The Case Against Euthanasia and Doctor-Assisted Suicide

From my Persuasive Speech in Fall 2011, SPCO 151 Do any of you want to risk the chance that someone else may decide whether or not you should live or die? That is exactly what happened to Terri Schiavo, a woman with a brain injury who was sentenced to a slow death, even though she was physically healthy. Many of you may be acquainted with the story, but with the slant the media gave it. Terri Schivo suffered a mysterious collapse in 1990 while at home with her husband, and which caused her severe brain injury. For a short time, she was in a coma and needed a ventilator, but then came out of it and only needed a feeding tube, due to the fact that she had trouble swallowing. She could be taken anywhere as long as she was in a wheelchair. I had the privilege of hearing her brother, Bobby Schindler, speak two years ago. He said,

“There’s so many misconceptions about my sister in the public that exist today; thinking that ventilators, whatever, were keeping her alive. We’re talking about someone who only needed food and water to survive.”

Terri had been improving in her condition with therapy and rehabilitation, but her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, had both stopped in 1992–two years after her injury. In court, he was awarded $600,000 for loss of spousal consortium and over $1.5 million dollars went to Terri. $780,000 was placed in trust to provide for Terri’s future healthcare and therapeutic needs. In 1993, he had told Terri’s physician not to treat a UT infection she developed, which would have actually killed her by sepsis, but the nursing home intervened due to the fact that Florida law would not allow withholding of such a treatment. Terri’s family wanted to take Terri home and care for her, but Michael would not allow it. In 1998, Michael began a litigation to end her life. He, his brother, and his sister-in-law provided hearsay evidence that Terri would have wished to die and made statements against artificial life support, and the court ignored contrary beliefs from Terri’s biological family and lifelong friends. The court also didn’t recognize Michael’s conflict of interests–he had become engaged with another woman and started a family with her, and he would receive the money left in Terri’s trust fund in the event of her death. Despite opposition from her family and requests for Supreme Court hearings, in 2005, the Florida court ordered Terri’s feeding tube to be removed. Terri took 13 days to die, until she finally died of severe dehydration. Her family watched helplessly as she died. She had been diagnosed with PVS, or persistent vegetative state, which is misdiagnosed about 50% of the time. Her autopsy proved that she would have lived a long life if she hadn’t been killed. This is a threat for all of us, since this could happen to any of us. Bobby Shindler says that euthanasia could affect us directly or through a family member. He said:

“We’re moving into a climate where all the power is being given to doctors, to nurses, and facilities to make decisions on persons and their care, even if that person has an advanced directive. The doctors, hospitals now have these ethics boards that have formed and that can override even a person’s wishes.”

He said that everyday, healthy but brain-injured people die through removal of their feeding tubes. How can we prevent this fate from happening to us? Schindler suggested we educate ourselves about euthanasia. We also need to question how our doctors and nurses view this issue, as well as finding advocates to speak for us if we become incapacitated. And what about others? There are roughly 30,000 to 40,000 people living in these conditions in the U.S. We should value all life because who are we to decide who should live or who should die? I know that I’m not God to decide so. We never know if the unconscious people will eventually recover. Shindler admitted people would not want to live with a disability if they had a choice, but people do live this way. He asked us:

“What are we going to do to care for them? Are we simply going to continue down this path, and continue to justify and rationalize not treating them and starve and dehydrate them to death? Or are we going to do what I believe we’re called {to] as human beings, and that’s to care for them? These are not easy decisions a family has to make, but what other decision do we have?”

So you can starve and dehydrate someone to death like Michael Schiavo did. But could you live with yourself after doing that? Could you support the passing of laws that would promote such happenings? In the U.S., Montana, Washington, and Oregon have legalized physician-assisted suicide. No euthanasia has yet been requested by someone with uncontrollable pain–the reasons cited concern social and psychological issues, not issues of pain. In the Netherlands, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are legal. 80% of euthanasia deaths are not requested. Children as young as 12 can be euthanized with parental consent, and those 16 with parental notification. (“Oregon’s Assisted Suicide experience Safeguard’s Don’t Work.” Pamphlet obtained through Hawaii Right to Life.) In the Netherlands, the infants, depressed, and chronically ill are qualified for euthanasia. The Royal Dutch Medical Association supports euthanizing newborns and infants with extreme disabilities. Over 10,000 citizens carry “do not euthanize me” cards as a safeguard in the event they are taken to a hospital. Death can be given for being mentally ill, permanently disabled, or old. (“Oregon’s Assisted Suicide experience Safeguard’s Don’t Work.” Pamphlet obtained through Hawaii Right to Life.) Perhaps you think we have the right to choose whether to live or die. We do have the right to refuse medical treatment that would prolong our life if we are terminally ill, since that is not a perversion of nature’s course, but what about physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia? The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that physician-assisted suicide is not protected by our Constitution. In the 1997 Supreme Court case, Washington v. Glucksberg, physician-assisted suicide was not found to be a constitutional right since, I quote: “the right to autonomy clashes with the right to life in our constitutional system…Death is the extinguishment of rights, not the triumph of one right over another.” (“Oregon’s Assisted Suicide experience Safeguard’s Don’t Work.” Pamphlet obtained through Hawaii Right to Life.) Moreover, if euthanasia were to be legalized, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment would require that incompetent people be given the same right, which could lead to abuses and involuntary euthanasia. (“Oregon’s Assisted Suicide experience Safeguard’s Don’t Work.” Pamphlet obtained through Hawaii Right to Life.) I challenge you to reevaluate your ideas about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. I hope that you will decide, as I did, that the cost of legalizing these isn’t worth the cost we could ultimately pay. ———————— Additional information found online, “Oregon’s Assisted Suicide experience Safeguard’s Don’t Work.” pamphlet, Bobby Schindler’s Speeches at June 26-27, 2009, Family Life Issues Conference in Hawaii, and on terrisfight.org. The Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation actively fights to protect the rights and lives of disabled, elderly, and vulnerable citizens in the U.S., a fight against the culture of death.

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