatory and has been judged in the light of many factors.

Mixed Up Priorities
Some have now moved food and water from “comfort care” into “treatment.” If then, a decision is made to withhold further “treatment,” food and water can be removed. If the doctor removes therapy, the patient sometimes dies. If the doctor removes food and water, the patient always dies, and painfully. Removing food and water isn’t “letting him die,” it’s “making him die.”

Legal in Holland
Holland legalized euthanasia. What began as a few extraordinary cases, has now become routine. 130,000 people die each year in Holland, and up to 20,000 are either killed or helped to die by doctors. As many as half did not ask to be killed.

These now include newborns judged to have a poor quality of life, a depressed adult who was physically well,5 and also depressed teenagers.

Hospitalized seniors are routinely visited by an organization that offers to oversee their case to prevent their doctor from killing them. The Dutch Patients’ Association placed a warning in the press that, in many hospitals, patients are being killed without their will or knowledge, or the knowledge of their families, and advised the patients and their families to carefully inquire on every step in the treatment, and when in doubt, to consult a reliable expert outside the hospital.6, 7, 8

Judges originally set up qualifications that were suppose to be honored before a doctor could kill a patient. In 2002 these were confirmed in statute law. These include repeated voluntary requests to die, uncontrollable pain, “Force Majeure” (doctor has no other choice), witnesses and two doctors who agree. But few of these are even considered, and the requirement for a voluntary request, by a rational person, repeatedly made, has been routinely ignored.

Changed My Mind
What the senior citizen says at the church social, or even in a doctor’s office, is not necessarily what that same patient will say when actually confronted with the possibility of dying. Life, however limited, is a good that most cling to. If you do honor their request, be sure it’s the most recent one, not one casually uttered years earlier.

Other Reasons to Oppose Euthanasia

  • Doctors are frequently wrong in judging that a patient will die.
  • When the only living witnesses are those who wanted her dead and the doctor, who is to confirm that she really did ask to die?
  • If society approves euthanasia, how many elders will ask for it so as to no longer burden their loved ones?
  • How voluntary is “voluntary”? Doctors and family can pressure a vulnerable patient into requesting death.
  • In Holland progress in providing palliative care has largely disappeared (there are only a few small hospices there). Whereas in nearby Britain where, euthanasia is forbidden, there are over 300.
  • Given the costs and increasing numbers of older people in the US, good palliative care will rapidly become unavailable if euthanasia is a legal option.

Need for Education
The more people know about the care of the terminally ill, and the pros and cons of legal euthanasia, the less they support it.9 Among doctors, support for euthanasia is strongest among those who know the least about it.10

A Plea to Lawmakers
If you do legalize euthanasia, please do not have a doctor do it. Rather hire a professional executioner. For over 2000 years people have trusted their doctor to “do no harm.” This trust has been seriously undermined by legal abortion. Please do not complete the destruction of this trust and confidence.

The American, Australian and the Canadian Med. Associations have all condemned euthanasia.

Summary
Euthanasia advocates appeal to the fearful in the name of ideals of compassion and autonomy. But they promote policies which, despite their best intentions, can only result in coercion and cruelty. If successful, such activity will dehumanize older people as much or more than any indiscriminate overuse of medical technology.11

The tragedy that will befall depressed, suicidal patients will be matched by what will happen to terminally ill people, particularly the old and the poor. Assisted suicide and euthanasia will become routine ways of dealing with serious and terminal illnesses, just as in the Netherlands. And, palliative care will be undercut for everyone.12

“When patients suffering from terminal illness are given proper palliative and supportive care, the desire for assisted suicide generally disappears.”13

1. Patient…Preference for Med. I.C.U., Danis et. al., JAMA 8-12-88, Vol. 260, No. 6, pg. 797-802.
2. Amicus Brief, AMA Glucksberg case, at 1&2, US Supreme Court Jan. 1997.
3. W. Peacock in Shewman, Active Voluntary Euthanasia, Issues In Law & Medicine, Winter 1987, pg 234.
4. H. Hendrin, Seduced by Death, W. W. Norton, 1996, Pg. 218.
5. Acquittal After Assisted Suicide, Br. Med. J. 2/7/94.
6. R. Fenigsen, Involuntary Euthanasia in Holland, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, 1987.
7. J. Willke, How Doctors Kill Patients in Holland, National Right to Life News, May 23, 1989.
8. J. Bopp et al., Euthanasia in Holland, Issues in Law & Medicine, vol. 4, no. 4, Spring Õ89, pp. 455-487.
9. Survey of Voter Attitudes in U.S.; the Terrance Group, Houston, TX, Sept. 1994.
10. R.K. Portenoy et al; Determinants of Willingness to endorse Assisted Suicide: 1995.
11. ibid (Portenoy), Pg. 222.
12. ibid (Portenoy), Pg. 218.
13. Amicus Brief, Nat. Hospice Org. Quill & Glucksberg cases, US Supreme Court, Jan. 1997.

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8 thoughts on “Euthanasia: When the Doctor Kills the Patient

  1. With all due respect you do not know what you are talking about. You will not know until you have a terminal disease. Until that time you have no right to give your opinion!

  2. With all due respect Kermit Beal, it is not your choice when to take your own life- or another. Whether you have a terminal disease or not, that isn’t your decision, it’s God’s.

  3. My husband died almost immediately upon having been given morphine & midazolam, multiple warnings of morphine-intolerance ignored. Independant respiratory function & cardiac out-put. Lucid, cogent no discernable cognitive impairment, no terminal diagnosis. Staff not wearing name-badges. Did not speak to us. Two DNR/CPR notes, one emerged 4 years after death. Body I.D.d* with police officer. No autopsy. No inquest.

  4. I am terribly disturbed by this Barbara Williams. The doctor at the Rehab facility where my dad was, TRICKED us! She said if he went to Hospice, he would be very comfortable and given the appropriate medications to keep him that way. He was talking to us earlier in the day and doing well enough, as he had been…I think when he refused to do rehab, they decided he was no longer a good candidate for a patient and they wanted to make room for another patient that they could bill the insurance for. They gave us a tour of the facility, (connected by a hallway with locked doors) which was beautiful with space for my mom to stay, showers, laundry, etc. We thought our dad was going there for comfort and even thought he could then come back to rehab afterward if he improved. The doctor knew he was never coming back. He was dead that evening from large doses of morphine that he was allergic to, and it was noted in his chart! He should have been kept comfortable but it shouldn’t have killed him. God should have been the only one deciding when that happened. Yes, he was terminally ill but he didn’t have to die like that..it was like he was an animal being put down.. It has been almost a year, and the guilt, sadness, and emotional trauma is like a nightmare that will not end. We watched him die in front of us in a way that I can never erase from my head. Places like this should be shut down and doctors like this should lose their license to practice. Awful, just awful. We have to do something about this type of practice where doctors get so damn full of themselves that they decide who should live and who should die.

  5. My mother was murdered by CHILLIWACK hospital. The staff snuck lethal injections while I was out of the room. They also murdered a mentally challenged man 61. She was starved for over 10 days after brain surgery. Then I find out I CAN’T SUE because of B.C.S UNFAIR UNLAWFUL DEATH LAWS intheirname.ca. Plus, Adrian Dix the HEALTH minister is forcing care homes to EUTHANIZE seniors or lose their $750,000 grant!

  6. I have read all the replies above. Life is so precious. But Ive come to understand over time is that, no one will ever be able to feel what another feels.

    I am sure our emotions have names for them. But in the true sense, feeling of pain and fear is only felt what the one is going through.
    It is beyond human comprehension to feel what the other is going through.
    The pain that a terminally ill patient goes through will never be understood by them. The reason because along with the pain of the disease each human being have their own emotional involvement with life around them.
    We can only try to understand, but I dont think we have ever succeeded. So when I hear someone say that it is better to assist one to die or not. We actually don’t even know if it that is right or wrong. We see family around us suffering it breaks our hearts. Each one have our own way to voice our opinion, but that is all that we can do.
    The only thing I would do is, listen to what the sick are saying without being judgemental to what they have to share with us. Because terminally ill patients teach us how to care for them if we listen with intent.

  7. To all who give flowery speeches about “listening to the terminally ill” and “dying with dignity”, you have no idea what you’re talking about until you watch a doctor and nurses KILL your husband with morphine when you kept asking to take him home because he was only supposed to be there for 24 hrs to make sure he was stable. But they refused to let you take him home even when they decided to evacuate the floor to bring in COVID patients. They just killed him faster! I want to expose this earh cult and the doctors who are doing it. These smug self-righteous nazis!

  8. I feel your pain. I have just recently been put through something very similar. His doctor made the decision to do this even after a midnight conversation with her and a nurse. The conversation was filled with protests from me and her getting a bit testy with me and medical records showing he was actually improving two days prior to his death. They almost insisted that he be moved into hospice but they were understaffed and couldn’t take him right away, so he stayed on the hospital side. He was on a bi-pap which wasn’t allowed in hospice. I was told that he couldn’t breathe on his own and that they had tried to ‘wean’ him off of it. That meant to them just pulling it off. How cruel! I watched it! I know that the machine could have been reset and turned down. After all they had set it at that level! His o2 level dropped all the way down to 9! Yes 9! All of his levels changed somewhat, but the man fought back and started to breathe on his own! His o2 started to climb back up. I almost had to beg for oxygen. The nurse left the room to find the RT who had immediately left the room after pulling the machine. She came back with a nasal cannula and the claimed there wasn’t oxgen in the room! Come on! He was just on it, and in ICU? A nasal cannula when he had a trach? One litter of o2? I did get her to turn it up to 2, even though it was coming back out the trach. So I feel safe in saying the man was breathing totally on his own! He was actually grinning and was totally relaxed, glad to be alive! He hadn’t been able to verbalize for years, but we had our signals. I went home feeling he was going to be ok until my midnight conversations. During this whole episode he had 3 injections. The fist 2 were ativan and I am not sure what the last one was. I know that he needed the first 2, but he didn’t need any more! He was relaxed and awake. When I called the night nurse he informed me that he wouldn’t open his eyes or respond. I wonder why! He had been prescribed ativan and versed every 15 minutes! They didn’t want him to survive!

    He passed in January 2020. I wrote this shortly after that time, but didn’t send it thinking I would feel differently in time. It’s been over a year now and I don’t. I feel guilty and so alone. I know how much he loved life and wanted to live. Even with all of his problems he found joy. He was taken from me by this sick care system we have. What upsets me more, is that none of these so called drs even knew him. Some claimed they did, but they didn’t. Those some were familiar with him, but know him, NOT! The ones that did this to him only met him a little over two weeks! I don’t think I will ever ‘get over’ his death.

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