What's Wrong With Involuntary Euthanasia?

by David N. O'Steen, Ph.D., and Burke J. Balch, J.D.


A massive push is now underway to ensure that many people with a supposed poor "quality of life" -- not only people with disabilities that are congenital, but also with disabilities caused by illness or injury -- are "allowed" to die against their will.

This campaign for involuntary euthanasia demonstrates that pro-lifers were correct when we said that euthanasia proponents would never stop at "voluntary" euthanasia.

For many years euthanasia advocates, for public consumption at least, have marched under the banner of "autonomy" and "respect for family decisions." They pushed for living will laws, and later for durable power of attorney laws, that would enable people to say they didn't want life-saving treatment or to authorize others to refuse it if the authors should become incompetent. Any opposition to these measures was dismissed as an effort to "impose morality" on the free choice of patients to decide for themselves.

At the same time, euthanasia advocates masked their true intentions by appealing to the sanctity of the family. If a patient had left no word about whether she wanted her life preserved, they argued, the decision should be made exclusively by her nearest and dearest -- her family. They inveighed against any governmental "interference" through the courts or even those agencies established to protect the rights of vulnerable people.

Now, having "succeeded" in achieving widespread legalization and acceptance of both of these positions, euthanasia proponents are dramatically changing their rhetoric.

As the pro-life movement has warned all along, the true motive of many leaders of the euthanasia movement is to eliminate those with a poor "quality of life." Individual rights, autonomy, and deference to farnilies were all convenient slogans with which they successfully assaulted what twenty-five years ago was the prevailing ethic of respect for all life.

Today, however, the culture has changed, so that the quality of life ethic arguably has become predominant. And, in this context, euthanasia advocates are now discarding the principles of individual and family autonomy they once so extolled. For them, there is no room for respect for the autonomy of those who want to live.

We used to hear denounciations of the "paternalism" of doctors who, citing the Hippocratic Oath, expressed reluctance to starve their patients at their family's request. Now, some of those who used to be most vociferous in attacking physician paternalism argue that patients and families have no right to obtain lifesaving treatment whenever doctors believe the life it will preserve lacks adequate "quality."

We in the pro-life movement must now educate ourselves to take part in a great debate about whether people who want to live should be allowed to live. What are the facts and the arguments?

Q: What Is the Evidence That Doctors Are Really Denying Treatment So That People Die Against Their Will?

A: Even a cursory look at the medical literature reveals that a rising number of health care providers are insisting that when they believe a patient's life is not worth living because of the person's disabilities or poor "quality of life," this means they should be able to deny lifesaving treatment, even if the patient and patient's family disagree:

Q: How Can You Force a Doctor to a Give Treatment He or She Thinks Is Medically Inappropriate?

A: There is a world of difference between a legitimate medical judgment about whether a treatment can save a life and a non-medical value judgment that a life should not be saved.

The proper role of a physician includes diagnosis, making judgments about the probable effect of providing alternative medical treatments, and administering medical treatment It does not include judging that a life that can be preserved is not worth preserving, overriding the opinion of the person whose life it is.

Q: What About Doctors Who Believe It Is Unethical to Treat Patients With a Poor Quality of Life? Should They Be Forced to Treat Against Their Conscience?

A: Most living will and durable power of attorney laws currently allow doctors unwilling to abide by patient directives to transfer care to another doctor. This was the solution euthanasia advocates successfully argued should apply to doctors who, for example, feel morally obliged to give food and fluids a patient or surrogate rejects.

Why shouldn't the same approach be followed when the situation is the other way around? All a doctor whose "ethics" forbid preserving the life of a person with a disability has to do is preserve the status quo by maintaining lifesaving treatment until the transfer is completed.

Any doctor who enters into a physician-patient relationship assumes certain duties, which are enforced by medical malpractice suits. Among them is a duty to give adequate medical care, and not to abandon the patient. Providing treatment or food and fluids until the transfer is completed seems a small imposition when the patient's very life is at stake.


Posted 6 Sep 2000.

Copyright: David O'Steen and Burke Balch.
UK Apologetics have received specific permission to make this article available.

This article comes from the Pregnant Pause website and we are very grateful to them.


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