Jewish World Review April 18, 2001 / 25 Nissan 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LAST week, the nation whose artists once inspired humanity found a less noble calling for its physicians. As 10,000 protested in The Hague, the Dutch parliament voted to formalize doctor-assisted suicide, a depravity tolerated for decades.
The Netherlands has legalized prostitution and addiction. For a society that's overdosing on tolerance, government-sanctioned mercy killing is a logical step.
But, the Dutch aren't alone. Medical murder has found a foothold in Oregon. Since 1997, when Oregonians legalized doctor-assisted suicide, 70 citizens have ended their lives with their physician's active support.
The movement is advancing nationwide. In January, an assisted-suicide bill was introduced in Hawaii's legislature, by the senate president no less. The Alaska Supreme Court will soon rule on whether there is a right to what's called death with dignity under that state's constitution.
On the positive side, Attorney General John Ashcroft has an opportunity to reverse his predecessor's decision and allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs of Oregon physicians who use that power to kill.
The Dutch euthanasia law has formalized impressive-sounding safeguards, which were in effect for 20 years.
In reality, the guidelines offer all the protection of a lean-to in a hurricane. Physicians are told to be sure the patient's decision is voluntary and well-considered. The death wish is supposed to be a last resort for terminal patients with pain that can't be alleviated. The medical hitman needs the concurrence of an independent physician.
But the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (a leading opponent) notes that in Holland roughly 20 percent of euthanized patients did not consent. Some were comatose, others incompetent. A 1997 article in a British medical journal found that 8 percent of the infants who die in the Netherlands are killed by their doctors.
Frequently, patients are not informed of the full range of treatment options. The consulting physician often turns out to be an associate of the man with the syringe. There are no recorded instances of the consultant disagreeing with the initial diagnosis.
The Dutch body count includes non-terminal patients. Among the victims are a man who was HIV-positive, but hadn't developed full-blown AIDS and could have lived for years relatively free of pain. An otherwise healthy woman, depressed over the death of her two children, was killed by a general practitioner.
None of these slayings outside the hallowed, then-unofficial guidelines was prosecuted. There's no reason to believe the official regulations will be adhered to more scrupulously. The Dutch are into facilitating death, not erecting meaningful barriers to compassion-cide.
In America, assisted-suicide is on the same track as abortion was 30 years ago. Abortion was legalized by one state (Washington) before it went national. Fortunately, in Washington vs. Glucksberg, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment right to euthanasia. But, proponents will try to get recognition of a right-to-die from state courts, witness the pending Alaska case.
The Kevorkian cadre argues the hard cases -- like the terminal cancer patient in excruciating pain. Roe proponents did the same, using rape, incest and fetal deformity to secure an unrestricted right to abortion.
Today, we have the harvesting of fetal body parts, partial-birth abortion, growing acceptance of infanticide and other horrors undreamed of when legalizing legalized abortion was debated. Is it alarmist to imagine the same progression if euthanasia achieves a secured beachhead in our culture?
The portion of our over-65 population is expected to grow from 12.7 percent in 2000 to 20.5 percent in 2040. Its health costs are rising commensurately. Medical murder could easily become a convenient way to hold down expenditures on the elderly.
In his 1998 book, "Freedom to Die," Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry muses, "Is there in fact a duty to die -- a responsibility within the family unit -- that should remain voluntary but expected nonetheless." Dutch Health Minister Els Borst says she isn't opposed to providing suicide pills for seniors "who have had enough of living."
(Think of the money they'll save.) Humphrey writes, "Economic reality, therefore, is the main answer to the question, Why, not now?"
If the Dutch disease spreads beyond Oregon, we'll be hearing such morbid speculation with
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.