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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Drew Belsky

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2016 candidates react to the Supreme Court’s marriage decision

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Five days after the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision mandating the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, most of the 2016 presidential candidates have made their opinions on the issue known.

While all of the Democrats currently in the race aggressively supported the ruling, the Republicans' reactions to the Supreme Court's marriage ruling have been more varied.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon, criticized the Obergefell decision, calling it "a grave mistake." Walker suggested that "the only alternative" to Friday's decision is "to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage."

Texas senator Ted Cruz has doubled down on Walker's call for a constitutional amendment. Not only is Cruz seeking an amendment to protect states' right to define marriage, but he also hopes to amend the Constitution to demand "periodic judicial retention elections" for Supreme Court justices – namely, Cruz said, for those who "overstep their bounds [and] violate the Constitution."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush shied away from a constitutional marriage amendment. "Guided by my faith," Bush said in a statement, "I believe in traditional marriage." However, "in a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate."

Florida senator Marco Rubio agreed with Bush, exhorting Republicans to "look ahead" and concentrate on the nomination process for new judges. Likewise with Ohio governor John Kasich, who said on Face the Nation that "it's time to move on" and "take a deep breath."

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina concurred. While "I do not agree that the Court can or should redefine marriage," Fiorina said, "[m]oving forward...all of our effort should be focused on protecting the religious liberties and freedom of conscience."

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham forthrightly condemned a constitutional marriage amendment as "a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail." Graham told NBC News, "I would not engage in the Constitutional amendment process as a party going into 2016. Accept the Court's ruling. Fight for the religious liberties of every American."

Libertarian-leaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wrote in Time Magazine that the federal government should remove itself completely from the marriage issue. "Our founding fathers went to the local courthouse to be married, not Washington, D.C.," Paul wrote.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal "strongly disagree[s]" with the Obergefell ruling, but he admitted on Sunday that his state would ultimately comply with the Supreme Court's decision. "We do not have a choice."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went one step farther. While he "agree[s] with Chief Justice John Roberts" that "this is something that should be decided by the people, and not ... five lawyers," the governor admitted that "those five lawyers get to impose it under our system, and so our job is going to be to support the law of the land[.]"

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum foresees a widespread silencing of those who dissent from the Supreme Court's interpretation of marriage. "There's no slippery slope here," Santorum told the Family Research Council Friday; "religious liberty is under assault today – not going to be, it is – and it's going to be even more so ... with this decision."

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee expressed similar sentiments, excoriating the Supreme Court for flouting millions of Americans who voted to affirm "the laws of nature." Huckabee said on Friday, "I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat."

On the other end of the spectrum, former Democratic Maryland governor and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley contended that it is homosexuals, not religious objectors to the Obergefell decision, who need more protections from the state.

Calling the ruling a "major step forward," O'Malley proceeded to demand passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that criminalizes "discrimination" based on an "individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity." Opponents worry it would force religious employers to hire homosexuals and transgender people.

Passing ENDA, O'Malley said, would help "more fully realize the vision of an open, respectful, and inclusive nation that Friday's decision aspires us [sic] to be."

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Drew Belsky

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Obama Department of Justice to Virginia school: Let girl use boys’ bathrooms

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - The Obama administration's Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a "statement of interest" Monday in support of a Virginia high school sophomore who is seeking to use bathrooms designated for members of the opposite sex.

In June 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the Gloucester County School Board on behalf of 15-year-old Gavin Grimm, who is biologically female but wants to use male bathrooms and locker rooms.

Grimm claimed that she had used such facilities without incident for seven weeks until December 2014, when the school board enacted a policy requiring "transgender" students to use private restrooms.

Grimm testified in early 2015 that "[n]ow that the board has passed this policy, school no longer feels as safe and welcoming as it did before[.] ... Being singled out is a glaring reminder of my differences and causes me significant discomfort every time I have to use the restroom."

The Obama administration declared in May 2014 that sex discrimination under Title IX applies to those who identify as "transgender."  The Department of Education followed up last December by ordering federally funded schools to classify students based on "gender identity" rather than biological sex.

Regardless, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco told LifeSiteNews in June of this year that Grimm's and the ACLU's discrimination claims would not hold water.  Citing a district court case in Pennsylvania, Tedesco noted (emphasis in original) that "[t]he Court ... highlighted that Title IX's implementing regulations state that schools do not violate Title IX when they 'provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex.'"

Title IX, part of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, is a statute that "prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity."

"Every court to consider this issue has held that single-sex restrooms and locker room facilities are permitted under Title IX," Tedesco concluded.

Now, according to the DoJ's "statement of interest" in support of Grimm, filed this week, "[t]he United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination and that the proper legal standards are applied to claims under Title IX" (p. 2, all citations omitted).  Per the DoJ, Grimm "is likely to succeed on the merits" of her Title IX claim, and "it is in the public interest to allow [Grimm] ... to use the male restrooms at Gloucester High School."

Regarding the Pennsylvania case mentioned by Tedesco, the DoJ claims that "[t]he district court's reasoning in that case was faulty and should not be followed."

One Gloucester County School Board member who voted against the December bathroom policy fretted that "federal dollars are at stake." Her concern was well-founded: five months later, the Obama administration threatened to deny Virginia's Fairfax County School Board $42 million in federal funding if the board refused to change its own bathroom protocols.  The Fairfax board ruled in May – over the strenuous objections of parents in attendance – that "transgender" students could use facilities in accordance with their "gender identity."

"Although certain parents and community members may object to students sharing a common use restroom with transgender students," the DoJ declared in its brief for Grimm, "any recognition of this discomfort as a basis for discriminating would undermine the public interest."

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"There are absolutely no grounds for considering unions between two persons of the same sex to be in any way similar to God’s plan for marriage and the family," said Bishop Strickland.
Lisa Bourne

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Bishop to all mass-goers: Catholics have ‘duty’ to ‘emphatically oppose’ marriage ruling

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – All mass-goers this weekend in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas will hear a clear reminder from their bishop about what marriage is, regardless of last Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“Let me unambiguously state at the outset that this extremely unfortunate decision by our government is unjust and immoral, and it is our duty to clearly and emphatically oppose it,” Bishop Joseph Strickland wrote in a statement that will be read after Sunday’s Gospel throughout the diocese.

“In spite of the decision by the Supreme Court, there are absolutely no grounds for considering unions between two persons of the same sex to be in any way similar to God’s plan for marriage and the family.” 

“Regardless of this decision,” the bishop said, “what God has revealed and what the Church therefore holds to be true about marriage has not changed and is unchangeable.”

Bishop Strickland explains in his letter that marriage was created by God and passed down through history via the Church.

“Marriage is not just a relationship between human beings that is based on emotions and feelings,” he said. “Rather, our Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Traditions tell us that God established true marriage with its own special nature and purpose, namely the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.”

Bishop Strickland also reminded the faithful that unjust discrimination against individuals with homosexual tendencies is to be avoided, and that they must be treated with loving kindness and respect based on their dignity as human persons.

He also said that while Christ rejects no one, he calls all people to be converted from sinful inclinations.

“Nevertheless,” the bishop stated, “our continued commitment to the pastoral care of homosexual persons cannot and will not lead in any way to the condoning of homosexual behavior or our acceptance of the legal recognition of same-sex unions.”

In his message Bishop Strickland also cautioned against compromising on the Church’s teaching on sexual morality in situations where loved ones suffer from same-sex attraction.

“While some of us may have family members who have same-sex attraction,” he said, “this decision to require the legal recognition of so-called marriage between homosexual persons should in no way lead us to believe that the living out of this orientation or the solemnizing of relationships between two persons of the same sex is a morally acceptable option.”

The bishop plans to decree that no clergy member or of employee of the Tyler diocese may take part in solemnizing or consecrating same-sex “marriages,” and likewise no diocesan property, facility or any location designated for Catholic worship may be used for a same-sex “marriage.”

Bishop Strickland said it was his responsibility as a shepherd of the Church to act, and he called for prayer for the country to come to a greater understanding marriage as revealed by God. He said as well that it was necessary to faithfully oppose the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law. 

“We know that unjust laws and other measures contrary to the moral order are not binding in conscience” Bishop Strickland stated, “thus we must now exercise our right to conscientious objection against this interpretation of our law which is contrary to the common good and the true understanding of marriage.”

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