Janet C. Phelan
If you want to kill yourself, Compassion and Choices will be glad to help. Always looking for new markets of people wanting to die, C & C is now attempting to engage the gay community.
Accordingly, C & C is now setting up booths at LGBT pride festivals to help those afflicted with AIDS to make the decision to die.
The rallying cry of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement is caring. It’s not that they are pushing death, they declare. Compassion and Choices is all about reducing suffering. Appealing to our higher emotions, C & C wants to help those who are dying to step beyond the pain. Right?
Well, maybe not. The stance of C & C makes several fundamental assumptions, which upon scrutiny may not be valid. First has to do with the concept that those who are terminal are in unspeakable agony. The state of the art of palliative care has largely nullified this argument.
Another significant concern has to do with the definition of “terminal.” As used in many of the existing assisted suicide laws, a person is terminal if he or she will die within six months without medical care.
In other words, those who may be successfully treated for cancer are, by this definition, terminal. So are insulin-dependent diabetics and many people with pneumonia.
Compassion and Choices is only one manifestation of an enormous global push towards legalizing what many societies have generally considered to be murder. Euthanasia fever is sweeping the First World. Country after country is debating the introduction of new laws, laws which may legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Euthanasia is also called “mercy killing,” and is defined as the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person (or animal) suffering from an incurable disease or condition. The law generally differentiates between active and passive euthanasia. As defined in Wikipedia, “Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, such as antibiotics, necessary for the continuance of life. Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces, such as administering a lethal injection, to kill and is the most controversial means.”
Assisted suicide, on the other hand is defined as follows: “Suicide facilitated by another person, especially a physician, who organizes the logistics of the suicide, as by providing the necessary quantities of a poison.”
As one can see, the terms tend to bleed into each other. No pun intended…
It all began in Switzerland about seventy years ago, when assisted suicide first became legal. In 1942, Article 115 of the Criminal Code was passed, which in effect made it only criminal to assist someone in committing suicide for “selfish reasons.” The law was subsequently expanded in the 1980s when a further interpretation allowed the establishment of organizations with legal permission to administer life-ending medicine (poison).
Which brings us to Dignitas. Following the expansion of interpretation of Article 115, a Swiss lawyer named Ludwig A. Minelli founded Dignitas in 1998. The function of Dignitas is to facilitate death.
According to the Dignitas brochure, “In this, it is particularly important to determine whether the member’s capacity of discernment is impaired in any way, and whether anyone close to him/her, or third parties, are pushing the member towards suicide for any reason.”
That might be a greedy heir, for example. Or given its fees, that could be Dignitas itself!
Just recently, Dignitas was again in the news, reportedly helping a non- terminally ill 85-year-old Italian woman commit suicide. She was reportedly upset that she had “lost her looks,” and thus decided to end her life. Oriella Caszzenello paid €10,000 for an assisted suicide at Dignitas.
Other Dignitas notables include an individual who was depressed after a botched sex change operation and an 89-year-old former schoolteacher who said she “couldn’t adapt to modern times.”
In general, Dignitas uses the following protocol : After taking an oral dose of an anti-emetic drug, 1 hour later the client is given a lethal dose of powdered pentobartitol dissolved in liquid. The pentobarbital overdose causes central nervous system depression and the person then becomes drowsy and falls asleep. Respiratory arrest and death occurs within 30 minutes after ingesting the pentobarbital. Dignitas has also used helium gas as a suicide method.
Other countries have subsequently legalized assisted suicide. In 2002, Netherlands passed the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act, which legalized euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in specific cases, and for people twelve years old and up. In 2004, the Groningen Protocol came into effect, which allows doctors to euthanize infants, who are obviously not able to request or consent.
Belgium also recently legalized child euthanasia. In February of this year, following a heated debate in both its Senate and subsequently in the international press, Belgium expanded its assisted suicide law to allow children to request to be euthanized. In recent reports, at least 32% of the euthanasias in Belgium appear to have been done in the absence of a request. In addition, a great number of euthanasias are considered to be unreported. Many of the unreported assisted suicides are apparently being done by nurses. Belgium’s law explicitly prohibits this.
The situation in the Netherlands does not appear to be much better. According to EPC-Europe, “In the Netherlands the number of deaths by euthanasia has increased by 64% between 2005 and 2010 … In comparison, the Dutch population grew by less than two percent over the same period. Yet the Dutch are now discussing the extension of euthanasia to people with dementia despite huge concerns about proper consent.” In addition, euthanasia is now being performed on psychiatric patients in the Netherlands, with 42 such cases reported in 2012.
The laws governing euthanasia in Canada distinguish between passive euthanasia, which is legal, and active euthanasia, which has been treated as murder. However, the climate concerning this issue appears to be changing in Canada. Recently, the parliament in Quebec considered legislation to remove the assisted suicide ban. In addition, Canada’s Liberal Party has endorsed the decriminalization of physician-assisted suicide.
Compassion and Choices offers end of life consultations as well as advocacy for those who do not wish medical intervention. On the political front, C & C has an active event schedule hosting tables at senior expos.
Margaret Dore, a Seattle-based attorney, is fighting back. She has started a non profit — Choice is an Illusion — which focuses on the clear potential for abuse under these laws. She also writes prolifically on this issue.
According to Dore:
The Washington and Oregon laws are a recipe for elder abuse. The most obvious reason is due to a lack of oversight when the lethal dose is administered…For example, there are no witnesses required at the death; the death is allowed occur in private… With this situation, the opportunity is created for an heir, or some other person who will benefit from the patient’s death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without her consent. Even if she struggled, who would know?
Attorney Dore also hosts a listserve concerning the issue of assisted suicide. Most recently, she has been organizing to provide a counterpoint at the gay pride events where Compassion and Choices is now setting up tables.
So the next time your city hosts a pride parade, be sure to take note that there is now another presence (or presences) chatting up the potential HIV victims. While the rainbow colors fly and love is celebrated as a non gender-specific event, someone may be there to advocate for dying. It’s really almost archetypical — the eternal war between Eros and Thanatos.
Last time I checked, Thanatos wasn’t getting such good press. Maybe that’s why he is now masquerading as “Compassion.”
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. Her new book Exile was just released. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com