Marie Hilliard: People who want a ‘perfect life’ will even kill children . . .
We live in a culture that perpetuates the myth that we can have a perfect life. Baby Boomers embraced the fable that they can control everything, including life and death. After all, technology has provided such great advances that children can be engendered on demand.
If less than perfect offspring are identified before birth, they can be eliminated. In the Netherlands, parents have the option of “after birth abortion” — also known as murder or infanticide. This has evolved into a cultural mindset that deems less-than-“perfect” persons — such as those with disabilities and the elderly with dementia — as unfit to live, or at least unworthy to have equitable access to health care resources.
As we witness the generation that embraced abortion-on-demand advancing in age, will this generation now be the subject of the next generation’s similar approach to the frail or disabled elderly?
As faith is being driven out of the public square, the concept that suffering can have meaning is increasingly alien to our culture. Many of us remember being formed by faithful nuns. They showed us how suffering can have meaning when united to the cross. How often did we hear, “Offer it up” — especially for the poor souls in Purgatory?
We live in a culture that only accepts the redemption that is falsely depicted as a perfect life in this world. Public policy makers, including elected officials, are merely products of our culture whom we’ve empowered to represent us in the public square; and as these polices unfold, there is growing evidence that the only acceptable way to deal with suffering is to abandon or eradicate the sufferer.
The evidence is everywhere. Studies demonstrate that in vitro fertilization (IVF) is being used by some parents to accomplish preimplantation genetic diagnosis on their very own offspring. A recent study indicates that 42% of the centers that engage in such lethal procedures will do so for sex selection. This move toward designer babies is a clear indication of a eugenic mentality, where only the flawless are allowed to live. No one can ignore the changing attitudes on how we treat the frail elderly and persons with disabilities.
Three states have legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS): Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Montana decriminalized it through court order. The frightening fact is that there is a trend progressing toward active euthanasia, which is the case in the Netherlands. And if one looks at the statistics from Oregon, the data give great pause. Despite the fact that Oregon law mandates that a physician require a psychological evaluation of a patient if there is any question of whether a mental health condition may be causing the person to want to die, of the 673 persons assisted to die, only 42 were referred for such an evaluation.
What person wanting to end their life is not experiencing a treatable depression that could be alleviated if someone merely accompanied them in their suffering? Furthermore, Oregon law will not allow family members to be told of the request without explicit consent, nor allow the death certificate to list anything other than the underlying pathology as the cause of death. Thus, the frail elderly and disabled may easily be convinced by an exhausted or greedy family member that to kill oneself might be in everyone’s best interests.
Then enter the government with its own eugenic version of health care reform. The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) supports programs that provide abortion-on-demand and requires employers to provide employees with contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. It also penalizes health care providers who, in caring for the elderly and disabled, are costing the government too much money. There are penalties for hospital readmissions for the same diagnosis within a 30-day period. There is a 15-member Medicare Advisory Panel which will determine reimbursement polices on cost effectiveness.
The evidence is clear: Social policy is dictating who is worthy to be accompanied in their suffering and who is to be eliminated as too great a burden to our society. This is heralding a whole new approach to the sufferer and with it the denigration of our humanity. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi : “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through compassion is a cruel and inhuman society” (II, 38).
If we do not accompany the sufferer, and even worse, if we eliminate him from our midst, we have become a cruel and inhumane society.
MARIE T. HILLIARD, JCL, PhD, RN, is a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.