Denise J. Hunnell, MD

Do no harm?: Medical journals show increasing support for euthanasia

Denise J. Hunnell, MD
By Denise Hunnell MD
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August 24, 2012 (Zenit.org) – Primum non nocere. First do no harm. This edict has been part of medical ethics since the time of the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, in the fifth century B.C. It is found in the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of medical writing attributed to Hippocrates. The original Hippocratic oath includes:

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

For millennia the physician has been charged with being an advocate for the patient. Part of the impetus for the original Hippocratic oath was to ensure that doctors would not be paid by an enemy to give poison instead of medicine. Patients should be able to come to their doctor when they are sick and weakened, and have no fear that their vulnerability will be exploited.

Unfortunately, the sacred trust of the doctor-patient relationship is being strained by a new ethical model. Physicians are being urged to place the “greater good” above the needs of their individual patients. A disregard for the sanctity of human life as well as a utilitarian philosophy that judges the value of a patient to society is becoming more mainstream in the medical profession. This is evidenced by the increasing number of articles in respected medical journals that call for approval of assisted suicide and euthanasia, euphemistically called “assisted dying.”

The British Medical Journal (BMJ), a publication distributed to the members of the British Medical Association, devoted much of its June 14, 2012, issue to endorsing voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, argues in this issue that respect for patient desires and autonomy renders irrelevant any opinion on the matter by the Royal College of Physicians or the British Medical Association. Therefore, all opposition to euthanasia is merely inappropriate paternalism and should be dropped.

In this same issue, Tess McPherson relates the difficult last days of her mother, Ann McPherson, and uses this painful experience as a call for legalized physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. Rather than seeking better pain control, she argues that death is the best option for those suffering at the end of their lives.

Finally, Fiona Goodlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, rounds out the arguments by declaring that legalization of assisted dying is not a medical decision, but rather a societal question. She argues that the role of the physician is compatible with providing euthanasia or assisted suicide and if society wants it, they should get it.

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Amid these scholarly endorsements of euthanasia come the claims of British physician Patrick Pullicino that the National Health Service (NHS) is effectively killing 130,000 patients every year when doctors place these patients on the Liverpool Care Protocol (LCP) and deny them nutrition and hydration. According to the Daily Mail:

Professor Pullicino claimed that far too often elderly patients who could live longer are placed on the LCP and it had now become an ‘assisted death pathway rather than a care pathway’.

He cited ‘pressure on beds and difficulty with nursing confused or difficult-to-manage elderly patients’ as factors.

Professor Pullicino revealed he had personally intervened to take a patient off the LCP who went on to be successfully treated.

The medical literature from the United States also shows an increasing acceptance of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. The July 12, 2012, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) included an article by Dr. Lisa Soleymani Lehmann and Julian Prokopetz that suggested physician opposition to assisted dying was an unreasonable barrier to patients seeking lethal medications. They recommended that all patients who met the legal criteria for assisted suicide as outlined in the state laws of Oregon, Washington, and Montana should be able to obtain the drugs necessary for suicide without a physician’s prescription or approval.

Perhaps the most chilling example is the enthusiastic endorsement in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for the book Death, Dying, and Organ Transplantation: Reconstructing Medical Ethics at the End of Life, by Drs. Franklin Miller and Robert Truog. This book seeks to do away with two core principles of medical care. The first is that a physician cannot intentionally cause the death of his patient. The second is that donors of vital organs for transplantation must be dead before the organs are harvested.

Catholic health care ethics, in accordance with natural law, holds that when the burden of life-sustaining extraordinary care such as a ventilator is greater than the benefit it provides, such care can be withdrawn. This is not seen as causing the death of the patient, but rather allowing the patient to die from his underlying illness. Miller and Truog disagree and assert that such an act directly causes the death of the patient. They then begin their descent down the slippery slope by claiming that if causing death by withdrawing life-sustaining care is acceptable, then active voluntary euthanasia by lethal injection should also be acceptable. Further, if voluntary euthanasia by injection is acceptable, then voluntary euthanasia by removal of vital organs to be used for transplantation should be equally acceptable. This radical argument could be disregarded as fringe thinking had it not been so prominently and positively recommended in JAMA.

It is reasonable to say that the notion that physicians should not kill their patients is still widespread among medical professionals. Indeed, several of the aforementioned authors take their colleagues to task for opposing euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. The growing numbers of prestigious medical journals that are routinely publishing support for all forms of “assisted dying” are, however, a clear indication that this approach to end of life “care” is making significant inroads in mainstream medical ethics. The foundational principles of health care that date back to Hippocrates are in jeopardy.

This has serious implications for patients. No longer can a patient assume that his physician has his best medical interests at heart. Now physicians are being urged to consider the cost to society of a patient’s care and judge whether a patient is worthy of such expense. Instead of seeking to provide comfort and authentic compassion at the end of life, there is increased support for hastening death as an expedient solution to suffering.

It is now incumbent upon every patient to explore the ethical principles of his doctor. Does he uphold the sanctity of life from conception to natural death? Does he understand that treatments can be deemed burdensome, but human life is never burdensome? Does he view nutrition and hydration as ordinary care as long as a patient can derive a benefit from it? Does he reject all justifications for intentionally causing the death of his patients?

If your physician does not answer unequivocally “yes” to each of these questions, can you really trust him with your life?

Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of HLI America, an initiative of Human Life International. She writes for HLI’s Truth and Charity Forum. This article appeared on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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