The Danger of Coerced Euthanasia: Questions to Ask
by Ms. Boomer-ang
Sometimes strong arguments for the Right to Life do not receive the attention they deserve. For example, an important argument against euthanasia and assisted suicide is that people can be coerced into ending their lives in these ways. I was recently reminded of this strong-yet-sometimes-neglected argument when reading a piece criticizing euthanasia by Wesley J. Smith.
The essay includes both very strong points and points that need strengthening.
The strongest point the essay makes is that a “woman in the Netherlands [was] held down by her family as she struggled against being lethally injected” [emphasis added]. So much for euthanasia being what “everyone” wants.
Apparently, when the woman had been more mentally alert, she had expressed a general willingness to be euthanized if she chose to pursue that option. Whether she wanted that option at the time she was killed is unclear. (In 2016, Dutch authorities took the step of officially allowing euthanasia on people with dementia if the patients authorized such actions when they were still lucid. Dr. Catherine Ferrier has provided a critique of this practice.)
But the following are additional points the essay makes and additional questions worth asking. The answers might make these points stronger.
Mr. Smith laments doctor shopping, meaning that when a doctor refuses to hasten a patient’s death, the patient simply goes to a different doctor who will do it.
Yes, that is lamentable. But what information is available on doctor shopping in the other direction? Do and can patients who want to live until their body dies naturally “shop” for a doctor who will support their wishes, if their doctors (proactively or on request of the patient’s family) suggest speeding their death? Is it as easy to switch from a doctor who participates in death hastening to one who does not as it is to make the reverse switch?
Just knowing that some people “shop” for non-participating doctors could help opponents of euthanasia know we are not alone and promote the idea that one can evade death hastening. Further, publicizing difficulties in finding a doctor who does not participate in euthanasia/assisted suicide can demonstrate the danger of legally allowing death hastening.
Here is another important question: In cases where a patient’s first doctor will not participate in death-speeding, what percentage of shopping for a doctor who would participate is done by the patient’s family without the patient’s request or initial knowledge? If the answer is that a high percentage of such shopping is done by families, that also shows the danger of allowing death hastening. Patients may not share their family members’ impatience for their death.
Smith also mentions euthanasia of children. Some are old enough to know what is happening. Do some of them fight against their killers, do some scream for their lives? If so, pro-life voices should be highlighting these stories.
Smith reports that newborn babies in Holland can undergo a medical evaluation to see if they can be euthanized. According to a 2005 article by the doctors who developed the protocol for such evaluations, 60% of the deaths of children younger than 1-year-old in the Netherlands were preceded by “a medical decision regarding the end of life.” They also cited a survey of Dutch neonatologists who reported euthanizing 15-20 newborns annually. These euthanized newborns had “a hopeless prognosis [and] experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering.” A specific condition cited by the doctors as a reason for such euthanasia is spina bifida.
Do parents ever dispute these evaluations of their newborn children? Knowing more about such cases would be useful.
Smith’s essay is good and valuable, but parts of it give the impression that the greatest concern should be about people who voluntarily choose to die because they are depressed, isolated, homeless, or financially insecure. We should also remember those who really (maybe secretly) want to live but are coerced or bullied into submitting to hastened death by their family, social workers, community leaders, or others. We should tell their stories as well.
For more of our posts on euthanasia, see:
Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?