By Judie Brown
Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) has taken it upon herself to interfere in the care of those who are approaching life’s end. Her legislative proposal (S 2243) was introduced in July. Known as the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, it is designed to fund an increase in the facilities and staff of medical schools. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine explains the need for the law based on “patient and family satisfaction” and of course the control of costs due to the increasing number of people who could avail themselves of the care because of chronic conditions from which they suffer.
To be clear, research by pro-life experts has shown that such care can become a pathway to imposed death, as Julie Grimstad, president of HALO, explains. For those unfamiliar with the term, imposed death is a synonym for euthanasia—an act that literally imposes death on a living human being.
Another voice of opposition to this politics of premature death is Ione Whitlock, who penned an article addressing the “5 things You Should Know about Palliative Care.” Whitlock reveals that the palliative care and hospice system is overwhelmed with bureaucracy and guidelines designed to hasten patients’ deaths. The system’s solution is not to provide comfort but to save money by making people die more efficiently. That is not quite what one would expect, is it?
Whitlock concludes, “In spite of a system that is rigged to cut short the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable among us, there are many brave and conscientious doctors and nurses out there defending human life. They are our first line of defense.”
Obviously one of our tasks as pro-life people is to make sure this line of defense gets stronger. Resisting the culture of death is a full-time job for many ethical practitioners of medicine these days, as we know all too well.
This is why it serves us well to turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which draws a line in the sand, stating, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment.”
Note the caveat “can be legitimate,” which suggests that such discontinuation of procedures can also be illegitimate. Either way it is a subjective judgment. By this I mean it can often be a matter of cost saving or false mercy. It is those subjective decisions that can result in the premature death of human beings who, while suffering from a chronic illness or facing death, are entitled to live the final moments or days of their lives in peace rather than being put to death prematurely.
You may be thinking that this is a difficult situation because every single patient is unique, as are their conditions. You are correct, and this underscores the reasons why there should be no official policy on this question. After all, the Fifth Commandment, You Shalt Not Kill, does not include caveats.
The fundamental problem with palliative care is precisely that this new subspecialty in medicine will actually expand the scope of hastened death.
Such situations are as numerous as the people facing their final moments of life.
These difficulties, unique to everyone created by God, remind me of St. John Paul II’s words written in Fides et Ratio: “The human spirit is often invaded by a kind of ambiguous thinking which leads it to an ever deepening introversion, locked within the confines of its own immanence without reference of any kind to the transcendent. A philosophy which no longer asks the question of the meaning of life would be in grave danger of reducing reason to merely accessory functions, with no real passion for the search for truth.”
These words guide us when considering the politics of palliative care. It becomes painfully clear that public policies such as the proposed PCHETA deny the truth about the inviolability of human life, thus reducing those at the edges of life to problems to be solved, not precious human beings deserving of respect and love. Such people are God’s children, not pawns subject to manipulation unto death by others.
If the politics of palliative care is not the perfect example of disdain toward our fellow man, I cannot imagine what is.