On May 22, Nancy Crick, 69, was assisted in suicide with 21 witnesses encouraging her. Nancy Crick is the latest victim of Australia’s “doctor death,” Dr. Philip Nitschke. During the post-mortem it was discovered that she was not suffering from terminal bowel cancer as Nitschke had claimed, or any type of cancer, but rather a treatable twisted bowel. Both Crick and Nitschke knew for several months that she wasn’t terminally ill, but rather was experiencing chronic pain which could have been mitigated.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society in Australia and Nitschke believe that one needs to be “hopelessly ill,” not terminally ill in order to qualify for euthanasia or assisted suicide. This position is also held internationally by the World Federation of Right to Die Societies as stated in their 1998 Zurich declaration that people “suffering severe enduring distress” qualify for an assisted death.
In the Netherlands, and now in Belgium, one does not need to be terminally ill in order to request euthanasia or assisted suicide. Both countries do not have any safeguards restricting mercy killing to the terminally ill. One may ask to be killed if he/she is experiencing unbearable suffering. What is unbearable suffering? For one person unbearable suffering may refer to end stage cancer, while for another it might mean depression.
Suffering and distress are interesting terms which are not limited to physical suffering alone. The Supreme Court in the Netherlands has defined suffering as both physical and psychological. In Belgium the legislation states that “a patient seeking euthanasia must be in a hopeless medical situation and be constantly suffering physically or psychologically.” Therefore someone who is experiencing depression may be killed. This has serious ramifications because depression is treatable and depressed people are incapable of giving proper consent.
In the Netherlands euthanasia has become an acceptable practise on disabled newborns. A New England Journal of Medicine study discovered that eight per cent of all infant deaths in the Netherlands were from euthanasia. These were often children whose parents didn’t want a disabled child and thought that death was preferable to disability. Many of those newborn infants were not terminally ill; in fact, they were killed because they were probably going to live.
In Oregon, the law allows people within six months of death to receive assistance in suicide. In 2001, 44 people received a prescription for death while 21 people used the prescription. An interesting fact is that many of the 21 people who killed themselves with assistance did so nine months or more after receiving their prescription. So much for safeguards and so much for having to be terminally ill.
In the state of Hawaii’s recently failed “Death with Dignity Bill” proponents of the legislation such as the assistant to the pro-euthanasia Governor Ben Cayetano, Juliet Begley, stated: “It is not about committing suicide. It is about choosing how you die in an unbearable situation.”
Nancy Crick’s son, Wayne told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper that he said to his mother that he thought she was being used. Her reply was “Yes, I know, but I’m using them.” Nancy Crick was happy to support their cause and be a celebrity.
The death activists do not seek euthanasia and assisted suicide just to “grant relief” to the terminally ill. They want euthanasia and assisted suicide so they may choose the time and place of their death. It is about radical personal autonomy.
As the death wishers seek the Right to Die, they do so at the peril of everyone in society who needs to be protected from people who question their right to live.
People with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable persons experience abuse and pressure and have a need to be protected. That’s where we stand, for the dignity and sanctity of all human life.Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.