By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JULY 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The topic of assisted suicide continues to be debated in many countries, with wins and losses for both sides.
In the U.K. the British Royal Society of Medicine recently held a conference to hear the opposing points of view on assisted suicide, LifeNews.com reported July 5. A vote taken at the end of the event saw an overwhelming majority vote against a motion to support assisted suicide.
On the negative side, on June 25, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice ruled that assisted suicide is legal in certain circumstances, reported Deutsche Welle the same day.
The decision stemmed from a case where the daughter of a terminally-ill patient in a state of coma cut her mother’s feeding tube.
Prior to entering into coma Erika Kuellmer told her daughter she did not want to be kept alive if she were to fall into a coma. Some time after this happened the daughter consulted a lawyer, Wofgang Putz, who advised her on what to do. She cut the tube, which was later replaced by the staff. Her mother died two weeks later.
Last year Putz was convicted of attempted manslaughter for his role, but he has now been acquitted in the latest decision. The Federal Court decided that if a patient has explicitly said they do not want treatment such as a ventilator or a feeding tube to be used to keep them alive then ceasing such treatment is allowed. Active assisted suicide is illegal in Germany.
Meanwhile, in countries where active assisted suicide is legal, there is concern over abuses. In Switzerland the organization Dignitas is under increasing scrutiny, the BBC reported July 2.
The government is examining draft laws that would tighten legislation, making it harder for non-citizens to end their lives by going to Switzerland.
Dignitas, founded by Ludwig Minelli, has helped more than 1,000 people to die over the last 12 years, according to the BBC. Members pay substantial fees to belong to the group, along with hefty sums for the assisted suicide itself.
This is legal under current laws, so long as Minelli and Dignitas do not make a profit out of it. But the BBC said that allegations have been made in Switzerland that Minelli has become a millionaire since he founded Dignitas.
The current scrutiny of Dignitas was also the result of the discovery earlier this year of a large number of cremation urns at the bottom of Lake Zurich. According to an April 28 report in the London Times newspaper a former employee of Dignitas, Soraya Wernli, said that the clinic had dropped at least 300 urns into the lake.
Holland, where assisted suicide has long been legal, is another country where questions are being asked about what is going on. According to a June 2 report in London’s Telegraph newspaper euthanasia cases increased by 13% in 2009, to an estimated 2,636 people. This was more than the 10% rise in 2009 over the previous year’s numbers.
Phyllis Bowman, the executive officer of Britain’s Right to Life organization told the Telegraph that she was sure the increase in numbers was due to inadequate pain treatment by Dutch doctors.
The number of euthanasia cases could well rise by a lot more if parliament cedes to pressure to allow elderly people the right to assisted suicide. A campaign to allow this said it had gathered over 100,000 signatures on a petition, the Associated Press reported, March 8.
Marie-Jose Grotenhuis, a spokeswoman for the “Of Free Will” campaign said explained that the group wants to train non-doctors to administer a lethal potion to people over the age of 70 who “consider their lives complete” and want to die.
Currently the law on assisted suicide requires two doctors to agree a patient is suffering unbearably from an illness with no hope of recovery, and wants to die, before proceeding.
Belgium is also in the spotlight regarding its euthanasia practices. A recent report, “The Role of Nurses in Physician-Assisted Deaths in Belgium,” revealed that a fifth of nurses interviewed had been involved in the euthanasia of a patient. Nearly half of these – 120 of 248 – admitted that the patients had not requested or consented to euthanasia, the Catholic Herald newspaper reported on June 18.
Involuntary euthanasia is illegal in Belgium, where voluntary euthanasia was legalized in 2002. Euthanasia now accounts for 2% of all deaths, the article mentioned.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, concluded that safeguards in the legislation approved in 2002 were being routinely ignored. The researchers also believed that the number of nurses involved with involuntary euthanasia was higher than the numbers in their study, as it was likely not all nurses admitted to being involved in illegal practices.
“Once you legalize any form of euthanasia you inevitably get people pushing the boundaries,” Dr Peter Saunders, director of the Care Not Killing alliance, a coalition of more than 50 British medical, disabled and religious charities opposed to euthanasia, told the Catholic Herald.
A point worth reflecting on for those debating a proposal currently before the Scottish parliament to allow assisted suicide. The End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, introduced by an independent member of parliament, is currently being examined by a committee, the U.K.’s Christian Institute explained in a June 29 report. In the submissions received from the public by the committee 86%, or 601 people and organizations, expressed opposition to the bill.
The Catholic Church is also critical of the proposal saying that:”It will strike a blow against the fundamental sanctity of human life and will permit many lives to be put at risk through varying degrees of psychological, social or cultural coercion” the Scotsman newspaper reported July 5.
The Church of Scotland, Methodist Church and Salvation Army issued a joint statement saying that the the bill would breach the prohibition on the taking of human life, the article added.
In an opinion article published the following day in the Scotsman Dr Rosemary Barrett, one of the directors of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said that the use of pain treatment, or ceasing to use machines that prolong life, is very different from euthanasia, where you have the direct intention to end life.
Palliative care services in Scotland are capable of adequately managing pain and there is no need to introduce euthanasia to enable seriously ill patients to escape from severe pain, she argued.
As the debate over euthanasia has continued in past months in Britain it became clear that opposition to loosening the law comes from many quarters. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the online commentary site Spiked, addressed a meeting in London and on May 17 he published his comments on the site.
Speaking as an atheist and a “radical humanist” he said that it is a mystery on how the “right to die” came to be seen as a progressive cause.
From a humanist perspective he declared that euthanasia is contrary to what we should be doing for the terminally ill, because it could make their final choices more agonizing. And for the rest of us: “It seems pretty irrefutable to me that the campaign to legalize assisted suicide has become bound up with society’s broader inability to value and celebrate human life today,” he stated.
At a recent conference David Jones, director of the center for bioethics at St Mary’s University College, argued that the legalization of assisted suicide logically leads to the tolerance of non-voluntary euthanasia, the Telegraph newspaper reported, July 1. A warning not to start this dangerous slippery slope that leads to a dangerous disregard for human life.