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Physician-Prescribed Death Falsely Promises Autonomy
Last week we talked about the source of dignity, particularly as it relates to the "Death with Dignity" movement.
Today, we'll look at the other major promise of the movement: The promise of autonomy.
From Cullen Herout at Washington Examiner:
"Polls show that a vast majority of Americans support the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. This makes sense, if only because our culture has made absolute personal autonomy sacrosanct and bought into the idea that we have no business telling others how they should conduct themselves.
"But for all the promise of autonomy delivered by these advocates of physician-assisted suicide, it's clear that the claim is not all it's cracked up to be. Indeed, for every story in which a person gets the opportunity to exercise autonomy, we hear a story from someone who is sick or vulnerable about how their autonomy was taken away."
We'll return to the "vast majority of Americans" supporting physician-prescribed death claim in a minute.
In the latter point, the author is referring to stories like this one, which we reported on awhile back:
"The insurance company offers to cover end-of-life drugs, but will not cover life-preserving chemotherapy. Aside from the obvious concerns about an insurance company offering to end the life of a patient who may be costing them money, the fact that life is undervalued in our culture is becoming more and more insidious. You purchase health insurance to, you know, cover yourself in the event of a terrible disease and now are faced with the choice of out-of-pocket expenses or ending your life. What else is this than an affront to the sanctity of life and a grim emblem of our culture of death?
"When we make death cheap, it becomes falsely attractive to those who cannot afford top-of-the-line health care. When those same folks purchase health insurance, they (rightly) expect to receive help on their health needs. When that insurance turns out to be a death warrant, we give up the peace that comes with knowing our health needs will be covered in the face of tragedy.
"That cost is too high, even at $1.20 for death pills."
Herout doesn't offer much of a solution, except to say that our only chance at addressing this issue is to "see through the rhetoric used by advocates of the practice and honestly confront some of the dangers."
So when these movements promise increased autonomy, consider where the power is moving. Notice that the power moves away from the individual and into the hands of doctors, of insurance companies, and of other interested parties. Individuals who are suffering are encouraged to end their lives rather than extend their lives with potentially expensive medication. The infirm become terminally ill in a social sense, and not just in a biological sense.
Let's return to the claim that the majority of Americans support the legalization of physician-prescribed death. The author is pulling from Gallup, which found that 69% of Americans say that "doctors should be allowed to end a patient's life by painless means."
More specifically, here's the question Gallup asked:
"When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it?"
That situation is, in fact, the strongest case they could make. But the reality is not so simple. Take, for example, the man in the Netherlands who ended his life with the assistance of a physician due to his alcoholism. This is not a "disease that cannot be cured" nor did his family seem terribly excited about the request, both of which are stipulated in the Gallup poll. So while the number is still discouraging, it isn't quite as bad as it may appear at first blush.
We argued, in that case, that what the deceased needed was not a lethal injection. The man needed support. As we concluded:
"Of course that support isn't easy. Palliative care for terminally ill patients isn't easy either, but it is better than demanding a physician end their lives. Most people seeking to have a doctor end their lives feel hopeless and see no other way out. What they need are options, not a needle."
So the solution to the problem of rhetoric is cutting through it and finding actual solutions to the real and experiential issues that people are facing. This may be palliative care, or counseling, or any number of other, life-affirming treatments. But it should not be a prescription for death.
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