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September 19, 2006

Should people have the right to end their lives?

Topics: Euthanasia

Pamela Hennessy, founder of The Partership for Medical Ethics Reform, responded to a recent commentary by Australian ethicist Leslie Cannold. Cannold is a passionate supporter of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Ms. Hennessy wrote:

I read Leslie Cannold's recent editorial, "Legal safeguards can make euthanasia a legitimate option" with not a small amount of horror.

Euthanasia is NOT a legitimate option in a healthcare or clinical environment, and it comes as no surprise to me that a self-proclaimed ethicist would choose to overlook the reasons why.

Instead of citing the very real obligation of medical ethics to protect the health, wellness and well-being of patients, Ms. Cannold decided, instead, to classify the issue of euthanasia as that of a religious battle, tied closely to abortion and spear-headed (in her view) by people with an agenda other than good patient care.

Though some members of the pro-life movement may well see the two issues as related and as thin ends of dangerous wedges, it is wholly inaccurate and completely misinformed to take this one group as the singular voice against killing disabled and chronically ill people.

Ms. Cannold failed to mention the position of many worldwide disability advocacy and legal representation groups, who have long argued that making quality of life judgments in the clinical setting is akin to flagrant dehumanizing of those who live with physical and neurological challenges.

She also failed to address the many organizations of healthcare professionals who play an active role in keeping euthanasia and care rationing out of our hospitals and nursing homes simply because it violates the first and most important piece of the Hippocratic Oath -- do no harm.

Finally, Ms. Cannold uses Oregon statistics to support her argument in favor of actively killing people while minimalizing the tremendous advances in palliative care. She says: "This data, which suggests that mental rather than physical suffering is the main driver of decisions to die, undermines the assertion of anti-euthanasia forces that the effectiveness of modern-day palliative methods obviates the need for legal reform."

While this circular reasoning may be heralded by the right-to-die activists, it fails as a whole.

If Ms. Cannold had a teenage daughter who wanted to commit suicide after losing a boyfriend to another girl, I have no doubt that she would do everything in her power, even seek assistance outside of her own family, to intervene on the girl's behalf -- recognizing the want for death as a byproduct of depression, sorrow and fear. Certainly, she would never ignore such a powerful plea for help.

Why is it, then, she is so enthusiastic in ignoring those same pleas from chronically and terminally ill patients in the state of Oregon? Do they, because of illness or ailments, become less deserving of the most simple human compassion? Quite simply, people who face uncertain futures can also fall victim to depression, sorrow and fear. Is it truly "ethical" to disregard them as human rubbish?

It's alarming to me that people who byline their names with the word "ethicist" are rarely interested in the true nature of medical ethics, the lives of other people or providing care, love, kindness and the best healthcare can offer to those who live with hurdles. Indeed, it has nothing to do with ethics and everything in the world to do with arrogant abandonment of others.

Pamela F. Hennessy
The Partnership for Medical Ethics Reform

Posted by Mary at September 19, 2006 7:17 PM

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