The National Right to Life Conference for 1987 was held in New Orleans in June, attended by some 1,500 delegates representing all states of the Union. Following the conference, The International Right to Life Federation held a seminar including reports from pro-life leaders around the world. The presence of well-known experts from many countries, and the contribution of their expertise and experience in workshops and general assemblies, added an extra dimension to the conference.
Throughout the world the first commitment of the pro-life movement is to the restoration of protection for the pre-born child. But there is overwhelming evidence to show that abortion is only one symptom in the anti-life disease.
Many others in our society are under heavy attack as well: the elderly, the infirm, the mentally ill, the handicapped, the “wrong sex” baby, the human embryo, and the severely retarded, all are vulnerable. These groups are subject to varying degrees of assault, depending on the individual country. In some countries one group is under a stronger assault, in another country a different group is at risk.
In Britain and in Australia, the two countries with the most developed technology for in vitro fertilization procedures, the burning issues today concern the human embryo. Tiny humans, crated ex-utero, are sliced open, deep frozen, used to test new drugs, and implanted in pigs. There are experiments in cross-breeding human and animals, and genetic engineering to produce new kinds of human beings is a major goal.
When Phyllis Bowman of Great Britain and Winifred Egan of Australia spoke of the types of experiments in their countries (and of the efforts being made to stop them) it was obvious that most people present were hearing of these horrors for the first time. It is, however, almost certainly true that similar research on embryos is being carried out, but less blatantly, in the United States and Canada.
Dr. Everett Koop, now U.S. Surgeon General, predicted that abortion would result in the “Slippery Slope” but, it is unlikely that even he could have foretold how steep and how slippery that slope would be in Holland.
Death in Holland
It has been a matter of justifiable pride that in World War II, Dutch doctors defied the Nazis and refused to collaborate in their programme of exterminating the “unwanted – the retarded, the handicapped, the elderly and infirm, the Jews, the gypsies – even though refusal could lead to concentration camp, or even death.
It is almost incredible that today Dutch doctors, to their shame, lead the rest of the world in killing their own patients by lethal injection. So grave is this situation that NRLC president Dr. Jack Willke asked the President of the World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life, Dr. Philippe Schepens of Belgium, to come to New Orleans and explain what is happening in The Netherlands.
Dr. Schepens explained that it is only fairly recently that evidence of wholesale euthanasia has come to light. Holland ([population 14 million), has an annual death rate of about 120,000.
Two years ago, as is now known, some 3,000 people were killed by lethal injection (at their own request) at the hands of doctors. A further 5,000 were killed in their own homes (not in hospital), by family doctors. Experts claim that the number of patients deliberately killed by doctors in 1986 was 20,000.
Thus in 1986, one-in-every six deaths in Holland was caused by a lethal injection given by a doctor. It is also thought, that between 50 to 80 per cent of patients are given injections without any one giving consent.
It is important to note that euthanasia is illegal in Holland. Some attempts have been made to legalize it, but Parliament does not want to raise a storm. If euthanasia is illegal, why is it so widespread?
Dr. Schepens explains that it is “tolerated.” The right to kill is left to doctors; it is they who decide who shall die, and the family or the patients themselves are not required to be consulted or to consent. One Dutch Jewish doctor, in opposing this new Holocaust has called this new system “Medico racy” – the absolute power of medical men.
It is also interesting to note that in a recent court case, some nurses at the University Hospital in Amsterdam who had given lethal injections to their patients were found guilty – but not of killing. Their guilt was in usurping the prerogative of doctors, i.e., the right to kill.
Pro-life people point out that Holland is taking exactly the same course with regard to euthanasia as it took towards abortion. For over 10 years, abortion was illegal, but it was tolerated. By 1981, it was judged that people had adjusted their values sufficiently and a bill to legalize abortion was introduced and passed.
Today, euthanasia is illegal, but it is tolerated by the Dutch authorities, including the courts. Once the people have accepted a shift in the norm of morality, euthanasia will be made legal. Meantime the media and pro-euthanasia groups follow the usual route of drumming up support by finding hard cases.
Understandably, the older people and the infirm are terrified. They no longer trust their doctors, and even those with pro-life doctors they can trust, are afraid to go to hospital. There is, in fact, a move to found a “patients’ union” which will find doctors and hospitals that can be trusted.
Pro-life people and organizations such as “Cry For Life” are struggling to end this horror, and they are strongly backed by Roman Catholic bishops and many of the Protestant churches.
Dr. Schepens urged his North American audience to help Dutch pro-lifers. He said that international opinion is important to the people in Holland, and he asks pro-life people to write letters expressing their concern to the Queen of Holland and important officials.
Canadians have close ties with The Netherlands. The Dutch Royal Family – including the present Queen – found refuge here during the War, and many areas in Holland were liberated by Canadian Forces. The Dutch people do not forget this.
Letters from Canadians, written in love, asking the Queen and the government for a return to the respect for all human life which they showed in World War II could be effective. The Dutch, in their heroic efforts to hide and save the Jews and the medical profession in rejecting Nazi attitudes towards the “unwanted,” earned respect and admiration from the world.
Today, that respect is being eroded by the very poison the War tried to eradicate. The addresses are as follows, and English is readily understood.
Queen Beatrix of Holland, Paleis Noordeinde, The Hague, The Netherlands. Mr. Ruud Lubers, Prime Minister, Catshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands, Mr. Dolman, President, House of Representatives, Binnenhof, The Hauge, The Netherlands.
Strong U.S. movement
Legal and medical experts on the workshop panels at the Conference made it crystal clear that there is a strong movement in the United States to establish legal euthanasia, not by federal or state legislatures but rather by the courts.
In the last few years the courts have gone from sanctioning the withdrawal of a respirator (in the case of Karen Quinlan) to the denial of food and water with the clear intention of causing death.
The courts have ruled that nutrition and fluids cannot be distinguished from medical treatment such as chemotherapy, despite the fact that a patient can be withdrawn from chemotherapy or a respirator and live (and Karen Quinlan lived over then years), but denial of all food and water means certain death within days.
To date there have been 23 decisions handed down by the Appellate and/or Supreme Courts of 11 States. All 23 decisions have allowed, or in some cases ordered, that patients be denied any food or fluids – a death sentence.
None of the 23 patients were terminally ill, just “biologically tenacious individual” meaning that he/she was not dying fast enough to suit other people.
Anna Hirth was a 92-year-old woman living in a California nursing home. She ha Alzheimer’s disease and since January 1986, had been fed by tube. Her brother had died and left $600,000 in trust for her care (the money to go to her daughter on her death), and he had obtained a promise from her physician, Dr. Allan Jay, that he would take good care of Anna.
Her daughter applied to the courts to be appointed guardian and then made a further application for permission to have the feeding tubes removed. In March of this year a California Supreme Court judge gave the daughter power to direct that the feeding tubes be removed. The doctor, Anna’s legal conservator, and the nursing home refused to comply.
Both Anna Hirth and Dr. Jay were Orthodox Jews. Dr. Jay applied to the Chief Rabbi in London, England, for advice and was told that, according to Orthodox teaching, the deliberate removal of food and water – which can only have the intent of causing death – is unethical under any and all circumstances, and thus completely forbidden.
On April 9, Dr. Jay again refused to comply with the court order, and went public with his story. As a consequence, no other physician would come forward to remove the tube. On April 15, the Supreme Court judge amended his previous ruling, and no longer sought to force the nursing home and the doctor to remove the feeding tubes.
However, in May, the daughter dismissed Dr. Jay and removed her mother to another location. Nine days later, on May 21, Anna Hirth died. Her daughter insists that her mother was fed to the end.
That, however, is not the end of the sage. A case is still pending on appeal as to whether Dr. Jay could have been compelled by the California Court of Appeals to pull the feeding tubes if no other physician would do it, reasoning that as her physician, it was his responsibility to care for her.
Ann Hirth’s story gives rise to a number of very serious questions:
- Given that there is constitutional right to freedom of religion, can doctors and nurses be ordered by the courts to commit what their religion regards as murder?
- Can hospitals, and nursing homes with religious affiliations, refuse to comply with such orders if they are privately funded? And what if they receive some public funds?
- Can the courts force nurses and doctors to break their professional oaths?
On June 25, 1986, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled on the case of Mildred Rasmussen, a 70-year-old incompetent patient in a nursing home.
In that decision, the court gave guardians, families and doctors the right to withhold or withdraw all treatment – including food and water – from patients in a persistent vegetative state. Moreover, the third parties were authorized to make these life-or-death decisions without ever going to court.
However, the public fiduciary, or guardian, was not satisfied with these powers and he asked the Arizona Supreme Court to extend the range of patients to include all “incompetent or incapacitated” people in the category of those who may be starved, or dehydrated to death.
A favourable decision would have put at risk hundreds of thousands of infirm older people, patients in mental institutions, and indeed all with physical or mental disabilities.
Disability Rights advocacy groups from across the United States rallied to defeat this appeal, and they filed an amici curiae brief with the court. So strong was the feeling and the opposition, that the fiduciary recanted, and withdrew his application. The lesson is clear: only perpetual vigilance will prevent another major holocaust.
Victory for life
This past April, the Governor of Oklahoma, Henry Bellman, signed into law a bill which ensures that incompetent patients will receive food and water unless (an this is a rare occurrence), they have specifically indicated otherwise.
The measure of the victory for life is shown by the vote. The house vote was 91 to 0. The Senate vote 41 to 0.
In recent years there has been a rapid expansion of groups formed to promote euthanasia: Exit, Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Hemlock Society, and Death with Dignity. One of these, the Hemlock Society has begun a major offensive to legalize assisted suicide in California.
It is important to note that, according to American criminal law, suicide is an “act” and not an “omission.” Refusal of medical care, or even food may be unethical but it is not suicide in U.S. law. Suicide involved a positive act as, for example, with a gun or lethal injection. This distinction is important in considering assisted suicide.
California is a logical target for the Hemlock Society. Recent polls have shown that 90 per cent of the population at large are in favour of withdrawing “health care,” and that 66 per cent – regardless of income or religion – are in favour of “active assisted suicide.” The California State Legislature will not touch the euthanasia issue, an the Hemlock Society has decided to by-pass the politicians and go straight to the people.
The November 1988 Presidential elections have been targeted for a pro-assisted suicide motion on the ballot. To get a motion on the ballot, Hemlock will require 300,000 signatures, but as these may be bought (quite legally) at one dollar per signature, getting the total needed is not likely to be difficult.
The large homosexual population in California is also a plus for Hemlock. Homosexuals in many parts of the world are promoting assisted suicide because of AIDS, and it is true to say that many people will tend to agree with helping AIDS patients to die as a way of solving a frightful medical and social disease.
Meantime, there is a growing crisis in health care and once the doors of euthanasia are open for one group they will be open for all. Who can doubt that the elderly and the indigent will be at risk.
Some members of the California courts are sympathetic to the idea of “helping people to die.” The rationale is as follows:
- A person has autonomy, and has a right to die.
- If, because of physical handicap, he cannot kill himself, he has the right to get others to kill him.
- An incompetent person who cannot make the decision for himself still has the right to die. Others can decide for him by “substituted judgment” and/or in “his own best interests.”
Finally, Hemlock has strong allies in the film and television industry in California, able and anxious to manipulate feelings by showing hard cases.
Despite all the new threats and problems, there was an up-beat feeling in New Orleans, and a general belief that the pro-life cause was gaining ground and momentum. New allies against abortion are joining the struggle, and they are coming from somewhat unexpected quarters.
Had anyone predicted a decade ago the Dr. Bernard Nathanson would be one of the main speakers at the NRL Convention in 1987, people would have either taken the remark as a joke, or charitably decided that the speaker had had too much sun, (or less charitably, too much alcohol). Bur as we thankfully know, for the past few years, Dr. Nathanson has been an army in himself, and his latest film Eclipse of Reason is a new and potent weapon in the pro-life arsenal.
This year two other former owners and directors of abortion clinics were speakers at the conference: Beverly MacMillan of Jackson, Miss. (founder of that State’s largest abortuary), and Carol Everett, who as the director of four “clinics” and owner of two was involved in the abortion industry in the Dallas/Fort Worth area from 1977 to 1983.
Carol Everett’s talk should greatly encourage pro-lifers who picket abortuaries. She said that the presence of pro-life counselors and picketers can have a devastating effect on the abortionists and their co-workers. Even a single picket causes a change in the atmosphere inside an abortuary. She added that she knew several doctors who stopped doing abortions because their homes were picketed; and others who quit, fearing they might be picketed.
The second army of allies comes from the other victims of abortion: the mothers, the fathers and other members of the family.
Many pro-abortionists, faced with the incontrovertible evidence of fetology, have abandoned the argument that the pr-born child is not a human being, but they continue to claim that “safe, compassionate and legal” abortions are a necessary service an benefit to women.
This argument is being undermined by the growing number of women who are stepping forward to tell the public that their “safe” abortions, far from solving problems have left them depressed, guilt ridden, with a decreased self image and often suicidal. This Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) was discussed by psychologists and counselors in a number of workshops.
Very recently the National Right to Life helped to establish a new “Outreach” programme called American Victims of Abortion (AVA). This relatively small organization is setting up a network of well-educated and articulate women who have suffered from an abortion and have now come to terms with their feelings and guilt and grief, and who are prepared to go public in order to save other girls and women from suffering the same fate.
Members of AVA have given evidence in the courts and before committees in Stat and federal legislatures and they have presented amici curiae briefs to the Supreme Court. Their statement of purpose says, “The primary work of AVA involves broad-based public awareness campaigns. Some of our efforts involve legislative initiatives and judicial activity. Using our own personal experience, we work with both federal and state legislative programs to protect the lives of others facing the same crisis we experienced…We feel our stories can have a dramatic impact on public opinion.”
Olivia Gans, the director of AVA and herself a victim of abortion has said, “for those who do choose to work publicly, there are rewards. My child lives in the face of every baby whose mother and father were encouraged to choose life because I chose to share my tragedy. There is no doubt that working to save lives can be a healing experience.
Youth are pro-life
AVA is encouraging further research into Post Abortion Syndrome. Any one who can contribute information, or any victims of abortion who are ready to tell the story of their child’s brief life in order to save others from unhappiness, or any educational groups that want more information can write to American Victims of Abortion, 419 7th Street NW, Suite 402, Washington, DC 20004.
The presence of many leading politicians, who are so sincerely and openly pro-life and who are determined to end abortion-on-demand, filled our Canadian contingent with envy. Where are our Henry Hydes? Why are Mulroney, Turner and Clark so wishy-washy? So anti-life? Where were the pro-life members of the Cabinet during the vote on the Mitges’ motion?
However, the presence of a hard-working and enthusiastic group of the National Teens for Life (NTL) ensured that the fight will continue. Dr. Schepens said that the young people of Europe were more pro-life than their parents.
The NTL President, John St. Martin wrote: “Both sides know that the battle for life depends on which direction today’s teens take. We know that today’s youth are more pro-life than any than any generation since the time of the original Roe v. Wade decision.”
It is the thought of the pro-life youth organizations throughout the world that enables some of us older people to sleep at night. There are willing hands to carry the torch a stage further.