A 'duty to die'?
By Jennifer C. Vergara
In this issue, The Tidings continues its report on some of what
was addressed at the Feb. 16-18 Religious Education Congress in Anaheim.
WITH ILL HEALTH or poor cognitive capacity have less value" - such is
the disturbing ethic governing many health care practices these days, lawyer Wesley
J. Smith told participants at his Feb. 18 Congress workshop entitled
"Creating the duty to die."
Smith's talk explored issues that push American society steadily
from believing in the "right to die" toward the "duty to die."
"We all have the right to refuse medical treatment,"
said Smith. "But today, the problem isn't being hooked up to a machine
against your will ....The problem is getting the machines when you want them."
Smith told the audience of cases when doctors and family members
of a patient decided on withholding treatment, which would be fatal for the
patient, without necessarily considering medical benefit or value of life.
One such story was Nancy Cruzan's case. Sometime in the 1980s,
noted Smith, Cruzan was severely hurt in a car accident. Her father, Joe,
went to court in St. Louis because he wanted to pull out her feeding tube.
While the trial judge granted that request, the state and the U.S. Supreme
Courts overturned it.
But, Smith noted, the case led to a decision defining
tube-feeding as medical treatment, not humane care. Eventually, Cruzan's
feeding tube was pulled and she died by dehydration.
Smith said bioethicists justified this, saying, "People who
are unconscious have no interests because they can't feel or perceive, so
[withholding food and water] is right for them." But this futile-care
theory, added Smith, opened the floodgates and now conscious patients who
aren't even terminally ill are being dehydrated to death, as long as
relatives don't object. Such was the case with Robert Wendland.
Wendland, who was also in a car accident in the early 1990s, woke
up after being in a coma for 16 months. Smith said Wendland recovered enough
to be able to roll a wheelchair, write the letter "R" and answer
"yes" and "no" questions. His wife, however, decided to
pull the feeding tube and the Lodi Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee agreed.
When his mother found out after the decision was made, a bitter legal fight
The fight continues as a conscious Wendland waits. But Smith said
this simply proves that "we are transitioning away from a [health care]
system based on the Hippocratic oath,
based on the sanctity of human life = that is, each and every one
of us has equal, inherent moral worth - one in which people are discriminated
against based on their state of health or state of disability."
This "quality of life" ethic advocated by some
bioethicists, lawyers and medical academics, in effect, justifies other abuses
such as health care rationing and involuntary euthanasia, explained Smith.
Rose Zadillo, from Blessed Junipero Serra Church in Palmdale, said Smith's
stories were shocking to her.
Last year, Zadillo entered her seriously ill, 94-year-old
mother-in-law in a nursing home. She said because of Smith's workshop,
"I'm watching the nursing home. I'm going to talk to the doctor that's
handling her care what the doctor's moral values are, what the doctor's
policies are when it comes to this."
Zadillo added she's worried, "but at least I'm educated now and I'll be able to make better decisions."
--Jennifer C. Vergara