Anti-opiate extremism as a hidden form of euthanasia

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By R Carter

I believe an honest question to ask at the start of 2019 is this. Is the anti-opiate extremism we see a hidden form of euthanasia?

Its common sense that for some, if needed medication is unavailable, a person with a debilitating disease or condition has a higher risk for complications and death. While the mechanism that obstructs the individual’s access may not be a direct cause, they are a contributing factor. This fact is acknowledged by virtue of a death certificate which requires the certifier to list those medical causes which contribute to a death.

Unfortunately, there are no spaces on a death certificate to list socioeconomic factors which contribute to a death, yet we all know such causes exist. We read stories about these types all the time. They are the plot elements in movies and TV’s shows we view daily.

Often these types of circumstances are the consequences of collateral damage. A set of conditions created to solve one problem have unintended consequences for an unsuspected group. Such occurrences are often a result of a rush to judgment, yet they are seized upon and exploited by some groups as a means of furthering an ideological point of view.

Euthanasia is a word not normally associated with these types of events. But for this post it is a concept I want to explore. I do so because of the similarities I see between laws and regulations implemented in the last five years and a growing numbers of suicide deaths reported in the news.

Any rational person is capable of connecting the dots to see how an action in one area is a causal event in another. And in connecting those dots, it’s not without reason that what may be a noble endeavor in one area is for another a death sentence.

Such is the case in U.S. now around the debate of opiates and their use in medicine. While new laws endeavor to minimize opiate deaths, the rush to minimize these events has caused loss of life as well as quality of life for others.

Those who support extreme measures to minimize the risk for addiction, with indifference to the collateral damage it causes, are in fact supporting a passive form of euthanasia, whether conscious of this fact or not. Failure to acknowledge these unintended consequences brings into question the rationality of the measures they propose.

  • Euthanasia is categorized in different ways, they include voluntary, non-voluntary, or involuntary. Active or Passive.
  • Defined: “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering”
  • Passive or involuntary euthanasia is “the withholding of treatments necessary for the continuance of life.” (NM, 2001) The person wants to live but is killed anyway. In some countries this is usually murder but not always.
  • Involuntary euthanasia can occur indirectly when laws are passed which gives preferential treatment to one group at the expense of another.
  • Such laws deem one groups needs as greater than another. Still, this is not the mandate of a democratic government. A Democracy’s mandate is to write laws which balance the needs of one group with another. Equality is the essence of any democracy.
  • Any law which denies one group access to resources in favor of another, knowing that such laws contribute to the loss of life, liberty and good health, are in fact laws more closely akin to fascism.
  • In 1906, Ohio considered a law to legalize a form of euthanasia, but it didn’t make it out of committee. (JM, 2004)While much of the debate focused on voluntary euthanasia, other calls for involuntary euthanasia were vocalized as well.
  • In 1900, W. Duncan McKim, a New York physician and author published a book titled “Heredity and Human Progress.” This book suggested that people with severe inherited defects, including mentally handicapped people, epileptics, habitual drunks and criminals, should be given a quick and painless death by carbonic gas.
  • Today’s anti-opiate advocates are eerily similar in their calls to eliminate opiates absent of the compassionate goals of relieving pain for the sick and injured.
Early History of Euthanasia in America

The rise of the euthanasia movement in the United States coincided with the so-called Gilded Age, a time of social and technological change that encompassed an “individualistic conservatism that praised an idea of letting things take their own course, without interference, a scientific methodology, and rationalism“. It was also a period in which the modern hospital system was developed. This has been seen as a factor in the emergence of the euthanasia debate. (DM, 1996) Physicians and hospitals today which advocate anti-opiate measures, while not a direct cause of death, rationally speaking, are a contributing factor to loss of life as well as the quality of life when these measures are taken indiscriminately as a “one treatment for all concerns”.

Euthanasia in Ohio

The Ohio euthanasia proposal, in 1906 imposed penalties on physicians who refused to perform euthanasia when requested: a 6–12 month prison term and a fine of between $200 and $1,000. The proposal proved to be controversial. It engendered considerable debate and failed to pass, having been withdrawn from consideration after being passed to the Committee on Public Health. As of 2019 Ohioans continue to be proponents of euthanasia with several organizations supporting voluntary end of life choices and active efforts to pass legislation which would legalize such choices.

With a thin line between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, it’s not a stretch of imagination to assume that proponents would adopt legislation which indirectly facilitate passive euthanasia by other means. An example of such would be the State Medical Board of Ohio’s adopted rule of fining physicians up to $20,000 for each infraction with prescribing violations on opiates. While not a direct assault on those considered being a plague on society, the support of laws which treat chronic pain patients the same as illegal drug abusers, is a step in marginalizing those who use opiate regardless of the reason for which they use them. The similarities between the 1906 proposal and now are like looking through a dark mirror, for the fundamental principles are the same. Only the path to an end results is different.

1930s in Britain

The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society was founded in 1935 by Charles Killick Millard (now called Dignity in Dying). The movement campaigned for the legalization of euthanasia in Great Britain.

In January 1936, King George V was given a fatal dose of morphine and cocaine to hasten his death. At the time he was suffering from cardio-respiratory failure, and the decision to end his life was made by his physician, Lord Dawson. Although this event was kept a secret for over 50 years, the death of George V coincided with proposed legislation in the House of Lords to legalize euthanasia.

Nazi Euthanasia Program

A July 24, 1939 killing of a severely disabled infant in Nazi Germany was described in a BBC articles “Genocide Under the Nazis Timeline” as the first “state-sponsored euthanasia”. Parties that consented to the killing included Hitler’s office, the parents, and the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious and Congenitally Based Illnesses. The Telegraph noted that the killing of the disabled infant, born blind, with missing limbs, subject to convulsions, provided “the rationale for a secret Nazi decree that led to ‘mercy killings’ of almost 300,000 mentally and physically handicapped people”. While the infants killing received parental consent, most of the 5,000 to 8,000 children killed afterwards were forcibly taken from their parents.

Euthanasia in the Post War Modern Era

After 1940 the debate and concept of euthanasia waned from public view until 1999 when Dr. Jack Kevorkian was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence. Dr. Kevorkian was an American pathologist and euthanasia proponent. He is best known for publicly championing a terminal patient’s right to die via physician-assisted suicide.

Dr. Kevorkian actions, once they came to public knowledge, were quickly halted and dealt with, demonstrating prevailing attitudes in America at the time. Yet acts of passive euthanasia persist today, hidden behind otherwise socially acceptable and sometimes noble ideals. Other oppressive behaviors take this form, for example the separation of immigrant children from their parents has eventually led to the deaths of children while under the care of government officials.

While such events capture national attention because of those speaking out on them, dozens more are dying today due to government regulations which deny them access to healthcare for no other reason than, a medication they take is something sold by a criminal element and abused by others sick with the disease of addiction. The failure to make a distinction between these groups is a failure of our democracy and the government to ensure balance and equality between groups.

Bibliography

DM, P. (1996, Apr 5). Recent historical perspectives regarding medical euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Retrieved Mar 1, 2019, from PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8759237

JM, A. (2004, Fall). A duty to kill? A duty to die? Rethinking the euthanasia controversy of 1906. Retrieved Mar 1, 2019, from PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15356372

NM, H. (2001, 10 14). The euthanasia debate. Retrieved 03 01, 2019, from PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11766225

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