At one time, I was a firm supporter of legalizing the practice of physician assisted euthanasia. I believed that those in unrelieved physical pain or those who suffered from incurable and debilitating diseases should have the legal right to ask the me cal profession to assist them in peacefully ending that agony. Using my unwavering belief that each of us unconditionally controls our own bodies and that we must have the rights attendant to that ownership, I became of the opinion that there is a time when each of us must have the option of ending our lives. I thought that, with strong legal constraints on the process and precisely delineated requirements to be followed before the action could be executed (pun intended), euthanasia could be a welcome alternative for many.
Well, a number of issues and some newly discovered information from Saul Friedman's column "Gray Matters" in Newsday magazine have caused me to revisit the question.
The successful effort in Oregon to pass the "Death With Dignity" proposal in the last election and the unsuccessful effort in California were the catalysts towards reconsidering the controversy. Reading and listening to the various arguments for and against the proposition I was initially left with a feeling that this is a beneficial law and should be passed.
Only after the law was enacted in Oregon did the press begin reporting in depth on the forces which had opposed the issue. These groups were, to my surprise, mostly senior groups and organizations which provided services to the elderly and disabled. They explained that their opposition came, not from a desire to limit the options available to their clients but, rather, from the fact that the majority of the proposition's financial support came from the state's health care insurance providers. Also, they were amazed to find that nearly 78% of the votes in favor of the proposal were cast by the younger voters in the state.
During the period leading up to the election many comparisons were made to the laws of Denmark, where euthanasia has been legal for many years. Even I was surprised, at the time, at the amount of positive reviews regarding that nation's system and the dearth of information from those who might have had negative accounts to report. Every system has its detractors, I thought, but the conservative media apparently could find few.
After the election, though, information was fast coming from many sources. The most damning came in an interview Newsday conducted with a Dutch official who, while defending his nation's use of euthanasia, admitted that physicians in 1990 killed several thousand persons, most of them elderly, without their consent, or the knowledge of their families, or else as the result of a single request by the patient. If a nation such as the Netherlands, which respects and celebrates individual rights and privacy to the degree they do, could abuse their system, think about the extent of the abuse which would occur in Corporate America in the late twentieth century where the elderly and the children and the disabled and all of the castaways of society are considered a burden and too costly to the federal budget and where profit is more important than human life, as it is.
Another important aspect which has increased dramatically in significance is the massive growth of what is known euphemistically as "managed care". The practice of limiting health care in order to maximize corporate profits without consideration for the health of the patient, the practice known in the industry as "med-lining", shows how low these companies will stoop in pursuit of the almighty dollar. To add the option of killing those who need pain management and other expensive, long term medical care at the end of their lives would be too much for some HMO's to resist. Imagine an elderly patient in terrible pain nearing the end of their life. Is euthanasia something I want the HMO corporate structures to possess as a part of their medical bags in this instance? I truly think not.
Finally, with the current crop of politicians showing little or no sympathy towards non-white individuals or the poor or the disabled or the homeless or anyone who requires government assistance for their survival, beginning the slow descent into the l realized murder of America's political exiles is a terrible idea. Should this nation ever near the greatness it shuns and successfully avoids with every election, then the concept of adding this option to our lives may become justified. Until then, we'll just have to feed the ungodly national urge for blood with the legal killing of criminals convicted by our inept justice system.
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