Elizabeth Hanink has provided a worthwhile reminder of the dangers of physician-assisted suicide. Unfortunately, like many others who report on this subject, she missed a very important element within the right-to-die movement.
This movement has one goal, euthanasia, and at least two ways to get there: the hard way and the soft way. Compassion & Choices, which promotes physician-assisted suicide, represents the former. As Hanink points out, it has received millions from George Soros. (The IRS 990 form for Compassion & Choices of Oregon, apparently the organization’s home office, indicates that it had at least $20,812,163 in expenses, with salaries for four executives at $621,235 in 2014.)
On the other hand, the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), the Altarum Institute, and other groups represent the softer, gentler pathway to imposed death, called “palliative care.” Palliative care is generally thought of as a type of pain management for the chronically ill and dying, but the dictionary definition of palliation is “to cover something.” And covering up an imposed death is what these groups are all about. CAPC trains palliative-care professionals to work in hospital inpatient units, intensive-care units, and emergency rooms, and in rehab centers and even community healthcare organizations. All these groups have legislated and lobbied their way into a protected, increasingly profitable, and rapidly expanding niche within the world of health care.
Consider the University of California San Francisco’s Palliative Care Program, which has received $750,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, $153,000 from Soros’s Project on Death in America and other private foundations, and $726,640 from the National Institute on Aging. An article at the website of the James Irvine Foundation, which gave the program its 2011 Leadership Award, described its work thus: “Palliative care is often healthier for the patient’s family members, who are at greater risk of depression if they’ve watched their loved ones suffer. It is also more cost efficient: Research shows that by providing realistic options and ensuring that care is consistent with what patients and families want, medical centers can reduce useless interventions and save thousands of dollars for every patient cared for by a palliative care service” (emphasis added).
This more moderate wing of the right-to-die movement makes its arguments based on utilitarian principles. As part of its communication strategy, it encourages discussion of goals of care and reminds patients of the so-called indignities of pain and the potential loss of inheritance due to expensive treatment. The point being: Die now, save yourself and your family the inconvenience of a non-planned death, save the state the cost of treating your health problems, and free up space in a hospital bed when someone more deserving could be using it.
Those opposed to this utilitarian philosophy tend to fall into a trap. We accept the notion that all death is humiliating, pain-filled, and undesirable for the family, and as Hanink points out, “even the Catholic Church does not insist on futile or extraordinary treatment or suffering.”
Catholics often quote Pope Pius XII’s 1957 definition of the “ordinary means” of sustaining life as those “that do not involve any grave burden for oneself or another” — as opposed to extraordinary means, which the Pope said “would be too burdensome for most men and would render the attainment of the higher, more important good too difficult.” Unfortunately, euthanasia proponents have also been using these outdated definitions to their own advantage in order to justify limiting traditional medical treatment. In fact, the Society for the Right to Die Handbook (1981) makes explicit mention of this papal statement as a “landmark” success for the right-to-die movement.
Today, extraordinary means not only “too burdensome” but too expensive. And the question really is, “Are you, the patient, valuable enough to the community to be worthy of that treatment?”
Ironically, palliative care does not cut down on the costs of health care; it increases the costs by creating jobs for teams of palliative physicians, nurses, chaplains, and social workers; jobs for healthcare preventive groups, consultants, hospice workers, residential-care facility personnel, bereavement specialists, and new government bureaucrats, such as those who staff “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment” registry offices, and lots of measurement specialists setting “best practices” standards of palliative care, including palliative spirituality, all while seducing vulnerable, trusting citizens to advance the cause of the “new” business of healthcare planning.
Your foremost “right” is the right to life, along with liberty and the ability to seek happiness and eternal salvation. Beware death as a salesman knocking at your door.
ELIZABETH HANINK REPLIES:
Patricia Ryan and Camille Giglio make good points, and doubtless we can find unity in distinctions. I am sure, of course, that the NOR editors hope that among their readers there are more than a few non-Catholics.
To the specifics: Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, who works tirelessly on the international scene, believes strongly in the value of a broad-based network of people opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. His website, www.epcc.ca, is well worth visiting.
We can also find much to do in our own backyard. Susan Talamantes Eggman, sponsor of California’s End-of-Life Options Act, which is now working its way through the legislature, stated before the members of the assembly that she is a practicing Catholic and reported meeting with various clergymen as she worked on the bill. Several other supporters of the proposed law did likewise. The right to physician-assisted suicide is part of the California Democratic platform, and many of the people who vote for Democrats are Catholic.
According to the most recent Pew research, 67 percent of white Catholics believe that a person has a moral right to suicide when he is in a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement. Hispanic Catholics show smaller numbers but, like white Catholics, when it comes to having an incurable disease or having a life that is a burden to self or others, many think that suicide is a right. Physician-assisted suicide wins the approval of about half of all white Catholics. The numbers for Hispanic Catholics are still well above a quarter of those polled.
A close look at palliative care would make for an entire book — and it has. Briefly, Camille Giglio is correct: Palliative care is big business and very much a part of the aid-in-dying movement. The vocabulary surrounding it is rife with misuse. Still, her definition is too narrow. The term properly refers to reducing the impact of a disease and easing its symptoms without curing the underlying disease. In itself, palliative care can help suffering and seriously ill patients endure, and need not limit needed medical care. It is a shame that because some misuse the help medicine can offer, others might be deprived of assistance or fear it. Nor has everyone who supports palliative care fallen into a utilitarian trap that would make extraordinary mean “burdensome” or “too expensive.” We have an obligation to protect our lives, to the extent we can, even if it costs us, and to accept suffering if there is no moral means of avoiding it. Is there a risk that in consenting to palliative care or hospice, we leave ourselves open to abuse? Yes, and that is a fact of American life today.
I don’t accept, of course, that all deaths are “humiliating, pain-filled.” Nor need any be, if we rightly order what is true, accept what help medicine offers, and recognize that we are in God’s loving care.