Some 110 pro-lifers received an education in the complex issues surrounding euthanasia at an April 21 conference sponsored by Campaign Life Coalition (CLC).
Prof. Joseph Boyle, Ph.D, of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, and Dr. Barry De Veber, M.D., of London, Ontario, made it clear that the question of euthanasia is more complicated than that of abortion.
Professor Boyle thought pro-lifers should focus on those areas where euthanasia is most like abortion, namely in the defense of those too helpless to defend themselves against being killed. In other words, he said, they should oppose Active Euthanasia (AE). They should not oppose every attempt to restrict medicine’s tendency to prolong human life.
They key to understanding AE is the motive: intentional killing. This can be done directly by lethal injection or by withholding treatment. Many MD’s today who do not desire to assist in suicide, yet do not consider withholding treatment wrong, think that as long as they do not actively intervene to bring about death they have a clear conscience. But, clearly, withholding treatment is as deadly as an injection, Dr. Boyle pointed out.
At any rate, international killing is the real enemy prolifers must battle, not measures which restrict treatments for dying patients.
The issue of living wills is complicated by the fact that the right to refuse treatment as a general principle – aside from the specific circumstances – is not something newly invented. Rather, it is a very old idea, well established in the Catholic Christian tradition. People Pius XII spoke in its defense, while in the U.S., case law asserting this right finds its main inspiration in a 1914 ruling by Judge Cardozzo.
Living Wills extend this recognized right to the period of incompetency preceding death. While there is nothing wrong with this in principle, pro-euthanasia groups such as the Hemlock Society and Dying with Dignity interpret it to mean that every person has full autonomy and full rights to end his or her life any time the person wishes. The Judeo-Christian tradition rejects this view.
The facilitators warned especially to watch for clauses in Living Will legislation which seek to legalize in voluntary death and thus directly attack the defenseless. In many jurisdictions the Living Will itself appears to have arrived already.
There was no time to discuss the issue of brain death. Now was there time for a full treatment of the question whether food and water could be considered a ‘medical treatment’ which may or could be withdrawn.
In response to a question about the statement of the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life that in all cases of terminal illness withholding food and water is wrong, Dr. De Veber thought it should be modified in the case of those dying.