Perspectives: Death with dignity, a noble lie

Composite image; background photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

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 an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Ed. note: This column was originally published Oct. 19, 2015.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • ladybugavenger June 19, 2017 at 9:21 am

    When my mom was dying from cancer that was mastecizing to her organs she had thought about ending it all.

    I went to California to take care of her, I asked her the question, have you thought about the assisted death? She said yes, I said I think it’s no different than suicide. I told her mom, I’m going to make sure your comfortable. I am not going to let you go to a home and be abused. I trust no one. We have all heard stories. At that time I had no idea I would only be taking care of her for 2 weeks. (The doctors said she had 9 more months)

    She rapidly declined. Couldn’t hold food down and she stopped eating. The hospital bed was delivered and that was it. Once that came she only lived a week.

    I gave her morphine,anxiety meds and constantly having dosed changed, then a pain patch and a folley. She never wanted diapers and since she had a colostomy bag I requested hospice to put the folley in. Within hours they did that. She was bathed, medicated, I put lotion on her, I cleaned her mouth, I put Vaseline on her lips. the hospice team and I I took excellent care of her. I say excellent because it was my first time watching death. I promised my mom comfort. And I believe I did that. I believe she died with dignity. She was beautiful.

    She died with dignity.

    I still believe assisted death in the context of right to choose to die is suicide/murder. If families would step up and take care of the elderly and sick they would die with dignity. Die without abuse, die in a clean environment and die with people they love.

    There is enough morphine to help make people comfortable while dying. I helped my mother die with dignity and die in her home of 45 years. I miss my mom.

    • Utahguns June 19, 2017 at 10:15 am

      You are an amazing example of true love and dedication. Your unselfish committment to making your Mother’s last days the most comfortable possible make you what you are.
      Thank you.

  • Proud Rebel June 19, 2017 at 10:16 am

    First off, let me say that I believe suicide is a mortal sin. As is homicide, and what else can you call “assisted suicide.”
    Bryan, condolences to you, on the death of your father. It matters not how long ago your father passed, I know it still hurts to think about how he suffered before he died.
    I am currently a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, (my wife.) It’s extremely hard to see someone who was so intelligent and full of vitality, slowly deteriorate, right before your eyes.
    When you first get the diagnosis, it is just overwhelming. We aren’t LDS, and our kids are scattered all over the country, pretty much leaving us on our own. I’ve never felt so alone, or been so lost.
    (There is an organization called Memory Matters, in St. George, that is truly a blessing and Godsend! It is a nonprofit organization that supports caregivers and patients with dementia.)
    The idea that she could be subject to forced death, no matter what it is called, is even more frightening, and frankly, nauseating. I’m pretty well educated in what to expect on down the road. I’ll deal with it the best way I can. Without someone saying “it’s time for her to ‘die with dignity.'”

  • comments June 19, 2017 at 11:18 am

    If I ever become terminal to the point of no recovery or so out-of-it that I don’t know up from down (I know this is subjective and a debate in it’s own right but we won’t go there) I want to be put down. If I get to the point I can’t take my own gun, put it to my head and pull the trigger I wan’t someone to find a way to put me down. A slow, lingering death that lasts months or years isn’t pretty or noble or godly or anything; it’s just ugly, decay, and pain. I’ve seen what happens sometimes with a slow lingering death with people’s own family turning on them and even hating them after a time. Better to go out like the flick of a switch. The hard, cold reality of things is that some life does have more value than others (again this is another debate of it’s own and also a slippery slope). Bryan makes some good points in this rather old article about the question of how much power the state should have in putting people down, but then again it’s reminiscent of the loony theory of obamacare death panels. Some very sad personal stories here. LBA you are likely “fortunate” that your mom had a relatively fast end, as cancer can often be an extremely drawn out and painful way to die, often taking many months.

    • ladybugavenger June 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      She had the cancer for 2 years….she did suffer the illnesses terminal hell. She’s a tough cookie, I visited her in January 2016 then in March 2016 and it was a drastic change. I begged to stay with her but she said no, me and my kids and husband went back to Vegas and st George. But the next day she fell and pressed her life alert and I said mom I need to come down and she said yes you do. the next day I drove back to California and the following day they released her from hospital.

      My sister is like 45 miles from her and I was 340 miles away. But I guess my sister or anyone else didn’t know how bad it was. My mom wouldn’t let anyone know the truth. My mom pushed them away. But I broke her down and she knew I was suppose to take care of her.

      One day I said mom, you lied to me yesterday about your pain. You need to be honest. I can’t help you if your not honest. Then she took her first dose of morphine and slept for 8 hours. And then she was open about her pain and she died very quickly.

      I believe my mom thought she deserved the suffering. It’s all very sad and yet it was the best experience of my life. For the first time in my life, my mom wasn’t hateful towards me. For the first time in my life, I knew my mom loved me.

      • ladybugavenger June 19, 2017 at 5:41 pm

        The suffering I speak of is living with a terminal illness knowing you were dying but not knowing when. I think that what you’re also talking about Bob. You don’t want to go through that. I don’t think any of us want that. but you’d be surprised how strong you are. And if someone is taking care of you on those last days. You’d be alright Bob. I know you’re not what you call a religious person, but me being a believer in God, I do not promote assisted suicide.

        I was prepared to stay with my mom however long I had too. No way was she going to a home.

        I will say this, my mom was cremated (her choice and she made the arraignments before she died) and she loved the beach. So we did a burial at sea. They do it out of Newport Beach (Huntington beach is her favorite) and we took the boat out with her neighbors/friends and family and it was a gorgeous day. Her friend Helen talked about my mom. And I gotta say , afterwards I looked at my sister and I said I sure would have liked to meet the person her friends talk about. My sister said, I agree.

        Crazy huh? My mom sounded like a really fun, adventurous (traveled the world) loving person. She’s probably the reason I am close to my kids, when they suffer- I suffer. And she’s the reason I don’t go on lavish trips while my kids are struggling.

        Bob, I hope you aren’t a coward and turn that gun on yourself because of a terminal illness. Let someone close to you take care of you. It might be the best gift you give them

    • Badshitzoo June 20, 2017 at 11:20 am

      I’ll put you down “comments”. I think that is one of the most loving & caring things one person can do for another. We do it for our dogs, but we get queasy when it comes to each other. Most people are just cowards about dying. They would rather see others quietly waste away, just so long as they don’t have to see or hear what really happens when people die. If we couldn’t control and cover up what normally happens; euthanasia never would have fallen out of common place & practice. You put the stanchest advocate into a situation where dying occurs in a normal fashion, and they fold just to make what they’re seeing , hearing and smelling stop! For myself, I won’t go gently into that goodnight, but I will go fast. Apache Indians used to take their own lives by climbing a tree, tying a noose around their neck, ingesting an overdose of something, dosing themselves in a flammable liquid, and shooting themselves in the head, or chest. ….. Still trying to find my tree.

      • comments June 20, 2017 at 6:29 pm

        Sounds like overkill, lol. In this case literally. Gotta keep ur options open tho 😉

  • Brian June 19, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Oregon saw an increase in suicide rates after passing their “death with dignity” law, which isn’t surprising: it basically tells people when things get difficult, death is an acceptable solution.

    How much further (than widespread abortion and scattered assisted suicide) down does a society have to go before mass euthanasia and eugenics are the cure for all their ills? At that point there is no humanity left among the living, and what’s the point?

    • comments June 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      some “conservative” conundrums:

      they hate abortions, yet they hate the children after they’re born, they hate gov’t assistance and welfare programs

      they hate “assisted” suicides, yet they also hate gov’t paid healthcare, and gov’t spending in general.

      It’s a strange thing, sometimes I go in the walmart and look around at the glorious walmart shoppers and I’ve wondered if eugenics wouldn’t be the best road to take towards building a better humanity. Not so much in a Naziesque, genocidal way, but more subtly. There’s probably a gentle and humane way to discourage the dumbest among us from breeding, but this is a topic for another day.

      happy monday to all 😉


      • ladybugavenger June 19, 2017 at 6:05 pm

        you haven’t begun breeding, have you?

        I think we should start your experiment with you Bob. ?

      • ladybugavenger June 19, 2017 at 6:17 pm

        I can’t count the days I’ve spent wondering why I was even born. Like, why? Why am I here to suffer like this? Why did my mom have me? I’m a nuisance and burden to my family, why don’t I just end it all? I suffered like that for a long time Bob, decades. Yep, I went down the drug and alcohol road and I gave up on life. Got married, 2 kids 2 different fathers, got divorced. Hated my life. Why is it like this? Why am I hurting all the time? Then one day, God showed me, why. I was filled with hate and he turned it to love. I was filled with sadness and he turned it to joy. I was filled with dark thoughts and he delivered me. To God be the glory that I’m even alive writing comments on St George news. I love Jesus!

      • desertgirl June 20, 2017 at 7:25 am

        What a typical ridiculous statement from a lib: they hate abortions, yet they hate the children after they’re born, they hate gov’t assistance and welfare programs. Wow, another person who knows whats in the hearts and minds of others. The totalitarian/fascist propaganda over the many decades has made a truly unseeing, hateful, sheep out of you. You have just stated what is in your heart and mind and it is indeed ugly.

        • comments June 20, 2017 at 11:21 am

          All them welfare babies have to be paid for if they’re born. Probably the majority will be in fatherless homes. A lot of them will end up as wards of the state and a lot of those will end up in the prison system. Sometimes aborting is the practical and dare I say best thing; that’s just the hard truth. Wingnuts who are just plain anti-abortion across the board are hypocrites nearly all the time. I’d think wingnuts would be even more pro-abortion than me since that hate their taxes going into social services and welfare? Here I am lecturing another old r-wing loon. Cheers buddy 😉

          • ladybugavenger June 20, 2017 at 12:33 pm

            Holy cow Bob!

            Did you hear about the girl that was convicted for texting her boyfriend to go ahead and commit suicide? You are almost to that line- be careful.

            I love ya Bob- Please do not reproduce. The world only needs one of you 🙂

          • comments June 20, 2017 at 6:26 pm

            I’ll tell ya LBA. On a personal level I actually hate abortions and think it’s barbaric–right up there with cannibalism or something. On the other hand I think I’m a believer in some form of eugenics. But if conservatives are gonna force these children to be born by outlawing abortions I think the gov’t services need to be there to support the mothers. The wingnuts can’t have their cake and eat it too in this case. Single moms actually need a leg up whether thru gov’t programs or w/e else.

          • ladybugavenger June 21, 2017 at 1:44 pm

            Ok Bob. I understand. Here’s the deal, no one talks about the truth of having children…let me start the dialogue- it’s hard! It’s an emotional roller coaster, they hate you, they don’t obey, they run away, they are hateful, they need spankings and discipline (but you can’t because the world calls that child abuse) they are manipulative, and will go behind your back and stab you in the heart. That’s the truth of raising kids and teenagers in this day and age. Your only hope is that will grow up and be productive adults that love God (unless your a non believer than your hope is that they don’t learn the truth) Think two or three or four times before getting pregnant. Are you ready for the pain?

            See, nobody talks about the truth of having children. So I get it Bob. I get what your saying.

          • ladybugavenger June 21, 2017 at 1:59 pm

            Perhaps they could change the law that if you want to be snipped or tied (spayed or neutered? lol) that you can without having to be 25 with children already. I know I would have taken that opportunity. I got my tubes tied at 25 with 2 kids in st George Utah but I had to fight for it. They did not do it lightly. So much so, that I had to go back 2 weeks after the birth of my daughter to get it done. I think they thought I would change my mind. Heck no, no regrets here!

            Sooooo, if someone wants to get a tubal ligation or vasectomy without having children, then the law should allow that. Don’t you think that would help? I do.

          • ladybugavenger June 21, 2017 at 2:03 pm

            And Obamacare should cover it!

  • think4urself June 19, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    To me this article is taking a weird spin on ”death with dignity”
    It’s not up to a doctor to determine the value of the well being or quality of any human life.
    Doctors are in no position to recommend this option or force it on anyone. It is strictly for adults diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months and it is completely voluntary.
    Contrary to what many think, I think death with dignity is in no way murder nor suicide. It’s allowing yourself or a loved one to not suffer. How is it any different than pumping someone up with morphine and literally watching them suffer and die. It’s just a quicker process. We put our dear pets down when they are sick or old and in pain. What’s the difference with humans. Oh yeah it’s that the majority of humans, me NOT included, believe in the Bible and take it literally (which was not meant to be) and moral judgement and heaven and hell. That’s the difference.

  • JJ June 19, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    It’s a compelling point to point out the slippery slope in having people determine the value of another’s life. However, I don’t think that applies if the assisted suicide law is strictly for people who are in constant pain due to a terminal illness where there doesn’t exist any cure or means to eliminate the pain (as seems to be the case with every proposal for these laws I’ve seen). That’s a very specific group of people and assisted suicide isn’t going to be for people who have a disability or have depression or something like that, it would be for people who need to be doped up on pain meds endlessly and can’t function or enjoy life and are only existing because of some arbitrary moral idea that actually dying when your life is essentially over is somehow bad.

  • dhamilton2002 June 19, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    80% of all of the health care costs in this country are spent in the last 90 days of a person’s life. Give me a great bottle of wine and some fentanyl and I’ll die with dignity and a smile on my face and leave the money to the living who can use it.

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