Monday, May 1, 2023

Euthanizing children isn’t medical care

Just days ago, the Netherlands announced that it will broaden its regulations on euthanasia so that doctors can end the lives of terminally ill children as young as 1 year old. This is not medical care; it’s barbaric.

In 2022, I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Without strong treatment, my odds of surviving more than a few months were not good. My medical team, however, was committed to exploring every possibility for saving my life. They proposed different treatments and put together a plan that would give me the best possible chance. They believed that no matter how long I had left, every day was worth fighting for.

Had my doctor told me that I shouldn’t pursue treatment, that I should just die, I would have been devastated. In the Netherlands, however, children of nearly any age who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses won’t have time to be devastated; they might be killed first. As a survivor of a terminal illness, that leaves me aghast. But as a doctor, even more so.

The organization I work for, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, has long fought against euthanasia and assisted suicide here in the U.S., including efforts to force doctors to participate in objectionable medical practices that aren’t truly medical care at all. In three states, physicians could have been forced – by law – to be part of a process that sends the message that treatment is useless and people should just resign themselves to the grave.

That is why the CMDA filed lawsuits in all three of those states, asking the courts to protect the right of physicians to heal, not destroy.

Physicians are meant to be healers and caretakers. Many physicians enter their profession out of a deep conviction that life is sacred and something to be protected and valued. But state governments in California, New Mexico and Vermont have tried to pass laws compelling physicians to violate their own oaths and to participate in assisted suicide of adults – even if doing so forces them to go against their deeply held beliefs.

These types of laws need to be stopped. The Netherlands provides a perfect example of what can happen if a nation becomes comfortable with the idea of doctor-prescribed death. Had I lived in California, New Mexico or Vermont in 2022, I would likely have been offered assisted suicide – and had I been offered it in a dark moment, I could have said yes. Instead, I am alive, and I recently received the wonderful news that my cancer is in remission. I have years of life ahead of me – life that state governments across the nation would have compelled physicians to help snuff out.

These laws violate the First Amendment by forcing physicians to facilitate assisted suicide, even if they hold religious or ethical objections to killing their patients. Such objections are not a niche belief; for millennia, medical practice has been grounded in the conviction that physicians are to do no harm.

Thankfully, still today, all the major medical associations in America confirm that assisted suicide violates medical ethics. The American Medical Association has stated that "physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer." Yet Vermont, California and New Mexico have tried to compel physicians to offer assisted suicide to their patients and to participate in that suicide, whether by giving a referral or by providing information about it.

With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, CMDA filed a lawsuit challenging California’s law. In September 2022, a federal district court ruled that the state law likely violated the First Amendment. The court said, "The ultimate outcome of this requirement is that non-participating providers are compelled to participate in the Act through [even its] documentation requirement, despite their objections to assisted suicide."

This is similar to what happened in Vermont; an ADF lawsuit there challenged as unconstitutional the state’s attempt to compel physicians to participate in assisted suicide despite their conscience-based objections. A pro-suicide group attempted to appeal the favorable settlement of that case but then changed its mind, meaning that conscience rights in Vermont remain protected.

In New Mexico, CMDA filed another lawsuit in December 2022, and fortunately, the state has realized that its law can’t survive legal scrutiny. The legislature has voluntarily changed its law, so the lawsuit has been dropped.

The message from these outcomes is clear: States cannot compel physicians to facilitate assisted suicide in any way. That includes suggesting, referring for, or any other complicity in taking a patient’s life.

The role of physicians is to heal and help. That role doesn’t change even when it seems that a patient – child or adult – is drawing near to the end of life. In fact, if anything, the physician’s calling to offer care, comfort and encouragement becomes even more important for patients with terminal diagnoses.

Compelling physicians to participate in killing their patients violates the very core of health care. The courts in America see this. States that are considering laws like the ones that proved problematic in California, Vermont or New Mexico should therefore take notice. We don’t want the slippery slope now so obvious in the Netherlands to ever become a reality here.

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