In the matter of giving fellow citizens their last gentle nudge down the chute, the Supreme Court has suddenly discovered the old principle of federalism, rebuking Attorney General Ashcroft for suggesting that the federal government has any say in whether addictive drugs can be administered for lethal purposes. Not to worry, all ye statists; the Court will predictably lose that principle again when it is convenient to do so, for instance when a Utah or a Nebraska attempts to define for its citizens what shall and shall not constitute a legal marriage.
But there's one thing about lethal drugging that most people don't know. At least, I didn't know it, but someone who is very dear to me, a doggedly pro-life specialist in infectious diseases who works at a hospital in rural Pennsylvania, has opened my eyes. And that is that euthanasia is going on behind and beneath the law, all the time, everywhere in the country.
I don't mean pulling the plug on a respirator when somebody is dying of incurable cancer and has lost consciousness. No, I mean direct, willed killing of people who are not dying of anything that can't be cured but who are for one reason or another inconvenient.
A typical example goes something like this. An old woman enters the hospital under her own power. She can walk and talk and do many things for herself, but she is getting on in years and her mind is beginning to weaken noticeably. She has double pneumonia, and is, naturally, in some discomfort.
Immediately the pulmonologist prescribes a morphine drip, to ease the pain. The problem is that morphine also shuts down the body's defenses; after a certain point it begins to put your own organs to sleep. Now, the pneumonia is quite curable with massive doses of antibiotics. But the pulmonologist works on the family and procures an agreement not to resuscitate should the woman slip into a coma. Do you see the problem? A little bit of morphine is not a big deal, but a lot of morphine will prevent the body, and the antibiotics, from effecting the cure. Thus the desire to spare momma some pain, and the hidden desire to be relieved of having to care for momma (because, and I am not being sarcastic, momma is difficult to care for sometimes), work synergistically here. Momma in fact does not get better. She dies -- sad to say. She dies, unless a pro-life doctor, loathed by almost everybody in the hospital, knocks herself out fighting the hospital lawyer and finally obtains authority to order the morphine drip curtailed. Then she cures the woman with antibiotics and in two weeks sends her -- still ambulatory -- home with a sullen and disgruntled family. Naturally, Momma is never told that the family had been preparing, with complacency, for a very different outcome.
Or another example: euthanasia used to conceal medical incompetence. An old man enters the hospital with colon cancer. He has a colonectomy; but the surgeon botches the procedure and the intestines become infected. In two weeks the man develops a dangerously high fever and a huge distended belly. The family is warned that if anything is done their father will almost certainly die. A morphine drip, with lots of antibiotics, is recommended. But a pro-life doctor loathed by almost everybody rushes in to warn the family that if nothing is done he will certainly die, no almosts about it. The original surgeon refuses to touch the man. Finally she persuades an outside surgeon to open the man up -- and he discovers the problem area, under many liters of pus.
According to my source, about 30 people are euthanized every year at this hospital, and it is by no means unusual. Because of the vagaries of Medicare compensation, it's often a lot quicker and more profitable to let the elderly die when they're very sick and when they aren't in complete possession of their faculties -- that is, when the family would not be over-distraught should something unfortunate happen.