On ‘Death with Dignity’

February 22, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Maryland Politics, Politics 

By Cathy Keim

“The solution to suffering never is to eliminate the sufferer.” – Dr. William Toffler

I was writing a piece on the Death with Dignity Act but Michael beat me to it by posting on it last Wednesday, so I will address some of the issues that Michael touched on briefly.

I agree with Michael that this bill has a good chance at passing. My reason for thinking this is due to the emotional appeal that is being made by the proponents. None of us like to think about death in general and our own death in particular. Even less appealing is to consider oneself in extremely poor health with no chance of recovery; indeed, only a continued progression downward.

Many people jump from that grim thought to friends or loved ones that they have seen suffer and are ready to declare that they will not submit to such a fate. This is really a very American “I am captain of my ship” type of thinking. We are a free people. Why should we have to suffer a lingering illness and the indignities that accompany such a loss of mobility or mental capacity?

The more libertarian among us declare that the government has no right to keep us from our choice. Perhaps they should stop for a minute and realize that the more present fear is that the government will all too willingly let you have your wish and maybe help you along before you quite decide that is where you want to go.

Now that our healthcare has been taken over by the government and our Republican leaders show no progress in their faint attempts to stop it, people should realize that things are quickly moving to the government being able to refuse care. After all, it costs a lot of money to treat sick or handicapped people and we could save a lot if we helped some of them choose to leave a little sooner.

Insurance companies are already questioning charges on patients that have difficult prognoses and are refusing to cover futile care. I think you can see that this could get pretty scary pretty fast. Or let’s consider that now Maryland hospitals are given a set amount of money at the beginning of each year and they are not to go over budget. The safest way to not go over budget is to reduce the number of patients you see, particularly the really sick ones.

Now some of these measures may be good, but when you change your basic outlook from “we are here to help sick people” to “we are here to not bust our budget” then you can quickly see how this might not be to the patient’s benefit. This is why we must consider the principles involved before we go to the emotional appeal. Sadly, the emotional appeal is more attractive, which is why it is used over and over again to gain voter support for a myriad of causes.

But on to the less attractive principled approach. This comes down to do we want a culture of life or a culture of death? When you start addressing the big issues, then you have to come clean on your worldview. There are really only two worldviews: we are either created by God (you may choose which one, but America was founded on a Judeo-Christian construct) or we sprang from somewhere with no purpose and no place to go.

If you believe that the world and all that is in it, including men, were created with a purpose, then you will lean towards a culture of life. Since you cannot create life, then you should respect it and care for all men, even those that are not perfect no matter how they came to be that way, whether through accident, age, birth, or war.

You will show compassion to those that need help, starting with your own family and then spreading outward to your community and beyond.

This culture of life says that each life is of value whether they can contribute economically or not.

If, on the other hand, you do not believe that you owe allegiance to any Creator, then you will be quite right to think that you can decide whatever you wish. However, you must realize that Nietzsche dealt with all this and you are heading down a path to a very dark place.

In a very short time, you will go from being captain of your own ship to “might makes right.”

One small aside is that weakness and compassion may have lessons for us all that we will never learn unless we are exposed to situations where we must care for or be cared for by someone. This is not a particularly happy thought, especially to our can-do American spirit, but it is true. Suffering is not something that we seek, but it does bring strength that nothing else can.

Dr. William Toffler, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, is also the National Director of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation. Since Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997, Dr. Toffler has had plenty of time to observe the law in action. In a USA Today op-ed he wrote with Dr. Frank S. Rosenbloom, Toffler noted:

At the most fundamental level, the fatal flaw of assisted suicide is that it subverts the trust in the patient-physician relationship. Once a physician agrees to assist a patient with suicide, their relationship is altered.


Clearly, the disconnection from the patient under the guise of compassion is contradictory to the long tradition of medical practice: ‘First, do no harm.’

In short, this legislation has not granted, but has actually stripped vulnerable individuals of their worth and dignity. In fact, it has diminished the dignity of us all.

Dr. Toffler’s last quote points us to another danger of the emotional appeal. Vulnerable individuals are not immune to the subtle push of the culture of death which whispers to them: you have no value, you are a burden to your family, you are costing everybody a lot of money and time, you should just take these pills as it would be better for everybody. Mothers carrying babies with handicaps are already told that it is for the best to abort the imperfect baby.

I told you that the principled approach would not be the easy way. Perhaps I have not convinced many to change their mind with such a short essay, but to those who understand I appeal to you to call your Delegate and State Senator and tell them that you do not support HB1021 or SB676.


2 Responses to “On ‘Death with Dignity’”

  1. Nancy Mozal on February 25th, 2015 11:02 am

    It is what I have said from the beginning of Obama Care, it is culling the herd. They need to get rid of older people and the best way to do is to deny care. I am totally for death with dignity, but it is my choice and not the governments. To my dying breath, I will do what I can to always have the best insurance coverage possible and to make sure I leave behind no debt for my family. I will the one to decide when I die if there is no hope or cure for me. It must be my choice and no one else’s!

  2. Terry Bartelme on February 25th, 2015 1:17 pm

    Cathy, I really enjoyed reading this! Definately thought provoking for me.

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