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Jewish World Review April 11, 2002/ 30 Nisan, 5762

Don Feder

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Assisted suicide -- the death of decency | Israel isn't the only target of suicide bombs. Last week, a powerful device was detonated in the Hague. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize assisted suicide, a procedure condoned for two decades.

While Israeli children die at the hands of Hamas bombers, Dutch children as young as 12 can now request a helping hand from the medical profession in ending their lives.

For thousands of years, we struggled to establish the sanctity of innocent human life. From indiscriminate slaughter, torture chambers and slavery, we progressed to justice for all and civil rights protections.

But the old horror was always lurking in the dark recesses of our souls. It emerged in the 1970s with legalized abortion -- based on the belief that certain lives are disposable.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia (its eviler twin) are ominous next steps in the reversion to barbarism. Ironically, the savagery is sold by appeals to our humanity. The question is posed thus: A patient in the final stage of a terminal illness is in excruciating pain. Why prolong his needless suffering?

Except, the Dutch guidelines say nothing about imminent death, but rather allow the procedure when the patient faces a future of "unbearable, interminable suffering."

Legalized abortion was also sold with hard cases. Now we've arrived at abortion for convenience, abortion as ex post facto birth control, partial-birth abortions, gender-selection abortions -- roughly 1.2 million "hard cases" a year in this country.

Even before legalization, the Dutch weren't terribly particular about who could be subjected to this dubious mercy. In a 1990 study of the unofficially sanctioned physician-assisted suicide then practiced, doctors reported that two-thirds of the cases involved not intractable pain but "low quality of life" -- as determined by the omniscient physician.

In testimony before Congress in 1996, Dr. Herbert Hendin noted that out of roughly 130,000 deaths in the Netherlands each year, over 1,000 involved doctors causing or hastening the demise of patients without their approval.

In 1997, a physician administered a lethal dose to a nursing home patient who was terminally ill and in a coma. By definition, the comatose are incapable of consenting -- like handicapped newborns, who are also regularly eliminated by hit men in white coats in the land of tulips.

Unending, unbearable pain will soon slide into what -- chronic but bearable, chronically depressed, elderly and lonely, handicapped and burdensome?

Dutch Health Minister Els Borst, who sponsored the assisted suicide law, also favors allowing doctors to prescribe suicide pills for the elderly who are sick of it all, even if they're otherwise healthy.

In 1995, Dr. Philip Sutorius assisted in the suicide of Edward Brongersman, a former Dutch senator, who suffered from incontinence and dizziness, and said he was tired of living. An Amsterdam court found Sutorius guilty of unethical practice, but it refused to impose a sentence because he acted "out of compassion."

In his book, "Final Exit," U.S. Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry writes: "What can those of us who sympathize with a justified suicide by a handicapped person do? When we have statutes on the books permitting lawful physician aid-in-dying for the terminally ill ... along with this reform will come a more tolerant attitude to other exceptional cases."

Heeding those chilling words and other warning signs, 11 national disability groups oppose assisted suicide laws. Attorney Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet, who uses a wheelchair, comments, "This whole death with dignity thing says, if you're disabled, your life lacks dignity" -- and you should do the sensible thing.

Ultimately, the movement is driven not by compassion or dignity, but spiraling medical costs and something called "futile care guidelines" -- which assume that there are lives not worth saving (quality of life again). It's not very far from withholding care to facilitating the deaths of those who stubbornly cling to life.

The drugs used for assisted suicides cost about $35 per dose, far cheaper than intensive care, nursing homes, motorized wheelchairs and expensive painkillers. But what is the cost to our humanity, and how far have we regressed when we kill for utility?

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate