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Not a Doctor's Decision

Not a Doctor's Decision

An assault on the concept of the sanctity of life.


A Winnipeg case currently winding its way to its grim conclusion pits the children of Samuel Golubchuk against doctors at the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital. According to the pleadings, Golubchuk's doctors informed his children that their 84-year-old father is "in the process of dying" and that they intended to hasten the process by removing his ventilation, and if that proved insufficient to kill him quickly, to also remove his feeding tube. In the event that the patient showed discomfort during these procedures, the chief of the hospital's ICU unit stated in his affidavit that he would administer morphine.

Golubchuk is an Orthodox Jew, as are his children. The latter have adamantly opposed his removal from the ventilator and feeding tube, on the grounds that Jewish law expressly forbids any action designed to shorten life, and that if their father could express his wishes, he would oppose the doctors acting to deliberately terminate his life.

The claim of absolute physician discretion to withdraw life-support would spell the end of any patient autonomy over end-of-life decisions.

In response, the director of the ICU informed Golubchuk's children that neither their father's wishes nor their own are relevant, and he would do whatever he decided was appropriate. Bill Olson, counsel for the ICU director, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that physicians have the sole right to make decisions about treatment -- even if it goes against a patient's religious beliefs -- and that "there is no right to a continuation of treatment."

That position was supported by Dr. Jeff Blackner, executive director of the office of ethics of the Canadian Medical Association. He told Reuters: "[W]e want to make sure that clinical decisions are left to physicians and not judges." Doctors' decisions are made only with the "best interest of the individual patient at heart," he said, though he did not explain how that could be squared with the undisputed claim that this patient would oppose the doctors' decision. Meanwhile, an Angus Reid poll of Canadians showed that 68% supported leaving the final decision with the family.

The claim of absolute physician discretion to withdraw life-support advanced by the Canadian doctors would spell the end of any patient autonomy over end-of-life decisions. So-called living wills, which are recognized in many American states, and which allow a person to specify in advance who should make such decisions in the event of their incapacity, would be rendered nugatory.

Even those who would not wish to be maintained in a state of unconsciousness, and who do not share the religious beliefs of the Golubchuk family should fear the claim of moral omniscience made by Canadian doctors -- and not just because Josef Mengele was a doctor. As Professor Richard Weikart chillingly details in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, Mengele's experiments on "inferior" Jewish children for the benefit of the Master Race have to be viewed in the context of German Social Darwinism in the seven decades leading up to the Nazi takeover.

In Weikart's estimate, a majority of German physicians and scientists subscribed to the naturalistic Darwinian world view and ideas that constituted a sustained assault on the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of the sanctity of life. Among those ideas are the claim that there is no fundamental distinction between humans and animals; human beings do not possess a soul that endows them with any rights or superiority to any other species; within the species homo sapiens, there are "inferior" and "superior" individuals, and inferior and superior races; and it is the iron will of nature that the species should evolve through the survival of the superior members and the death of the inferior.

In place of the sanctity of life, we now speak of the "quality of life" -- a term that explicitly assumes that some lives are worth more than others.

Darwin's cousin Francis Galton founded the modern eugenics movement on the basis of Darwinian arguments, and nowhere did eugenics catch on with greater enthusiasm than in Germany (though many prominent intellectuals in the United States, England and France were also enthusiastic supporters.) In Germany, many took the next step - from eugenics to involuntary euthanasia for the mentally ill and other defectives.

Ernest Haeckel, one of the most influential 19th-century German biologists, whose faked drawings of developing human embryos allegedly recapitulating the evolutionary path still feature prominently in college biology texts, argued for the killing of the mentally ill, lepers, those with incurable cancer, and cretins. As a safeguard, he too recommended a committee of physicians to pass judgment. Alfred Hoche, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Freiburg, justified shortening an inferior life if the insights gained would save better lives. "By giving up the conception of the divine image of humans under the influence of Darwinian thinkers," writes Hans-Walter Schmuhl, mainstream German thinkers came to view human life as "a piece of property" to be weighed against other pieces of property.

Just as Nazism gave anti-Semitism a bad name, so too did it discredit Social Darwinism. But just as anti-Semitism has reappeared, so has the assault on the concept of the sanctity of life. That assault is not limited to Princeton ethicist Peter Singer's defense of infanticide, euthanasia and bestiality on explicitly Darwinian grounds.

In place of the sanctity of life, we now speak of the "quality of life" -- a term that explicitly assumes that some lives are worth more than others.

There is even talk of the "duty to die" and clear the way for higher-quality lives, which is why the American Association of People with Disabilities has been actively involved in so many cases dealing with the doctors' right to terminate medical care. The rage for medical rationing in Canada, of which the Golubchuk case is but one example, derives from a desire not to waste resources on low-quality lives.

It would be a bitter irony if Percy Shulman, a Jewish judge in Winnipeg, were to grant Dr. Bojan Paunovic the right to end Samuel Golubchuk's life on the grounds that it lacks the requisite quality.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

January 5, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 42

(42) Anonymous, June 12, 2012 1:04 AM

say no to euthanasia

Our relative also lost her life to euthanasia/murder. They kept on drugging her and said she was deteriorating from dementia.The last drugging put her into a 2 week coma and they said she was dying from this dementia. The coroner said she died from the sepsis which started out as a minor skin infection that she got from them after her minor surgery.They also refused to treat it. They gave her treatment that would only be good to kill someone in her condition. They will say the patient has no quality of life and then the killing begins. That is what happened to her. She should not be allowed. We need the right for life and to enforce laws that will put medical staff in prison if they are caught euthanizing a patient.These heartless killers do not need to be free to walk around on the streets and continue the murdering sprees in the hospitals. They need to go where they belong to prison.

(41) Brian, May 14, 2009 6:45 PM

to Deb

Deb, Before expressing your opinion, read a bit more. There are people able to recover after months of life support. You must be a lazy caregiver.

(40) Mary Williams, April 15, 2009 9:36 PM

The Doctor murdered my daughter

My daughter was able to look at me, raise her head when I comed her hair. She would recognize a person if the misstreated her by a facial expression. There is so much more to this story. The doctor had her listed as no awareness. The nurses and I disagreed.

(39) Anonymous, March 5, 2009 4:00 AM

The Price of Life

What is happening is terrifying. People are being told that they MUST sign for lack of treatment for their loved one, that their loved one has "no real quality of life", that it would be different if their loved one was "40 years old and a working, productive citizen", but given that the loved one is older and no longer "productive" they should be dispatched quickly. Families are covertly informed that it would not be "cost-effective" to keep their loved one alive, and, overtly informed that death can be hastened and made painless. They are informed that their religion and personal ethics "do not matter", what matters is that they are "causing their family member suffering" by keeping them alive. Patients are told that going quickly would save their family suffering. It is medically possible (in most cases)to alleviate suffering without overdosing and killing the patient. What is the price of a life? Is it the sum total of insurance monies saved if the patient dies? Who decides who is worthy of life and who is not? To agree to ending a loved one's life before one's time of natural death is complicity in hastening death, and those who refuse to do it are villified. They are also told that their basic religious and ethical standards can be overridden. It is horrifyingly reminiscent of Nazi euthanasia. How long before it becomes socially acceptable for the children born with autism or Down Syndrome or some other disorder to be "terminally sedated" because someone deems that "they have no real quality of life"? Isn't that what happened in Nazi Germany?

(38) Cyd, February 9, 2009 9:22 AM

let go

I understand that people have a hard time letting go, but when it comes to elderly, people who are determinded brain dead, and other such things where they are not going to recover, I feel we should let them go. My grandfather was on life support for a few days but when the doctor told my grandmother that the treatments were no longer helping and there was nothing else to do, the whole family thought the most ethical thing to do was to let him go naturally. The only request was to make sure that he was no longer suffering any pain. It was sad but if I was in that situation and not responsive I would hope that my family would do the same, let anyone say good bye that wanted to and then let me peacefully go!

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