TW Viewpoint | Euthanasia: Emancipation or Subjection?

July 12, 2017 | Stuart Wachowicz

Commencing in the 5th century BC, and emanating from ancient Greece, physicians as they entered their medical career took an oath. Does this still guide medical practice in the new paradigm of assisted death?


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The Hippocratic Oath is traced to a greatly respected physician of the day named Hippocrates. It is an oath still taken by young medical graduates as they begin their roles as physicians. A portion of the oath reads as follows:

"…I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice…. I will neither give a deadly drug to anyone who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and art…"

While young doctors in various medical schools still take this oath, the governments across the land are considering-or passing-legislation that would permit, and in some cases require, a doctor to administer a treatment that would end a life. Such laws allow or force medical staff to expand their services of assisting the sick to recover, to assisting in the killing of a person.

We can dress up this new role for health professionals with all manner of softer phraseology, but do we as a society know how this will change our attitudes to care of the chronically ill, the elderly and others faced with sever medical situations?

In the state of Oregon the new laws even permit involuntary euthanasia, in the case of a person who is deemed mentally incapable. Such has led Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, to write the following:

"Moreover, the supposed safeguards in the Oregon and Washington State laws don't really protect patients…And nothing in law can protect patients when family pressures, financial or emotional, distort patient choice."

Moreover many in society feel the greatest danger of such enabling legislation, does not lie at the implementation phase, but in the gradual definition creep, resulting in an inevitable expansion of the eligible victims, as in the case of both Oregon and the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia has been expanded to the involuntary.

Currently in Canada assisted death legislation (Bill C-14) only applies to people who are able to make an informed decision, and are in an advanced stage of a terminal illness where death is foreseeable.

Euthanasia in Canada is thus currently considered an exception in medical practice and may be selected by the patient when other treatments are exhausted. There are however continuing pressures from social activists to expand the boundaries of the new law. Calls are being made for chronic depression, or psychological illnesses to be included as reasons for assisted killing. Eventually, if the person is elderly enough, or sick enough, assisted death may be a first option rather than a last resort.

In Belgium and the Netherlands such laws originally only applied to patients with terminal illnesses. Now however, the rules have been expanded to include any one suffering "hopelessly and unbearably" physically or psychologically. Such conditions are difficult to define.

In the end legalized assisted death results in a diminishment of the value and sacred nature of life, and reduces the value of a human being, enabling society to eventually rationalize the termination of its elderly, its chronically ill, its unproductive or its undesirable.

This is not society as it was intended to be, and does not treasure human life and the tremendous potential and contribution of mankind, including those who are sick and disabled.

When you discover your ultimate destiny you will appreciate the true value of life.

I am Stuart Wachowicz for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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