Friday, June 17, 2011

What the USCCB's New Focus on Aid in Dying Could Mean

I have a new piece at The Nation that you can read in its entirety here. Here's an excerpt, below. It was posted Wednesday night but I'm still waiting for Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein to call....

A focus on aid in dying should illuminate failures in end of life care, of which the US has many. In our current state of crisis—52 million people are uninsured; the United States spends twice as much on healthcare than other developed nations, with inferior results; the population is growing older; the dying are often subject to debilitating futile care in their last days—we can hardly afford ideological diversion. As with the issue of abortion, when the Catholic Church shines a spotlight, Americans get blinding orders, not illumination.

Even typically astute writers miss the point on end-of life care. While Ezra Klein, the Washington Post's healthcare expert, didn't endorse Catholic pundit Ross Douthat's contention that aid in dying should be illegal (though Klein failed to acknowledge that it is legal in three states), he bought the same "slippery slope" argument "pro-life" groups have used for years to oppose and restrict abortion. While Mother Jones's Kevin Drum refuted Douthat’s religious arguments and Klein’s sources and logic, he too failed to connect the conversation on assisted suicide to the larger crisis in end-of-life care. Neither took meaningful issue with the outsized role the Catholic Church—which operates one-fifth of all hospital beds in the United States according to their own guidelines—plays in this or the healthcare debate.

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BBC's Pro-Death Propaganda

A BBC special by the renowned British author Terry Pratchett has caused a stir in the UK. Shown Monday night, "Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die," included footage of a patient ingesting lethal medication and dying in a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where aid in dying is legal. Nearly 900 viewers contacted BBC to complain. The show caused a furor that reached the state level; several peers are accusing the station of taking a side in the aid in dying debate, one of the more contentious issues in Britain at the moment. Aid in dying is not legal in the UK. Terry Pratchett, diagnosed with Alzheimer's, is a vocal advocate for the right to die.

Last year Kier Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, ruled that it was legal to assist a patient in their death, a decision that was the result of a court case brought by multiple sclerosis sufferer, Debbie Purdy, in 2009. Purdy asked the courts to allow her partner Omar Puente to assist her travel to Switzerland when she decided to end her life -- without risking court action when he returned.

(h/t Mrak)

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