Protection from Euthanasia

The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network upholds human dignity through service to the medically vulnerable.

We express this mission through public advocacy of essential qualities of human dignity—which include the right to food and water, the presumption of the will to live, due process against denial of care, protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine, and access to rehabilitative care—as well as through 24/7 Crisis Lifeline service to at-risk patients and families.

 

Why do we advocate protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine?

Euthanasia is not medicine. Suicide, including physician-assisted suicide, is not medicine. Every patient deserves protection from euthanasia being treated as a form of medicine. Wherever euthanasia is normalized as a form of medicine, it becomes one of a variety of options presented to patients and families facing crisis.

Yet physicians have historically never endorsed consciously bringing about the death of a patient. And we believe no patient should be pressured into making a decision where their choice of avoiding assisted suicide could be frowned upon by a physician, hospital, or insurance company that would prefer they take the less costly route in the face of a potentially terminal diagnosis, rather than spending every moment they can alive with those they love, and who love them.

 

Context 

The term Euthanasia originated from the Greek word for "good death." It is the act or practice of ending the life of a person either by lethal injection or the suspension of medical treatment. Because of this, many view euthanasia as simply bringing relief by alleviating pain and suffering. The word has also been applied to situations when a decision is made to refrain from exercising "heroic" measures in an end-of-life situation.

  • Voluntary Euthanasia: When a competent person makes a voluntary and enduring request to be helped to die.
  • Involuntary Euthanasia: To end a person's life without their knowledge or consent.
  • Active Euthanasia: To end a person's life by use of drugs, whether by oneself or with the aid of a physician.
  • Passive Euthanasia: To end a person life by not taking the necessary and ordinary action to maintain life. This can be done by withdrawing water, food, drugs, medical or surgical procedures.
  • Physician-Assisted Suicide: Suicide accomplished with the aid of a medical doctor intentionally providing a person with an overdose of prescription medication.
  • Assisted Suicide: Suicide accomplished with the aid of another person.

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely practiced in the Netherlands where: About 9% of all deaths were a result of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia in 1990.

  • Dutch doctors practice active euthanasia by lethal injections (96.6% of all deaths actively caused by physicians in 1990). Physician-assisted suicide is very infrequent (no more than 3.4% of all cases in Holland of active termination of life in 1990).
  • For patients who die of a lethal overdose of painkillers, the decision to administer the lethal dose of drugs was not discussed with 61% of those receiving it, even though 27% were fully competent.
  • The Board of the Royal Dutch Medical Association endorsed euthanasia on newborns and infants with extreme disabilities.
  • Well over 10,000 citizens now carry "Do Not Euthanize Me" cards in case they are admitted to a hospital unexpectedly.
  • Cases exist where doctors administer assisted suicide for people determined to be "chronically" depressed.

Oregon has legalized physician-assisted suicide where:

  • A recent Health Division report of assisted suicides reveals that not one patient had documented uncontrollable pain. All of the patients who requested assisted suicide cited psychological and social concerns as their primary reasons.
  • "Although numerous studies in the Netherlands and elsewhere report an assisted-suicide failure rate up to 25%, Oregon has yet to report even one complication in over four years. This failure to report complications has led even euthanasia advocates themselves to call the credibility of Oregon reporting on assisted suicide into question.

Note: The state of Washington, Montana have recently legalized physician-assisted suicide. Also, on May 20, 2013, doctor-prescribed suicide became a legal "medical treatment" in Vermont.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in Washington v. Glucksberg that there is no federal constitutional substantive right to assisted suicide. In a 1997 companion case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Vacco v. Quill that there is no federal constitutional equal protection right to assisted suicide.

Virtually every established medical and nursing organization in the United States declares physician-assisted suicide is unethical.

There are no laws, medical associations, church denominations, or right-to-life groups who insist that unnecessary, heroic, or truly futile treatments be provided to prolong life and all recognize the right of competent patients to refuse medical treatment.

95% of cancer pain is controllable and the remaining 5% can be reduced to a tolerable level.

The states of California, Washington, Michigan and Maine rejected ballot referenda questions to legalize physician-assisted suicide in their respective states. The Supreme Court of Alaska in Alaska v. Sampson declared there is no state constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, as did the Florida State Supreme Court in McIver v. Kirscher. The Hawaii State Senate voted down a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Source: Nightingale Alliance

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it wrong to use the term "Vegetable" to describe a person with a cognitive disability?

Yes. Calling a human being a "vegetable" is derogatory. It denies a person their humanity and demeans them because of their disability just as the "N" word demeans a person because of their race. Regardless of a person's physical or mental state they do not become vegetables.

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith says, "Demeaning any human being as no more important than a rutabaga opens the door to profound abuse." To learn more read "The V-Word is as Bad as the N-Word" by clicking here. And, click here to read "Taking Pride in V-Word 'Unrepentant Bigotry'".

Are there any dangers in diagnosing a patient as "Persistent Vegetative State" (PVS)?

Yes. Not only can the PVS diagnosis be used as an actual death sentence for patients as it was in the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005. PVS can also be used to cut off funds for a person in need of vital rehabilitation. Because once insurance providers receive the PVS diagnosis in regards to the patient's condition, no longer are they willing to pay for any rehabilitative services.

There has been a continuous stream of reports showing the inaccuracy of the PVS diagnosis. The latest Journal entitled "Brain Scans Show Vegetative Patients May Actually Recover" released on February 3, 2014 revealed that some patients who were believed to be in a PVS were actually able to understand and communicate.

For additional information read Bobby Schindler's article by clicking here.

If you have an Advance Directive stating you want food and hydration when you are no longer able to make medical decisions, can you be denied said food and hydration?

Yes, according to a 2005 study published by the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics the way the law is written in 38 states hospitals and medical professionals may be allowed to override your Advance Directive, denying you food and hydration. Read more by clicking here.

An individual's Advance Directive should protect them from an inhumane death and ensure they are not denied food and hydration. Neither hospital ethics committees nor healthcare providers should be allowed to override Advance Directives.

Should the law compel nursing homes to starve certain Alzheimer's patients to death (by refusing spoon-feeding to those who take it willingly)?

Think this sounds crazy? What if we told you there is currently a lawsuit in Canada over this very issue. The family of an Alzheimer patient, Margot Bentley, is seeking a court order which would force the nursing home that she resides to starve her since she signed an advanced directive rejecting life-sustaining treatment if she couldn't recognize her children. Keep in mind she is able to receive food and hydration through her mouth and does not need a feeding tube.

Spoon-feeding any patient including those with dementia is basic medical care and no nursing home, hospital or medical professional should be forced to kill patients by denying them this basic human right. Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith poses this very question in his article in The Weekly Standard. Read more by clicking here.

Is Assisted Suicide Legal in the United States?

Yes, assisted suicide is legal in the states of Montana, Oregon and Washington. Vermont has also passed a doctor-prescribed suicide bill, and in 2014 a judge ruled to allow it for terminally ill patients in New Mexico. Sadly, what was once considered immoral is now being accepted by many. We will only see a rise in these so called "death with dignity" bills in other states. We here at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network believe in promoting a Culture of Life by embracing the true meaning of compassion by opposing the practice of imposed death.

We must love and care for those who are sick and dying, not kill them. Learn more on the law in your state by clicking here.

Is death by dehydration a painful death?

Yes. It is a horrible death, and many with cognitive disabilities and the elderly are suffering this inhumane death in the United States and abroad today. Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith wrote an article entitled "Dying of Thirst is Excruciating Agony" that discusses this very issue. Smith says, "Health writer Larry Bernstein of the Washington Post has written an excruciating column about how awful and painful it is to die by thirst."

Read Bernstein's account by clicking here. We live in a growing culture who has been deceived by the media and others to believe death by dehydration is a painless death.

Should food and hydration via feeding tube be part of palliative care (end of life care) & would denying so result in the patient being starved/dehydrated to death? 

Pope John Paul II (who received a feeding tube as part of his end of life care) said the following in his March 2004 allocution, "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas".

"I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering. . .

"Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission. . ."

Even though Saint Pope John Paul II was referring to those in a so called "vegetative state" this can be applied to many situations including those receiving palliative care. However, there are times when a patient legitimately can't assimilate a feeding tube and in these rare cases when a person's body rejects food/water it is okay not to administer such means.

Read more on this topic in the article entitled "Caring for the Dying Means Not Intentionally Killing Them"

How do you respond to those who say "I wouldn't want to live like that" (referring to those with cognitive disabilities like Terri Schiavo)?

Naturally, none of us would "choose" to experience a cognitively disability, but the reality is that there ARE people living like this - millions of people who have some level of a cognitive disability. Indeed, if something in life happens and one of our loved ones (or ourselves) experiences a brain injury we cannot simply let these individuals be starved/dehydrated to death. We must practice true compassion of loving and caring for the disabled, sick and dying regardless of disability or the prejudices of our society.


Educational Resources

Events

Events Bobby Schindler, President of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, travels the country to give witness to the importance of upholding human dignity through service to the medically vulnerable. If you like to...

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