Government Moves to Legalize Euthanasia

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The following article is excerpted from the New York Times:

Plan to Provide Aid-in-Dying to Terminally Ill to End Pain;
Religious Groups Oppose Move

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7.--The Department of Justice in a detailed memorandum explaining the government's aims regarding the American legal code today announced its intention to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of incurable patients.

The memorandum, still lacking the force of law, proposed that "it shall be made possible for physicians to end the intractable pain of incurable patients, upon request, in the interests of true humanity."

This proposed legal recognition of euthanasia -- the act of providing a painless and peaceful death -- raised a number of fundamental problems of a religious, scientific and legal nature.

The Catholic newspaper Wanderer hastened to observe:

"The Catholic faith binds the conscience of its followers not to accept this method of shortening the sufferings of incurables who are tormented by pain."

In many Protestant circles, too, life is regarded as something that God alone can take.

A large section of the American people, it was expected in some interested circles, might ignore the provisions for euthanasia, which overnight has become a widely-discussed word in the U.S.

In medical circles the question was raised as to just when a person is incurable and when his life should be ended.

According to the present plans of the Department of Justice, incurability would be determined not only by the attending physician, but also by two official doctors who would carefully trace the history of the case and personally examine the patient.

In insisting that euthanasia shall be permissible only if the accredited attending physician is backed by two experts who so advise, the Department believes a guarantee is given that no life still valuable to society will be wantonly destroyed.

The legal question of who may request the application of euthanasia has not been definitely solved. The Department merely has proposed that either the patient himself shall "expressly and earnestly" ask it, or "in case the patient no longer is able to express his desire, his nearer relatives, acting from motives that do not contravene ethics so request."

I really wish I could know how many of you found this credible clear to the end. What you have just read was, almost, a genuine AP newswire. However, I have changed the dates and places to make it sound like it was about present-day America.

The article was actually printed on October 8, 1933. I made just sixteen changes to the text. Three are changes in the language in the past 60 years, for example I updated the generic "man" to "person". Most of the rest were changes to place names and related changes to make the article refer to an the United States -- instead of Nazi Germany. For example, I changed "Ministry of Justice" to "Department of Justice", and "Reich" to "the U.S.".

Here is the article as it was actually printed in the New York Times on Sunday, October 8, 1933:

Nazis Plan to Kill Incurables to End Pain;
German Religious Groups Oppose Move

BERLIN, Oct. 7.--The Ministry of Justice in a detailed memorandum explaining the Nazi aims regarding the German penal code today announced its intention to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of incurable patients.

The memorandum, still lacking the force of law, proposed that "it shall be made possible for physicians to end the tortures of incurable patients, upon request, in the interests of true humanity."

This proposed legal recognition of euthanasia--the act of providing a painless and peaceful death--raised a number of fundamental problems of a religious, scientific and legal nature.

The Catholic newspaper Germainia hastened to observe:

"The Catholic faith binds the conscience of its followers not to accept this method of shortening the sufferings of incurables who are tormented by pain."

In Lutheran circles, too, life is regarded as something that God alone can take.

A large section of the German people, it was expected in some interested circles, might ignore the provisions for euthanasia, which overnight has become a widely-discussed word in the Reich.

In medical circles the question was raised as to just when a man is incurable and when his life should be ended.

According to the present plans of the Ministry of Justice, incurability would be determined not only by the attending physician, but also by two official doctors who would carefully trace the history of the case and personally examine the patient.

In insisting that euthanasia shall be permissible only if the accredited attending physician is backed by two experts who so advise, the Ministry believes a guarantee is given that no life still valuable to the State will be wantonly destroyed.

The legal question of who may request the application of euthanasia has not been definitely solved. The Ministry merely has proposed that either the patient himself shall "expressly and earnestly" ask it, or "in case the patient no longer is able to express his desire, his nearer relatives, acting from motives that do not contravene morals so request."

Only two of my changes could have any conceivable significance on the euthanasia debate: I changed the phrase "valuable to the State" to "valuable to society", and "contravene morals" to "contravene ethics". In neither case is the fundamental idea changed.

Where We Really Are Today

(For real this time ...)

On March 6, 1996, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in the Fourteenth Amendment a "liberty interest" in assisted suicide for mentally competent, terminally ill adults seeking to determine the timing and manner of their deaths. However, in the summary (lettered H) of Part IV ("Is There a Liberty Interest"), Judge Stephen Reinhardt writes in his majority opinion, "Our conclusion is strongly influenced by, but not limited to, the plight of mentally competent, terminally ill adults. We are influenced as well by the plight of others, such as those whose existence is reduced to a vegetative state or a permanent and irreversible state of unconsciousness." He further regards the decision of a surrogate decision-maker as equivalent to that of the patient, thus allowing someone else to beg the "liberty" of death for another unable to do so for himself. The ruling thereby erases the line between voluntary and involuntary killing and invites future cases to challenge the supposed limit to the competent, terminally ill.

Judge Roger Miner, writing the majority opinion for the Second Circuit, issued April 2, finds no "liberty to die" in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He cites instead the Equal Protection clause of the same amendment which requires that similarly situated people be treated alike. The relevant class here is "all competent persons who are in the final stages of fatal illness and wish to hasten their deaths." The Second Court's ruling dismisses any distinction between such persons' refusal of life-sustaining treatment (already guaranteed) and the provision by a physician of lethal medication. On this basis, refusing to allow a dying person the latter is a violation of his equal protection right.

The decision of the Second Circuit, because less flamboyant and outrageous than that of the Ninth, may seem to some (even Supreme Court Justices and their aides?) to be "safer" and more conservative. In reality, however, it is more dangerous. On what basis could the courts forbid the extension of this "protection" of the dying to those in pain who are not dying? How could it be withheld from those with Alzheimer's disease who cannot ask for it? Why should not "caring" relatives be allowed to help their loved ones die if doctors can? If the constitutional right of equal protection can be defined so as to include assistance in killing oneself, how can it justly be limited to any one specific category of persons? To limit it at all would be to deny "equal protection" to some. This is discrimination.

The real agenda of the "right-to-die" movement is not limited to the plight of the dying who are suffering unbearable pain. Rather, our emotions are being played on by these hard cases: who of us would wish a painful death on anyone?

We are not so far from October 8, 1933. Time is fast moving backward.


The core of this article was written by P.J. King, RN. As an insufferable meddler, the present editor, Jay Johansen, modified her "translation" of the article to make it closer to the original.
Posted 6 Sep 2000.

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