Friday, October 31, 2014

"Death With Dignity" or "Cruel and Unusual Punishment?"

Over the past several weeks, many people have been discussing Brittany Maynard's plan to kill herself on November 1st using a drug she obtained through Oregon's so-called "Death with Dignity" Act.  She was diagnosed at the beginning of this year with glioblastoma, the same malignant brain cancer which took the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2012.

During the 2012 ballot initiative to legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts, his widow publicly opposed it, writing:   "We’re better than that. We should expand palliative care, pain management, nursing care and hospice, not trade the dignity and life of a human being for the bottom line.

She also explained that her husband was only given two to four months to live, but lived another 15 very productive months.  "Because that first dire prediction of life expectancy was wrong, I have 15 months of cherished memories — memories of family dinners and songfests with our children and grandchildren; memories of laughter and, yes, tears; memories of life that neither I nor my husband would have traded for anything in the world."

Similarly, last April, Brittany Maynard was only given six months to live.  Six months later, she said she was postponing her suicide because she'd actually been doing remarkably well -- enjoying regular walks with her husband and visiting the Grand Canyon with her family, which was reportedly the last item on her "bucket list," which is strong evidence that bucket lists are a bad idea if you no longer have goals and then have nothing else to live for.

As it turns out, Brittany killed herself through her state-sponsored suicide on November 2nd.  Her story has been so highly glamourized that there will surely be "copycat suicides," from what's termed the "Werther Effect" -- a phenomenon of "suicide contagion" or "emulation suicide" following a highly-publicized suicide, resulting in "mass clusters" of suicide when spread through mass media.  This alone is cause for concern, but there are a litany of reasons why suicide should not be legalized anywhere.

Several years ago, as an attorney, I was appointed by a judge to act as a Guardian Ad Litem (G.A.L.) in an adult guardianship case involving a woman who was going to be taken to Dr. Jack Kevorkian to be killed.  I was skeptical when I first read the allegations of abuse in the petition, but a simple phone call to the daughter confirmed everything -- the husband and children saw her as a burden, were annoyed with her and in fact were not getting her proper care.  They wouldn’t allow Boy Scouts to build a free wheelchair access ramp to the home, wouldn't allow for her mother to arrange Meals on Wheels, and were otherwise abusing and neglecting her.  The woman was so distraught that she finally agreed to go to Kevorkian to end her life.  But upon court intervention, everything changed.  She actually wanted to live!

And this is the whole point of opposing assisted suicide laws -- hard cases make bad laws, and it's too easy for the most vulnerable members of our society to be exploited.  The "right to die" becomes an expectation to die, then a duty to die, then euthanasia -- outright murder.

Just look at the numbers from the State of Oregon, which has strict reporting requirements:  the top reasons expressed for wanting to kill themselves were loss of autonomy, less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable, loss of dignity and not wanting to be a burden on their family members -- 49% of whom included this last reason.  On the other hand, only 28% expressed inadequate pain control or a concern for it.  In the past, 80% had cancer, now only 64% do, so doctors and individuals are finding more reasons to hasten death, which should be troubling to all of us.

Many people have difficulty recovering from injuries which have resulted in severe burns, loss of limbs, blindness or deafness, etc., and initially express suicidal ideations for the same top reasons cited above, but then overcome these initial feelings and go on to experience joy in life and meaningful relationships again.  When 49% are fearful of being a burden on their families, you can see why they are ripe for exploitation.

This is the reason why our right to life and liberty are inalienable rights under our Declaration of Independence -- rights which not only cannot be taken away, but also cannot be given away.  It's too easy to be exploited.  In the U.S., someone cannot plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit.  They must state in Court in their own words exactly what they did to commit the crime, and this is to ensure that their inalienable right to liberty is not being given or taken away.

There are some minimal "safeguards" in place in the Oregon law, but we see that even though the law provides that those seeking the lethal prescription must be screened for depression and mental illness, this is simply not occurring.  Out of 122 prescriptions issued last year, only 2 referrals were made for psychological evaluations.  63% of those dead from the lethal dose were male, and that fits right in with the gender paradox of suicidal behavior -- just more proof that depression is not being addressed, as well as the stress of gender roles which men face when they lose their strength and independence.

Furthermore, the law requires that they must be given a prognosis of less than six months to live.  However, out of 71 people who killed themselves with the lethal prescription in 2013, 8 of those were given the prescription in 2012 or 2011.  So the 6-month "safeguard" is useless!

We can also see from the State of Oregon's data that the median age was 71, and most were well-educated.  Being older and well-educated, they're far more likely to have amassed wealth, and this is exactly the class of persons most likely to become victims of financial abuse and exploitation -- again, cause for great concern.

Then there's the question of what's happening to all of the unused drugs -- 90% were given pentobarbital, and 10% were given secobarbital.  In 2013, there were 122 prescriptions written under the Act, with 63 deaths as a result of ingestion, while 28 individuals died without taking it.  Accordingly, 31 people received these lethal drugs without taking them, and without otherwise dying.  So, 59 doses were uningested. 

Every year, there are large numbers of unused prescriptions sitting in people's homes.  In case this doesn't sound alarming to you, perhaps you'll be concerned once you realize that pentobarbital, in these high doses, causes respiratory arrest and is a drug used in lethal injections to administer the death penalty.

However, the major brand -- Nembutal, trademarked and manufactured by the Danish company Lundbeck for medical applications such as sedation, is no longer permitted for sale to prisons.  It's hypocritical to consider the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual punishment," while calling it "death with dignity" to give it to someone suicidal.

It's also interesting to note that in 2013, there were no blacks, hispanics or Asians who committed suicide under the Oregon statute.  Nearly 95% were white, while they only account for just over 80% of the population.  Perhaps it's because minority populations are more mindful of discrimination and have learned to fight for their lives.

Only 8 out of 71 dead from the lethal dose had the prescribing physician present.  Some only had 1 week of a relationship with the doctor before he prescribed the drug.

Some of the 752 dead in Oregon under the Act took 1,009 days before ingesting the lethal drug -- almost 3 yrs, when they were supposed to have only 6 months to live in order to get the prescription!  Once again, we see that physicians are often wrong in their diagnoses, but many may be purposeful to further their agenda.  Oregon has physicians who "specialize" in writing these prescriptions.

Another stunning fact from the Oregon data -- since 1997, six people regained consciousness after taking it, and some took up to over 104 hours to die from the dose!  

And this is dignified?

In the Netherlands and Belgium, we've seen the slippery slope of legalized assisted suicide erode into euthanizing children with special needs.  We must not let that happen here.  We must have compassion on those who are suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually after receiving a poor prognosis.  Assisted suicide is misguided compassion, and a risky proposition for a civilized society.

BIO:  Rebecca Kiessling is an attorney from Michigan and the founder and president of Save The 1.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Updated Response to RC Sproul's Good Question

Recently my brother bought a book for me written by Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr. entitled “Now That’s a Good Question!” because I am a fan of Dr. Sproul’s normally well-crafted and thoughtful defense of the Christian faith. I started flipping through and read Sproul’s answer to the question, “Is a woman acting in sin when she aborts a pregnancy that is the result of rape?” I found his answer to this question and an earlier one posed about babies with abnormalities so filled with needless obscurity and a troubling position shift on life that I literally started to argue with him out loud.

Dr. Sproul wrote in his answer to the question whether it is a sin to abort a baby that was conceived in rape, that he thinks Christians should never be involved with these “therapeutic abortions,” but continues on taking away all credibility of his previous statement by writing, “I certainly don’t think that it is clearly against the law of God to have a therapeutic abortion in the case of rape or incest.” Seriously?! What is lawful to do good or evil, to save a life or to kill it? We do not put the rapist to death for perpetrating their brutal crimes. Why then would we put the baby to death for being a victim?  It is quite clear that the law of God condemns having any part in the senseless shedding of innocent blood.  Jesus warned us not to even offend one of his little ones for we would be better off to have a millstone wrapped around our necks and be cast into the sea.

Furthermore, to call an abortion of any baby “therapeutic” is ludicrous. I was pushed to have a “therapeutic abortion” by a doctor when pregnant with my daughter, now five years old, who has chromosomal abnormalities. There is nothing medically nor psychologically therapeutic or curative about death – neither for the baby nor the mother. Death is not therapy. It is not surprising when a non-Christian doctor validates the idea of a “therapeutic abortion”, but I was shocked a Christian theologian would use this deceiving terminology.  Abortion does not cure a child with abnormalities - it simply wipes them from the face of the earth. Who are we to question God or say why did you make the child like this? Neither does an abortion take away the pain of a woman’s rape, but it increases her misery with the additional sorrow over the death of her child. A baby, normally considered a mother’s treasure, becomes trash for a garbage dump, and this is considered therapeutic?

Dr. Sproul begins his answer warning his readers not to get “…sidetracked by that ‘special case’ issue.” What he fails to acknowledge is that every child is a “special case” issue and every abortion is a personal extinction because it’s the loss of a child made in the image of God. Was the baby conceived in rape not known by God or a heritage from Him? In that babe’s mouth was praise not perfected? Did He not form and knit them together in the womb with great purpose like any other child? We are not to despise any of God’s little ones.  Unlike Sproul, I cannot “certainly understand those who would want to say that it be permissible” to allow abortion due to rape or incest.  I have many “special case” friends.  As a friend of mine who was conceived in rape so aptly put it, “I am my mother’s daughter, not some rapist’s baby.” The defense of her life and others like her is not a sidetrack to the pro-life movement, but the very heart of it.

The words Dr. Sproul chooses to clarify his answer in his book are not meaningless terms. He is an intelligent man who is known for scrutinizing positions and theology as they relate to Scripture. It would be insulting to say he did not mean what he clearly wrote. When he described that the life of a child conceived in rape is a “much less clear ethical premise,” I could only think -- what is so unclear about ‘Thou shall not murder’?! He should have warned as Susan B. Anthony once did, that abortion will “burden a woman’s conscience in this life and her soul in death.”
Imagine a woman who has been brutalized trying to get clarity from a leading theologian and finding that he believes the law of God is unclear in her situation. What do you think she will do? In the meantime, the next generation, future theologians, people seeking a Godly answers to tough questions, and mothers of five kids, like me, are reading this and getting tossed to and fro like a wave in the ocean by his answer.

What you have just read was my response to his answer, but before I published these words here, I contacted Dr. Sproul. He was kind to answer my letter out of what I can imagine must be a large stack of requests that he receives daily. He made it clear that the answer in “Now That’s A Good Question” is not his position. He said he will be contacting his publisher which I was thrilled to hear. In a time where we constantly find well-known Christian leaders refusing to be humble, R.C. Sproul is demonstrating what a Godly leader does when there needs to be a course correction. I am looking forward to reading the compassionate and articulate defense of the life of a baby so I can say ‘Now that’s a good answer!’
Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Brittany Maynard picked the day she is going to die, November  1st.  A 29 year old beautiful , well- spoken woman shared with the world that due to her terminal brain cancer she moved to Oregon so that she could have a legally authorized ‘death with dignity’ 

(  She will end her own life “…using medication prescribed by her doctor.” Like many others, I grieved upon hearing this woman’s story about her cancer, but I was also horrified by the public admission that she plans to commit suicide.  How can so much compassion be combined with killing?  It is only a medical pseudoscience that offers death as a cure.  

Clothed with deceit the term ‘death with dignity’ builds a medical bridge to paid, licensed, well groomed doctors in white coats becoming the professional contract killers of the sick. This will only encourage the theory of biological perfection to become routinely enforced by giving permission to doctors to destroy life. Over every hospital who wants their patients to have ‘death with dignity,’ should hang the signs, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” and “If we can’t heal you, we’ll kill you.”  What if killing becomes just a regular part of their ‘care’?  Maybe we should free all the hospital beds of the chronically sick. Goodbye chronic back pain patient, goodbye chronic headache patient, and goodbye to the development of cures and treatments along with them. This opens the door to a  fanatical doctor with vile intentions  to cure the world of all the undesirable sick people, people he thinks are inferior in some way…incurably so…and uses the ‘death with dignity’ as his deadly disguise for murder.

We do not need the medical community to become the arbiters of death.  Changing their practical science of healing and hope into a group of medical killers is to “abandon healing for killing” as journalist Gitta Sereny writes in her book “Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder.”  There must continue to be a firm boundary between medicine and murder.

Why make our medical industry carry the staggering burden of needless bloodshed for those who are already dying? After years spent in study to help the human condition, we turn the doctors knowledge of the caloric chart into a how-to- guide to starvation and the skill of prescribing medicine to help someone get better into an overdose of death.  If we are being brutally, honest wouldn’t a bullet be faster and cheaper than a medically sterile and sanctioned version of death? How is it possible that our conversation has changed from how to treat and help the sick to which method would be suitable for killing the sick?

Many people have examples of a loved one dying unexpectedly or a friend who beat the odds of a doctor’s diagnosis of eminent death. The prediction of death is not an exact science. It would be terribly disturbing to have a doctor mistakenly make their decision to put to a patient to death by relying on outdated research in the rapidly changing field of medicine. The doctor’s lack of knowledge could kill the patient without cause. Eventually, the U.S. may decide to widen the umbrella of the sick that are able to commit medical suicide to include children under 18 like Belgium. Society may even start deciding for those who are mentally handicapped that they too are better off dead under the mistaken notion that because they cannot do what we do they would prefer to die. No one will be safe in the presence of the medical professionals when they have such power over the life and death of their most vulnerable patients.

‘Death with dignity’ will never be accomplished by any in the medical field.  Interestingly Noah Webster, in his American Dictionary of the English Language, included this in his definition of dignity, “the man who deliberately injures another, whether male or female, has no true dignity of soul.”  None of us can find dignity in death for it can only be found by living a life of true honor and nobility.

BIO:  Jesi Smith and her husband Brad are pro-life speakers with from Rochester Hills, Michigan. This blog originally appeared at