Perspectives: Death with dignity, a noble lie

OPINION – A constant, ongoing challenge of our time is found in trying to pierce the smokescreens and spin that accompany nearly every politicized issue.

This can be more difficult than it sounds.

For instance, the phrase “death with dignity” conveys a sense of respect and mercy for those who are contending with a terminal illness. This is why the so-called “right-to-die” legislative movement has made it one of their primary slogans.

Proponents of death with dignity promote the idea that the greatest human freedom is found in living, and dying, according to a person’s own desires and beliefs. They have successfully pushed for legislation authorizing assisted suicide in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California.

While the effort appears noble and self-empowering at first blush, the intellectual underpinnings of the right-to-die movement are considerably darker.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview attorney and bioethicist Wesley J. Smith about his book “Forced Exit.” Smith’s book examined the slippery slope that leads from assisted suicide to legalized murder.

The danger, Smith said, lies in the acceptance of the belief that some human lives are not worth living. Whether that is due to a terminal or incurable illness, a permanent disability or something else, assisted suicide requires “experts” to make the determination of whether someone’s existence should continue.

One of the ethics that Smith strongly emphasized is that the lives of those who are sick, disabled or elderly have as much worth as those who are young and vital. Either all human beings have lives of equal and intrinsic value or they do not.

Once a society has legally conceded that some lives are worth less than others, it becomes easier to justify the termination of unworthy lives with a newly discovered duty to die.

Given the drastically rising costs of health care, thanks to ongoing government intervention, it’s not hard to see euthanasia gaining acceptance as a cost-cutting measure. This would not be a difficult sell in a culture that is trained to worship youth and physical beauty.

What originally begins as a “merciful” release from a painful, terminal illness can become a solution that places the interests of the collective above that of the individual patient.

Opposition to euthanasia does not mean that a patient is abandoned to unlimited suffering until he or she dies. It simply recognizes that deliberate termination of human life, however well-intentioned, requires denying the sanctity of human life at some level.

In a recent radio interview with a medical doctor and a registered nurse from a local hospice service, my guests made it very clear that there is a line which medical professionals should not cross.

The Hippocratic Oath of doing “no harm” to the patient has stood the test of time for thousands of years. There is real risk in altering that tradition of giving the physician a duty to society or some other group for the sake of convenience.

Nineteenth Century German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote:

It is not up to (the doctor) whether life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state.

There is a world of difference between a patient choosing to refuse life-saving medical procedures and the proactive steps intended to extinguish a life. A do-not-resuscitate order is not the same thing as a suicide note.

In many cases, a terminally ill patient simply wants some semblance of control over the process of dying. Through improved palliative care and a number of innovative therapies, hospice helps to comfort patients and their families through the process of dying.

At every stage of the transition, the value of the patient’s life is never in doubt.

I will never forget the impact and the compassion of the hospice workers who attended to my father as he died of cancer. They knew what to say, when to say nothing and when to put an arm around my shoulders.

Through their efforts, I learned that there is real dignity in providing comfort and service to those who cannot care for themselves any longer. Their affirmation of the value of my dad’s life continued right to the very end.

Their actions allowed me to glimpse some of the most noble qualities that human beings can possess.

Human history is replete with examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Anything that teaches us that the value of human life is dependent upon quality of life is leading in the direction of a slippery slope that isn’t always obvious.

Noble-sounding lies are still lies.

We would be wise to give serious consideration to where such lies have led others in the past and then ask what makes us think we would be any different.

Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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23 Comments

  • Paul Jensen October 19, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Well said.

  • BIG GUY October 19, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Thoughtful essay on a difficult subject, Bryan.

  • anybody home October 19, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Bryan, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Since you don’t live in Oregon, Washington or California, why are you even writing about this? It’s deeply offensive that you say that people who wish to use the Death with Dignity process get opinions from “experts” and you put that word in quotations. Do you even know what the process is or did you just get this from your goofy books? Do you understand the requirements for medical approval and a wait time and other things that safeguard patients from being murdered, as you’d put it? Do you ever do any real research like perhaps speaking with families of people who have used the process to get their views on it? Do you ever try to seriously understand something like this?
    Death with dignity is not for everyone, to be sure. But for seriously ill patients with their backs against the wall and no hope of recovery, it’s a good option. You don’t have to choose it, Bryan, but you and the other self-righteous opponents don’t get to choose for everybody.

    • Rainbow Dash October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, AH.

      • anybody home October 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm

        Thank you, RD…

  • Bowlinggreen123 October 19, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    The Drug companies love the sick and the old Period!! They thrive on selling pain medication and other drugs to people who are terminally ill severely disabled and those who would like to have the choice. I took care of my Dad the last few years of his life, And although I would love to take care of him for just one more day I understand how this could be considered. Although he never got to the point where things were just to much for him some people do.

  • dhamilton2002 October 19, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Bryan you let your religious belief get in the way of science. Try taking care of a dying loved one, and I don’t mean an old person, then try writing the same opinion. You really have no idea what you are talking about and your ignorance show! And by the way according to the AMA 80% of all medical costs incurred by most older people take place in the last 90 days of their lives. When it’s my time to go I want the right to choose and not let some doctor who I don’t know try to keep me alive for the sake of billing.

    • native born new mexican October 20, 2015 at 8:31 am

      I have taken care of (hands on) young and old family member patients who were terminal and in lots of pain. The younger one died far too young and the older one died at what I would call a younger old age but they died when it was time in a natural way. No one hurried the process up. Life is not mine to take, including my own. I have no problem with some one refusing medical procedures that only prolong life and suffering but I believe strongly that there is a creator God who brought life to this world and who makes the final decision about when life ends. I think Bryan is right as usual in his comments. No one has a duty to die and get out of other people’s way. I have a terminal family member that other family members and I are dealing with right now. I have no right to shorten one minute of that person’s life even though family members have all accepted that death will come soon. Death will come when it comes and not one minute sooner.

      • fun bag October 20, 2015 at 12:37 pm

        See NM, you want to force your beliefs and religion on everyone else

        • native born new mexican October 20, 2015 at 8:01 pm

          Trolling as usual fun bag. do what you want to yourself. Don’t force a death culture on everyone else. No one should feel like they need to die and get out of everyone’s way or that they are expected to die and quit spending money. That is what your death culture becomes. It does not stay a choice for long. It becomes a duty; a responsibility like all other politically correct behaviors have become. You get ridiculed for your beliefs. You can’t say certain words anymore etc. Now it will be your politically correct duty to die when people think you should. It is a very steep, very slippery slope.

          • fun bag October 21, 2015 at 1:28 am

            Just got off the phone with Obama. He told me he’ll be at your house any minute to collect your guns. after that he’ll be sending the federal kook police to haul you off to the loony bin. You will be put in a secret federal program to try and reform kooky new mexicans to rejoin the civilized world…

  • munchie October 19, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    By “experts”, I assume you mean the dreaded “death panels” we’ve been promised by Republicans since 2008. Perhaps Sarah Palin could head them up as she is unable to get any other meaningful job. Like AH said, Death with Dignity would not be for everyone, but the choice should be made by those facing a long, painful death, not others.

  • .... October 19, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Yeah Bryan is just another religious zealot that only sees what his religion sees. Bahhh Babhhhh Bahhhhhh

  • fun bag October 19, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    the good comments here have once again made a fool of Mr. Perspectives… LOL

  • Rainbow Dash October 20, 2015 at 12:34 am

    I’m going to re-post my comment from this article here because I think it would be worthwhile for you to read over it.

    This is a good thing. People in those situations should have the right to choose how they go. I’ve never had a terminal illness myself but I have worked with people who did in the past as well as had various terminal cancers affect my family and friends. I know that many people on this thread will disagree with me for whatever reason. Some might even try to argue that it goes against the will of God of whatever. Here’s my response to that, So what? You don’t have a right to impose your beliefs on others. These people are well informed of what the consequences could be and have accepted them. Terminal illness and Cancer are not forgiving, painless beasts of no burden. They ravage you, take away EVERYTHING! you once maybe took for granted. Your mind, your gait, your speech, your continence, your ability to move and then AFTER YEARS of slowly destroying your body, your body will give up because it can no longer function. During this time you will lose the ability to take care of yourself so you will be at the mercy of your family who may or may not be able or even want to take care of you. If they do, you face the embarrassment and burdening feeling of having a family member clean you up. If they can’t or won’t, you get the caring ability of some 18 year old CNA making $8 a hour who cares more about his or her appearance or what car they drive then they do about whether you’re clean or not, fed or not or even uninjured or not. I worked with more then one CNA who physicallyabused patients who, thanks to a terminal illnes, couldn’t fight back or even tell them to stop. It pisses me off that this is America in 2015 and we STILL don’t let people who have TERMINAL ILLNESSES decide for themselves that they would like to die comfortably,cleanly and with a little bit of dignity simply because some stupid book written thousands of years ago says it’s a sin. “Oh it’s against my religion” WELL WHOOP DE DO FOR YOU! THANKS FOR YOUR OPINION! YOU ARENT THEM AND YOU DONT HAVE A RIGHT TO DECIDE HOW THEY LIVE THEIR LIVES OR HOW THEY END IT! Thanks for letting me rant.

    • Rainbow Dash October 20, 2015 at 1:05 am

      Oh and just so you know, asking two men who work for a hospice provider to express their opinion on right to die legislation is like asking two tobacco company lobbyist to express their opinion on whether or not cigarettes are dangerous. You know what they are going to say. Just a thought, maybe next time you could invite two people with opposing views to your radio show? Yea I know that most people around here don’t like to hear the “liberal agenda”(btw, what is that?) but hey, look on the bright side, you’d be taken more seriously as a talk show host and you might even learn something. Who knows?

    • anybody home October 20, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      This is not a rant, RD, it’s an intelligent statement about the problem. Thanks for posting it.

  • GrandmaB October 20, 2015 at 7:47 am

    “Smith said, lies in the acceptance of the belief that some human lives are not worth living.” “Once a society has legally conceded that some lives are worth less than others, it becomes easier to justify the termination of unworthy lives with a newly discovered duty to die.” “….some human lives ” This is the premise of your entire argument. And it is wrong. First, society, or some “expert” in this instance does not conclude that “some lives are worth less than others.” Experts are not making the decision, you jackass. It is the individual. You are laughable. You make it sound like someone in the medical field will make a decision to end a persons life. When in fact, it is the individual, who make that decision. Stop writing. You know nothing about anything.

  • sagemoon October 20, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Sorry, Bryan, but I’ve got to agree with the other commenters here. You’ve lost me lately, buddy. What’s happened to the libertarian values you used to write about? It seems lately you’ve been writing your pieces based on the values of your religion. Nothing wrong with that since this is an opinion column, but I miss the old Bryan.

    • fun bag October 20, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      brian well never be much of a libertarian bc he is constrained by his mormonism

  • Neil October 20, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Bryan, some of your columns are about the rights of individuals vs the authority of the collective that is the State. The rest are about the authority of the collective that is your faith vs the rights of the individual. The awful hypocrisy of the latter makes your proselytizing in the former appear to be nothing more than an indoctrinated child repeating the latest lesson from class instead of the conscious thoughts of an independent, critical thinker. You need to get off the fence and pick a side. You either support the rights of individuals to manage the details of their own lives without collective oversight or you’re an authoritarian that wants other people to be regulated by those collectives. You can’t have it both ways.

    • anybody home October 20, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Amen to this, Neil.

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