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    "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable" -Anton Chekhov

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    Friday, January 10, 2003

    Killing Them Softly: In the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, the Supreme Court has ruled it illegal to kill a patient simply because they're sick of life. The case involved a general practioner and a former senator:

    In 1998 Dr Sutorius helped former senator Edward Brongersma to die, even though he had no serious physical or mental illness. Mr Brongersma had often spoken with Sutorius of his wish to die. He suffered from physical decline and struggled with his "pointless and empty existence."

    The appeal court had accepted the argument that Mr Brongersma's suffering was not medical and that GPs therefore had no experience to judge such an issue.

    Dr Sutorius appealed to the Supreme Court in order to quash his conviction and clarify the position of doctors. The Supreme Court argued that last year's euthanasia law specifically did not cover such "tired of life situations." Its decision underlines the earlier judgment that "unbearable and hopeless suffering," a criterion laid down in the law on euthanasia, must be linked to a recognisable medical or psychiatric condition.

    It’s so difficult to decide whose best interest the doctor is serving in these cases - the patient’s or his own. Patients who are anxious and obsessed about their health can be taxing. Just ask England’s Dr. Shipman, who was quite proficient at ridding himself of nuisance patients:

    Shipman often killed patients who had a chronic condition which required a great deal of medical attention. For example, Mrs Alice Gorton, whom he killed in 1979, had terrible psoriasis. Shipman visited her very frequently to give her the supplies of the ointments and dressings she required. Mr Joseph Wilcockson, who was killed on 6th November 1989, had a painful ulcer on his leg, which was probably never going to heal. The district nurse attended regularly to dress it. Mrs Beatrice Toft had severe lung disease and used an oxygen cylinder. She had been into hospital on a number of occasions in the past and would plainly have needed a great deal of care had she lived out the terminal stage of her illness. None of these patients was close to death, however, and the suddenness of their deaths might have aroused suspicion. I suspect that Shipman selected patients such as these, who were or were about to be very demanding of his time and the resources of the practice. That he was concerned about resources is apparent from a remark he made about Mrs Edith Calverley, who had severe respiratory problems and was taking several different types of medication. After her death, Shipman remarked to the district nurse, 'That's one off my drugs bill'.

    ... Miss Joan Harding and Mrs Ivy Lomas, both of whom were killed in the surgery, suffered from anxiety and depression and consulted Shipman regularly. After Shipman had killed Mrs Lomas, he 'joked' to Police Sergeant (then Police Constable) Phillip Reade that Mrs Lomas had been such a nuisance that he had considered having a seat in his waiting area set aside for her, and having a plaque mounted which said 'Seat permanently reserved for Ivy Lomas'.

    Read the whole description of Shipman’s patient selection. It’s the account of one man’s journey down the slippery slope of euthanasia.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in England the BMJ is putting together a special good death issue to be guest edited by Peter Singer, animal rights and infanticide advocate, among other things. Mr. Singer’s utilatarian approach to life’s worth surely wouldn’t be lost on Dr. Shipman.

    And Not So Softly: Australia’s own Dr. Death is coming to America to show off his suicide machine to The Hemlock Society:

    Dr. Philip Nitschke will present his device, which allows a person to breathe in pure carbon monoxide to hasten death, this weekend in San Diego, California, at the national conference of the Hemlock Society USA, a volunteer euthanasia group.

    America’s Dr. Death is otherwise occupied, so Dr. Nitschke will do in a pinch. Nitschke gained international notoriety last year when he helped, some would say pressured an Australian woman with terminal cancer to commit suicide. Trouble was, she didn’t have cancer, nor was she terminally ill. And, while Dr. Nitschke is touting his suicide machine today, his ultimate goal is suicide pills for all. Lucky us.

    posted by Sydney on 1/10/2003 08:30:00 AM 0 comments


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