The Slippery Slope of Physician-Assisted Suicide

By St. Joseph County Right to Life | February 9, 2018, 2:43pm

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A Washington Post article from January 24th recounts the disturbing euthanasia of a Dutch woman with dementia. Referred to in records only as “2016-85,” the woman had made an advance written request to be euthanized in case of dementia. The wording of the directive was “ambiguous,” though, and by the time she was placed in an assisted living facility, she was unable to clarify her wishes due to her mental condition. Acting on her behalf, her husband requested euthanasia.


The physician readied a lethal injection after concluding that the woman was experiencing unbearable and incurable suffering—despite the fact that she was not a victim of terminal illness. After the doctor gave the patient sedative-spiked coffee to relax, he attempted to inject her. She recoiled. The physician asked family members to hold the woman down, but even after her family physically restrained her, the doctor took nearly 15 minutes to find a vein. The woman passed in an undignified manner. Most horrifically, it was involuntary.


The case was referred to prosecutors, but the verdict is as of yet unknown. The importance of this story is not in the ruling after the fact, but in its unfolding. Regardless of whether a guilty or non-guilty verdict is given, the fact remains that a woman was killed by lethal injection against her will. This would not have even been possible without the presence of physician-assisted death laws in the Netherlands—the same type of legislation that is rearing its head in America.


Physician-assisted suicide is already legal in some form in six states (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) and Washington, D.C. Additionally, legislation is currently under consideration in several other states.


Earlier this year, Indiana Representative Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) authored House Bill 1157 (HB 1157), a so-called “Death with Dignity” bill. The bill would be the first step in legalizing physician-assisted suicide, giving qualifying, terminally ill patients the ability to procure fatal medication from Hoosier doctors.


The issue with allowing such bills to become law, other than the fact that they will allow for the wanton ending of human life, is that consequent assisted suicide legislation could put the lives of many terminally and mentally ill patients, as well as physically disabled persons, at severe risk. One example of a case in Great Britain illustrates how an elderly person’s perceived “wish to die” allowed a man to get away with murder.


On August 26th, 2017, Bipin Desai, a pharmacist in Surrey, England, prepared a fruit smoothie containing a lethal dose of morphine for his father, Dhirajlal Desai. Later the same evening, Bipin injected his father with insulin as he lay asleep, effectively speeding Dhirajlal’s death.


Bipin was charged with murder for the incident, but a High Court judge said he was wrongfully accused, and instructed the jury to deliver a verdict of not guilty. Mr. Justice Green addressed Bipin in the hearing, stating, “Your acts of assistance were acts of pure compassion and mercy. Your father had a solid and firm wish to die. For him, being assisted to die would be fulfilling his wish of going to heaven to see his wife and being put out of his misery."


The report makes no mention of any type of written letter or instruction in which Dhirajlal sought or gave permission to be assisted in dying. He had previously attempted to commit suicide, although it does not mention how recently he had tried to take his own life.


To add to the saga, the case revealed that Bipin attempted to “disguise the killing as a natural death,” going so far as to make his father breakfast the following morning and making a fake discovery after returning from work the following evening. Upon realizing his father would undergo a post-mortem exam, he went to the police, saying he had assisted his father in committing suicide following Dhirajlal’s recent suffering from depression.


Prosecutor William Boyce mentioned in the trial that Dhirajlal “suffered no debilitating or disabling symptoms,” and that “he was not, on the face of it, near death despite his advancing years.”


This harrowing story sounds like something that should be the end of a murder mystery novel—yet the gravity of just how real this case is only adds to the reality of how assisted suicide legislation can be manipulated.


Blatant murder such as that which Bipin committed and death despite clear non-compliance, such as in the case of patient 2016-85, may well be something our country could face if further legalization occurs in the physician-assisted death sphere. Even if these cases may seem extreme, the reality is that the paths of euthanasia legislation in the Netherlands and England have taken them this far. Would it not be wise for America to learn from the mistakes of these two European nations and nip all such legislation in the bud?


Unfortunately, many Hoosiers and Americans alike do not realize the gravity that legislation, like HB 1157, pose to our society. St. Joseph County Right to Life is attempting to remedy this through educational efforts, reaching out to the community to promote a culture of life, and thereby hoping to prevent euthanasia, assisted-suicide, medical aid in dying, and physician-assisted death legislation.