Is Death Healthcare?

The advent of Physician-Assisted Suicide sets out the question squarely: Do we now consider death is legitimate “treatment,” a form of “healthcare”?

The Democratic Party has been clearly the party of death regarding the unborn since at least 1976, when it first opposed a Constitutional amendment to reverse Roe. It is becoming ever more apparent, however, that the Democratic Party—especially its “progressive” (i.e., further left) wing—is also the party of euthanasia, as evidenced by the spate of “physician-assisted suicide” (PAS) legislation cropping up this year in multiple blue-state legislatures.

Michigan, which is currently also pushing trafficking in babies (aka “commercial surrogacy”), now has a package of PAS legislation, introduced by House member Mary Cavanagh, who hawks herself as a “vocal champion” for “our most vulnerable populations” (of which, presumably, “we don’t want too many of”). During the week of January 16, a Virginia Senate committee, by party line vote, cleared a PAS bill. Maryland and Massachusetts legislators will soon be holding hearings to pretend they listened to the public before pushing PAS bills.

I recently wrote that PAS is inextricably tied up in logical inconsistencies. American suicide rates are exploding across various demographics. White men are committing suicide and, when you combine that with what Dr. Stephen Doran rightly calls “deaths of despair”—slow-motion suicide through alcoholism or drug abuse—white-male life expectancy is decreasing.  

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But it’s more than just dead white males. The suicide rate among teenagers and young adults is also rising, during a stage in life when people should be most filled with hope and ambition for the future.

We make lots of noise about “fighting suicide.” “You are not alone,” we solemnly intone. “We’re there to help you!”

Aren’t we sending cross signals if we make all those claims and then tell people who are ostensibly on the verge of death that they can kill themselves? 

Or what other games do we play? The general cultural modus operandi now is that we cannot criticize a “normal” (i.e., non-PAS) suicide because clearly that person must have been “out of his mind” and, therefore, his responsibility was diminished. We impute all sorts of psychological distress and illness to excuse those suicides…but then we pretend that a PAS suicide is a perfectly rational and defensible act?  

Let me get this straight. A person who commits suicide is generally now regarded as psychologically burdened enough to diminish his responsibility except in an in-extremis situation where, faced with a claimed irreversibly fatal condition, he suddenly becomes fully mentally lucid and capable of making a legitimate, life-disposing decision?

Huh?

PAS advocates, of course, have to pretend that these decisions are rational, competent, and therefore to be respected—because otherwise the PAS house of cards falls apart.  Why, in the throes of a mortal illness and facing a (possibly erroneous) terminal diagnosis one suddenly acquires a hitherto unavailable mental lucidity is, of course, never explained.

But I fear that, just as the PAS folks will pretend requests for physician-assisted suicide are “rational,” so the “pastoral” types will suddenly revert to their irrationality claims so as to justify public funerals and other ecclesiastical services to those who take their own lives. We already saw the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Paglia, fudging about whether the “accompaniment” mania of this pontificate should extend to being in attendance when somebody kills himself by PAS. How long before we’re told we should offer “short and simple” ex tempore blessings to the intended suicide? Or perhaps sacrilege the Last Sacraments?

What was truly telling to me was the recent debate over Alabama’s January 25 execution by nitrogen hypoxia. Alabama executed a murderer essentially by suffocation: feeding him only nitrogen but no oxygen to breathe. Alabama experimented with that method because states have long been having problems obtaining the drugs used in lethal injections: pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell them. States were also prone to botching executions by lethal injection because the intravenous lines were usually placed by prison workers, as healthcare professionals refuse to participate in administration of the death penalty. They insist dealing death is inconsistent with their healing vocations; and, to date, no state has sought to force their conscience.

Now, I am not advocating active participation of healthcare personnel in capital cases (as opposed to the traditional physician who certifies the death), but I note a double standard. How is it that the healthcare worker prostitutes his vocation on death row but not in a PAS case? How is it that the state respects his right not to participate in capital cases but—already in some jurisdictions (e.g., Ontario)—expects him as a professional duty to refer a patient to another doctor who will kill him if he won’t?  

We come back to the core issue: Is death ever part of medicine? Has the old “paradigm” of the doctor who fights death now been replaced by the physician who considers “death” part of his medical bag?   Is death ever part of medicine? Has the old “paradigm” of the doctor who fights death now been replaced by the physician who considers “death” part of his medical bag? Tweet This

The drumbeat is already being banged in Washington to pretend that abortion—prenatal homicide—is “healthcare.” In that instance, we pretend there is only one patient—the mother—while the unborn child is, at best, a “clump of cells.” That gets us away from addressing the death issue.

But the PAS case puts death front and center. While we can hem and haw and fudge whether an unborn child is “human life,” there is no index by which we can deny the humanity of the patient—even the dying patient—sitting in front of us. And that is why we cannot punt the death question here. We have to answer the question foursquare: “Is death healthcare?”

What should worry us gravely is that for many of our peers—including, apparently, a major political party—the answer is “yes.”

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

Author

  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

tagged as: Medical Ethics

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