Euthanasia: Not Just for the Terminally Ill
Euthanasia or assisted suicide would not only be available to people who are terminally ill. This popular misconception is what this essay seeks to correct. There is considerable confusion on this point, perhaps further complicated by statements in the media.
There are two problems here - the definition of "terminal" and the changes that have already taken place to extend euthanasia or assisted suicide to those who aren't "terminally ill.
There are many definitions for the word "terminal." For example, Jack Kevorkian who participated in the deaths of more than 130 people before he was convicted of murder said that a terminal illness was "any disease that curtails life even for a day."(Dr. Death) Dutch psychiatrist Dr. Boudewijn Chabot who provided a fatal dose of drugs to a depressed, but physically healthy, woman, stated that "persistently suicidal patients are, indeed, terminal."(CQ) Oregon's assisted suicide law defines "terminal" as a condition which will "within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months."(Oregon) A prognosis of six month to live is also the basis upon which patients qualify for hospice coverage under Medicare.(Cys)
However, federal officials note that about 10% of patients live longer than the anticipated six-month life expectancy.(Id.) The use of a six-month prognosis to qualify a patient for assisted suicide or euthanasia was challenged in the World Federation of Right to Die Societies' newsletter as well:
"The six-month standard "not only calls on doctors to make an unreliable prediction, but prescribes a pointless time limit: The longer the life expectancy the greater the patient's suffering. The essential elements for legislation are that the condition is irremediable by medical treatment and the suffering is intolerable to the patient."(Gargett)
The Dutch who describe "terminal" as a "concrete expectancy of death," have made no attempt to predict when that concrete expectancy will be fulfilled.(Van) Even a Dutch physician who has carried out euthanasia is reluctant to say how long the patient might have lived otherwise since "any estimate of the extent of shortening of life can only be very general" and this has no "absolute value."(Id. 23)
The idea that euthanasia and assisted suicide should only be practiced if a patient has a terminal condition has never been accepted in the Netherlands.(Griffiths) Under both the previous guidelines and the new law in the Netherlands, unbearable suffering of either a physical or mental nature has been the factor that qualifies one for induced death.(For) It appears that not even the prerequisite of subjective unbearable suffering will be maintained for much longer. Discussion now centers on whether assisted suicide should be available to elderly people who are healthy but "tired of life." Dutch Minister of Justice Els Borst has said, "I am not against it...