OPINION – A constant, ongoing challenge of our time is found in trying to pierce the smokescreens and spin that accompany nearly every politicized issue.
This can be more difficult than it sounds.
For instance, the phrase “death with dignity” conveys a sense of respect and mercy for those who are contending with a terminal illness. This is why the so-called “right-to-die” legislative movement has made it one of their primary slogans.
Proponents of death with dignity promote the idea that the greatest human freedom is found in living, and dying, according to a person’s own desires and beliefs. They have successfully pushed for legislation authorizing assisted suicide in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California.
While the effort appears noble and self-empowering at first blush, the intellectual underpinnings of the right-to-die movement are considerably darker.
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview attorney and bioethicist Wesley J. Smith about his book “Forced Exit.” Smith’s book examined the slippery slope that leads from assisted suicide to legalized murder.
The danger, Smith said, lies in the acceptance of the belief that some human lives are not worth living. Whether that is due to a terminal or incurable illness, a permanent disability or something else, assisted suicide requires “experts” to make the determination of whether someone’s existence should continue.
One of the ethics that Smith strongly emphasized is that the lives of those who are sick, disabled or elderly have as much worth as those who are young and vital. Either all human beings have lives of equal and intrinsic value or they do not.
Once a society has legally conceded that some lives are worth less than others, it becomes easier to justify the termination of unworthy lives with a newly discovered duty to die.
Given the drastically rising costs of health care, thanks to ongoing government intervention, it’s not hard to see euthanasia gaining acceptance as a cost-cutting measure. This would not be a difficult sell in a culture that is trained to worship youth and physical beauty.
What originally begins as a “merciful” release from a painful, terminal illness can become a solution that places the interests of the collective above that of the individual patient.
Opposition to euthanasia does not mean that a patient is abandoned to unlimited suffering until he or she dies. It simply recognizes that deliberate termination of human life, however well-intentioned, requires denying the sanctity of human life at some level.
In a recent radio interview with a medical doctor and a registered nurse from a local hospice service, my guests made it very clear that there is a line which medical professionals should not cross.
The Hippocratic Oath of doing “no harm” to the patient has stood the test of time for thousands of years. There is real risk in altering that tradition of giving the physician a duty to society or some other group for the sake of convenience.
Nineteenth Century German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote:
It is not up to (the doctor) whether life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state.
There is a world of difference between a patient choosing to refuse life-saving medical procedures and the proactive steps intended to extinguish a life. A do-not-resuscitate order is not the same thing as a suicide note.
In many cases, a terminally ill patient simply wants some semblance of control over the process of dying. Through improved palliative care and a number of innovative therapies, hospice helps to comfort patients and their families through the process of dying.
At every stage of the transition, the value of the patient’s life is never in doubt.
I will never forget the impact and the compassion of the hospice workers who attended to my father as he died of cancer. They knew what to say, when to say nothing and when to put an arm around my shoulders.
Through their efforts, I learned that there is real dignity in providing comfort and service to those who cannot care for themselves any longer. Their affirmation of the value of my dad’s life continued right to the very end.
Their actions allowed me to glimpse some of the most noble qualities that human beings can possess.
Human history is replete with examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Anything that teaches us that the value of human life is dependent upon quality of life is leading in the direction of a slippery slope that isn’t always obvious.
Noble-sounding lies are still lies.
We would be wise to give serious consideration to where such lies have led others in the past and then ask what makes us think we would be any different.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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