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Deadly intentions

LEESBURG, Va. (BP)–The poison peddled by the euthanasia movement here in the United States continues to take its toll. Assisted suicide was legalized in Oregon in the 1990s, and pro-death advocates are now pushing hard to make it legal in the state of Washington, where Initiative 1000 would allow any competent adult suffering from a terminal illness to make a written request for medication that the patient may self-administer to end his or her life.

The average reader would interpret Initiative 1000 as helping terminal patients commit suicide, plain and simple. But the euthanasia movement has tried to mask that plain truth with soothing euphemisms. Rather than acknowledging that the initiative promotes assisted suicide, the text states the “request” will allow the patient to end their life “in a humane and dignified manner.” Then, in a classic example of double speak, the text goes on to state, “Actions taken in accordance with this chapter do not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide, under the law. State reports shall not refer to practice under this chapter as ‘suicide’ or ‘assisted suicide.'” Funny, these “actions” sound just like the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of suicide: “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”

If passed this November, Initiative 1000 will transform the legal landscape of the state of Washington. The change would parallel Oregon’s decade-long acceptance of assisted suicide, a practice that has given rise to a myriad of problems. According to a fact sheet from National Right to Life, Oregon “conducts no independent reviews of assisted suicide deaths.” Further, physicians who prescribe lethal drugs “only file required reports about 80.2% of the time.” Incredibly, in “76.1% of these cases, physicians said that they had not perceived their act as the ending of life.”

Not surprisingly, stories of abuse abound.

In 1998, an Oregonian psychologist decided that 85-year-old Kate Cheney was “cognitively impaired” because she suffered from dementia and, therefore, was not qualified to pursue assisted suicide. Her family then found another psychologist who authorized the suicide. That psychologist did so despite noting the undue influence of Cheney’s family on the decision and that Cheney was so mentally impaired she could not remember basic information about her cancer diagnosis.

In 2007, two nurses in Oregon gave Wendy Melcher a lethal overdose. Though this was illegal (Oregon only allows physicians to prescribe lethal drugs), one of the nurses said she provided the overdose “because she believed [Melcher] to be in uncontrollable pain.” However, the nurse had never noted such pain prior to the day she administered the overdose.

Recently, 64-year-old Barbara Wagner was suffering from cancer, but the Oregon Heath Plan would not cover a $4000 a month drug that could have helped her. Instead it offered to pay for comfort care, including assisted suicide through drugs that would cost the state far less money than those requested by Ms. Wagner. As the only state that — in the words of The Oregonian newspaper — “both allows assisted suicide and tries to ration health care,” the state’s motivations in this case are highly suspect.

The truth is that the euthanasia movement’s ultimate goal is death on demand for everyone. “A dignified death for the terminally ill” is just the first step toward this goal. Philip Nitschke, a well known pro-euthanasia leader and president of Exit International in Australia, said in a 2001 interview, “My personal position is that if we believe that there is a right to life, then we must accept that people have a right to dispose of that life whenever they want.” Nitschke’s view is typical of pro-death advocates. Their belief in a right to commit suicide is based on a hyper-individualism that sees every person as completely autonomous. They ignore any duties a person has to society or to their family as well as the wider social impact of such low regard for human life.

Wesley J. Smith points out in a National Review article, “[Nitschke] has not limited his ‘death counseling’ to the terminally ill. A case in point involved Nancy Crick who made headlines when she announced on Australian television that she would commit assisted suicide because she had terminal cancer. When her autopsy showed she was cancer free, however, Nitschke admitted that he and Crick had known all along that she wasn’t dying. Nevertheless, he deemed that medical fact ‘irrelevant’ because she wanted to die.”

Acceptance of euthanasia in select cases leads inevitably to an ever-expanding circle of those considered “killable.” In 30 years of unpunished (and eventually legalized) assisted suicide in the Netherlands, Smith reports, the circle of accepted killings has been broadened to include the depressed, the disabled and infants born with birth defects. Once a society accepts the right to commit suicide to prevent suffering, the right to kill to prevent suffering follows.

The euthanasia movement’s callous disregard for life needs to be unmasked. Behind euphemisms like “death with dignity” and “end of life choices” lies an insidious assault on the sanctity of human life. Euthanasia advocates view “choice” as the ultimate virtue and “freedom of choice” as the ultimate freedom. Stripped of its gloss, however, their position is that unless one has the freedom to kill himself, he isn’t really free. That’s a perverse view of freedom and a sad view of life.
Ken Connor is chairman of the Center for a Just Society based in Washington D.C., online at www.centerforajustsociety.org.

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  • Ken Connor