By John Henry Westen

The year of 1996 has seen the fruition of one of the more dire predictions of the pro-life movement. Pro-lifers long warned that the legalization of contraception would lead to abortion which would in turn lead to euthanasia. Society has now surely arrived at the last stage in the fulfillment of this warning.

A review of some of this year’s euthanasia related news items will clearly demonstrate a world-wide, pro-euthanasia campaign in high gear.

Beginning in January a diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States deemed suicide to be morally acceptable for the terminally ill. Delegates to a convention in Newark, New Jersey, voted to adopt a resolution agreeing that assisting suicide is morally acceptable in such cases. Bishop John Shelby Spong said the time has come for religious to redefine what “life” means. The resolution is set to go to the national Episcopal convention next year.

In early February the Canadian Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case of Robert Latimer who received a murder conviction in the so-called “mercy killing” of his disabled daughter.

Law overturned

March dealt a severe blow to the pro-life movement as a judicial ruling in the United States purported to do for suicide what Roe vs. Wade did for abortion. The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a law in the state of Washington, which had prohibited doctors from assisting their patients in suicide.

In the following days, news media reported the acquittal of Jack Kevorkian, known as “Dr. Death.” He had been charged with violation of Michigan’s assisted suicide law which had been overturned earlier that week. Kevorkian’s own comment on the ruling was foreboding: “I don’t know if they realize the magnitude of what they did.”

March also witnessed doctors in China demand legalized euthanasia. An association of Chinese doctors asked the Communist government to allow doctors to help kill very old and very sick patients, according to a report of the Xinhua news agency.

A result of the ensuing controversy was recognized when news broke on a California family row. Members disputed over custody of a father because he feared his family planned to “help” the elderly man commit suicide. Dr. Gerald Klooster II abducted his father, Dr. Gerald Klooster, SR., 66, in November after learning that his father’s wife Ruth had taken him to visit Jack Kevorkian in Detroit earlier in the month.

April saw the announcement of the pending instatement of the first voluntary euthanasia law in the world; it is scheduled to go into effect on July 1 of this year. Australian Health Services Minister Fred Finch of the Northern Territory state government said the law, passed in May 1995, would go into effect after education programs were put into effect.

Meanwhile Dr. Kevorkian was in court again facing assisted suicide charges for the third time, having been acquitted of all charges in his other trials. Kevorkian’s body count began to be fashionably quoted in the press as he had now admitted to assisting in 31 suicides since 1990.

This compromising situation did not, however, dissuade the British Medical Journal from lauding Kevorkian as “a medical hero”, in an editorial piece.

Many saw the effects of flirting with euthanasia hit home as Canadian multiple sclerosis victim Austin Bastable committed suicide with the help of the notorious Dr. Death. Kevorkian, at the time of Bastable’s death, was in the midst of another trial for “helping” people commit suicide. The Austin Bastable story was a most sad one in which Right-to Die activists urged him to make a public spectacle of his quest for death and publish an internet site to that effect.

On May 13 it was reported that a federal court judge in the U.S. was forced to reconsider his decision to prevent assisted suicide.

June saw the first Canadian doctor charged with aiding suicide. Dr. Maurice Genereux, a Toronto doctor convicted of six counts of sexual misconduct with patients, was charged with helping one of his AIDS patients kill himself. According to information obtained by The Globe and Mail, the charge arose from the death of Aaron McGinn, a 31-year-old gay man who died at his home on the night of April 10-11.

In June members of the American Medical Association proposed rethinking the AMA’s traditional opposition to physician-assisted suicide. This proposal was soundly defeated with a vote at the annual convention of the AMA. Strongly worded reasons were given by some doctors for their decisions to uphold their long-standing opposition. “We’re here to treat patients, not to do away with them,” said Dr. Dennis Brown of Schaumberg, Ill.

Organ donation

Nearing the end of the month, Dr. Jack Kevorkian offered to the public a humane and even altruistic reason for engaging in assisted suicide. An attorney for the assisted-suicide advocate said the retired pathologist plans to offer an organ donation process to patients who decide to kill themselves.

This “new” proposal harkens back to his oft-mentioned wish that organs be harvested from otherwise-healthy bodies of death-row inmates after execution.

Later in the month, an Australian politician with AIDS said he wanted an assisted death, but was worried since the government was considering quashing the world’s first euthanasia law which would let doctors help him. Although Australia’s euthanasia law comes into effect on July 1st, doctors and churches have challenged it in the territory’s Supreme Court.

To date, the court has rejected the challenge but it promised to hold a review of the impact of the upcoming legislation.

Given this review, the insistent campaign for legalized euthanasia should be obvious. Let us pray that the rest of this year’s news does not tell the sorrowful fulfillment of this harmful crusade.