Economics of Life-Taking' When Isn't it Murder?

November 29, 2010 09:00 AM

There was a time when it would never have occurred to simple folk that murder would become a recommended solution to budgetary woes—both at a national and a state level. In fact, years ago, the very idea would have sent shivers down the spines of most people.

Not so in these current times, however. Think, for example, of the 88-year-old man, Roy Charles Laird, who allegedly shot his 86-year-old wife because he felt that she had suffered enough. His wife had dementia and had been confined to a nursing home where Laird went daily to care for her. Laird was charged with murder but his arraignment has been postponed; his daughter is telling the media that what her father did was a “mercy killing.”

Accompanying the New York Daily News report on Laird’s action is a poll asking online readers to indicate whether or not euthanasia should be legal if a loved one is suffering. As of Sunday evening, the results were surprisingly close: 44 percent said yes while 51 percent said no, suggesting that the public is split on the question of killing someone who is, in the opinion of others, suffering to a degree where death is preferable to life. It is abhorrent that there is a poll that seemingly condones the idea of euthanasia as an aid to those suffering—and that it is placed adjacent to this article. After all, to any rational person, acts of euthanasia are acts of murder!

And then there are those pesky hospital deaths. Several days ago America learned that, among elderly patients who are cared for in hospitals, “mistakes” and “unavoidable problems” kill an estimated 15,000 every month. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services issued the report, explaining, “Hospital care associated with adverse and temporary harm events cost Medicare an estimated $324 million in October 2008.” We are to be reassured, however, by the insights of the Obama administration that with the passage of the new health care reform law, errors that take lives will be less frequent because of such advances as the “wider use of electronic medical records.”

Well, time will tell, but it is perhaps no accident that just a couple of days before the OIG was filing its alarming report, Professor Paul Krugman was commenting on This Week that “death panels” may be needed to help curb the nation’s budget deficit. Krugman, who further explained himself in a New York Times blog wrote, “health care costs will have to be controlled, which will surely require having Medicare and Medicaid decide what they’re willing to pay for—not really death panels, of course, but consideration of medical effectiveness and, at some point, how much we’re willing to spend for extreme care.”

Note, if you will, that the subjective words “effectiveness” and “extreme” come into play—words that can lead to untimely death depending on the assessments of those in charge of a given case. Like Mr. Laird, whose evaluation of his wife’s situation led to his untimely shooting of his ailing wife, there will always be people who deem it inappropriate for someone else’s life to continue. Ask any mother who has aborted her baby and says she feels no remorse.

Into this morass of equivocation and hair splitting regarding the act of murder and how it might be defined a bit differently to permit it comes a dying man, Associate Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini—a well-known, controversial Catholic bioethicist. Filippini is adamantly opposed to decriminalized euthanasia as proposed in South Australia’s now defeated Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2010. Filippini argued eloquently in the days prior to parliament’s vote on the measure, writing, “We need protection and encouragement from our community, we do not need this form of discrimination. Far from protecting the dignity of those who are seriously ill and suffering, the Bill would undermine dignity by undermining our sense of individual worth as a person, no matter our suffering and disability.”

Earlier this month, the bill was defeated. Sadly, however, proponents of organized killing do not stop; they will return to South Australia’s parliament in the same way they do to state legislatures across this nation.

There is a serious danger on the horizon for America’s aging population. There was a time when most Americans respected the dignity of our elders; today, far too many in positions of power have only respect for economic measures that make it increasingly palatable to dismiss from life those who are creating economic burdens for others. Like Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, we must all speak out so that even the smallest and sickest among us are assured the right to live.

Back to news