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Assisted suicide

Greater Leniency in Assisted Suicide may Soon be Coming to America

Sunday, December 07, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: assisted suicide, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Washington state is busy responding to the call of the voters and crafting a law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients. Washington is the second state in the nation to adopt such a law which is patterned after Oregon's "Death with Dignity" law allowing a terminally ill person to be prescribed lethal medication which would be self-administered. Approval of the initiative received a resounding 58 percent of the vote. The possibility that other states will awaken from their slumber on this issue and mount similar initiatives has prompted the raising of voices on both sides of the issue to levels not heard since the days of Jack Kevorkian, the physician known as Dr. Death for his role in assisting in the demise of several terminally ill people at their requests.

Proponents view assisted suicide as symbolic of individual freedom

Proponents of the legislation say the initiative would provide a compassionate way for terminally ill people to achieve the death they desire. Among the loudest proponents are several people with incurable disorders such as Parkinson's, a disease that causes tremors rigidity, slowness of movement and loss of balance. Although these people are not viewed as terminally ill, their experience with ongoing disease has made them realize why other ill people want the option of death.

The right to assisted suicide is viewed by its supporters as a historic victory for personal liberty and freedom. They see it as each individual's right to have choice regarding death and the continuation of life in the face of horrendous disease. Many proponents have pledged to continue working for the campaign for choice in death and hope to soon see similar initiatives in the remaining states. Since people have no choice regarding their births, they see it as essential to allow choice in what must be endured while alive

The world's largest assisted suicide advocacy group is the Hemlock Society of the United States. It provides financial support for Dr. Philip Nitschke, otherwise known as the Australian Jack Kevorkian. Although Nitschke doesn't publicly assist suicides or dump the bodies at local hospitals the way Kevorkian did, he travels through Australia and New Zealand giving publicized "How to Commit Suicide" classes. He even manufacturers "The Exit Bag" for distribution to members of an Australian euthanasia advocacy group.

What makes Nitschke stand out from Kevorkian is his desire to give troubled teenagers access to a "peaceful pill" a concoction made from generally available household products.

Nitschke believes it is ethically inconsistent to promote the right to life without also promoting the right to death. This idea leads him to conclude that all people qualify for use of the peaceful pill. If the right to death is upheld by society, there should not be any artificial barriers to this right by way of subgroups that don't meet the criteria. He would like to see the pill available at supermarkets so that anyone old enough to understand death could obtain it peacefully at the time of their choosing.

The beliefs of Nitschke are only slightly more extreme than those of the Hemlock Society's medical director, who joined Nitschke and other assisted suicide physician ideologues in signing the Zurich Declaration on Assisted Dying, which calls for the legalization of assisted suicide "For all competent adults suffering severe and enduring distress."

Opponents pointing to European plans say assisted death opens the door to euthanasia

Opponents of physician assisted death see it as something like a Trojan Horse a policy that enters a state's legal system as a gift of compassion but is full of deadly consequences. They believe when the decision is made to allow a dose of deadly drug to be self-administered, the next step is obviously to allow someone else to administer the dose to those not physically able to do it themselves. From that point the decision could easily be made to allow euthanasia by lethal injection for anyone from imperfect children to the frail or demented elderly.

Just such a path was followed in the Netherlands where a hospital recently proposed guidelines for mercy killing of terminally ill newborns and then admitted it had already carried out the procedure in a handful of cases. Recent debate in Holland has centered on whether to legalize euthanasia of people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives. Also in question was euthanasia for children, the mentally retarded, and people left in an irreversible coma after an accident.

For the last seven years it is been legal for Dutch doctors to inject a sedative and a lethal dose of muscle relaxant at the request of adult patients suffering great pain with no hope of relief. These guidelines, known as the Groningen Protocol, create a legal framework for permitting doctors to actively end the life of newborns deemed to be in similar pain from incurable disease or extreme deformities. These guidelines accept euthanasia when the parents think it is best. Examples include extremely premature births, children suffering from brain damage from bleeding and convulsions, and diseases where a child could only survive on life support for the rest of its life, such as those with severe spina bifida.

In response to the state of euthanasia in the Netherlands, the Catholic Church has reacted with outrange, claiming that the slippery slope of physician assisted death had already descended into a vertical cliff.

In Britain, death as a result of a doctor ending a patient's life without the patient's consent is fairly common, and is referred to as "non-voluntary euthanasia" or "mercy killing". It involves the ending of the life of people who don't have the faculty to make such a decision, for instance when they are in a coma. According to an article in The London Telegraph, a third of the 584,791 people who died in 2004 had their deaths "accelerated" by their doctor's use of pain relief. The actions were listed as "alleviating symptoms" which coincidentally had the affect of shortening the life.

In Switzerland, assisted suicide plays a role in more than half of all deaths according to a study that confirms the country's reputation as the euthanasia capital of Europe. A growing number of foreigners travel to Switzerland for help in committing suicide.

Swiss doctors co-operate in several ways with patients' requests to be allowed to die. Under Swiss law, they are allowed to provide people with the means to end their lives as long as the person is deemed to be making a rational decision to die and does it themselves. Those who want to die in this way must produce records about their illness and a letter explaining why they want to die.

In other cases, doctors administer a lethal cocktail of drugs even though this method remains illegal in Switzerland. The official laws governing assisted suicide have not been enforced for many years. Although regulations are in place governing the procedures, the Swiss claim to place more emphasis on the wishes of the patients.

Doctor support for euthanasia in Switzerland is split although there are more physicians favoring some form of assisted suicide. It is favored by three quarters of the general public.

The number of assisted suicides in Oregon remains low

Americans questioning why Oregon has not pushed for greater leniency in assisted suicide have concluded that it wouldn't be politically expedient to do so until more states have legalized the practice and people are more accepting of it. They see it as an eventuality if the practice gains acceptance elsewhere in the U.S. Yet decade long statistical records from Oregon reveal that Oregonians haven't flocked to obtain this service as many feared would happen. In the ten years the law has been in effect, 515 people have received a prescription for a lethal drug, and 341 actually followed through by taking the medication.

Assisted suicide plans takes on Orwellian tone

Critics of the Oregon system complain that the reporting system is hidden from public scrutiny. The state has no authority under the law to investigate or dictate penalties for doctors who don't report the prescribing of fatal drugs. The reports doctors do file are not maintained in any record. Once the Department of Health Services publishes its final report, it destroys all records received from doctors who prescribed these medications, leaving no trail of verification that the prescriptions were issued in a way consistent with the law. It appears that assisted suicide in Oregon is practiced in the Orwellian mode, substituting rhetoric for accountability.

Although Washington's new law generally replicates the Oregon law, there is one important distinction. In cases of assisted suicide in Oregon, a physician states on the death certificate that the actual cause of death was through the Death with Dignity Act. In Washington such truth will not be allowed, with the physician being required to list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death

The Washington plan reflects the general character of current life which is taking on a greater Orwellian aspect by the minute. The language of the plan has been whitewashed, calling assisted suicide "aid-in-dying" or "hastened death". The Washington initiative specifically bans the use of the words "suicide" in its required annual reports.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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