As the political discussion concerning the future of American healthcare grows more intense, the implicit issue of euthanasia stands in the wings. One rabbi noted that the issues of abortion and euthanasia are two sides of the same coin, both destroying the relationship between parent and child.
A geriatric physician who deals with end-of-life situations on a daily basis summed up the connection between socialized medicine and euthanasia.
“The danger of socialized medicine is that everything is under someone else’s control, not necessarily the patient or their family,” the physician, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Breaking Israel News. “The chief motivation is economic and not health. Euthanasia fits into that mindset.”
Ideally, euthanasia is performed at the patient’s request by passive means, withholding treatment necessary for the continuance of life. Euthanasia can also be carried out actively by lethal injection. Passive voluntary euthanasia is legal throughout the US per Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health. When the patient actively brings about his or her own death with the assistance of a physician, the term assisted suicide is often used instead. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and the U.S. states of California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.
Non-voluntary euthanasia is when the patient is unable to give his consent or against his will. This is technically illegal in all countries but there have been cases in which the state and legal system have usurped the position of the parents and decided to euthanize a child.
The extent to which socialized medicine can take control of the decision to euthanize was graphically illustrated in the recent case of Alfie Evans, a nearly two-year-old British boy. Against his parents’ wishes, the hospital where he was receiving care withdrew life support. His parents were barred by British courts from seeking care for Alfie elsewhere. Britain’s single-payer healthcare system came under fire in the ensuing public debate.
In discussions concerning healthcare reform, Canada is often held up as a model for the success of socialized medicine but the issue of euthanasia is rarely discussed. The economic aspect of euthanasia as it pertains to the Canadian healthcare system was outlined in a 2017 article the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The article stated that if the level of euthanasia in Canada reaches that of Belgium and the Netherlands, it could save the healthcare system approximately $139 million. The comparison was made because like Canada, the majority of healthcare in Belgium and Norway is single-payer.
It should be noted that Belgium permits medically assisted suicide for psychiatric patients and a few other European nations are considering legislation to allow this for incurable psychiatric conditions, including autism.
The cost consideration is a major factor in determining whether or not to prolong life since the study showed that in some regions of Canada, more than 20 percent of healthcare costs were incurred by patients who die within six months even though they are only 1 percent of the population. In the U.S., 27 to 30 percent of the Medicare budget is spent on the 5 percent of Medicare patients who die each year.
Euthanasia has now become an official program in the Canadian healthcare system called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). Signs instructing patients in how to access the program via its toll-free number are prominently displayed in some hospital urgent care waiting rooms.
European countries with socialized healthcare are adopting euthanasia and many are broadening the scope of assisted suicide as an option. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for patients who were suffering unbearable pain and had no prospects of a cure. In October 2016, the government proposed legislation that would allow healthy old people to request assisted suicide. Critics called the proposed legislation a “slippery slope” that risks allowing financial considerations cheapen the value of human life.
Though not all countries with universal health care have legalized euthanasia, all of the countries that have legalized euthanasia (Netherlands, Belgium, Columbia, Luxembourg, Canada, Switzerland, and Germany) have universal health care. There are currently six states in the U.S. with legalized euthanasia.
Rabbi Yosef Berger, rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, quoted the last verse in Psalms to illustrate how every moment of life is a unique opportunity to praise the Creator.
Let all that breathes praise Hashem. Hallelujah. Psalms 150:6
“God breathed life in Man,” Rabbi Berger said. “The purpose of life is to praise God. Anything that lessens life, reduces God’s praises and delays the Redemption. Euthanasia denies the inherent sanctity of life, denying that life comes from God.”
Rabbi Berger noted that the Children of Israel were supposed to be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years but were actually in Egypt for much less.
“The Bible describes that the Children of Israel multiplied greatly,” Rabbi Berger said. “It was this increase of life, this love of life, that shortened the exile in Egypt. Pharaoh tried to lengthen the exile by throwing the male babies into the Nile, offsetting the Israelite’s fertility, thereby lessening the power of life and increasing the exile.”
“There is a very simple rule: anything that increases life is from God and brings the Messiah closer,” Berger said. “Anything that increases death is precisely the opposite and delays the Messiah.”
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, a prominent end-of-days author, emphasized that euthanasia is actually part of a much larger problem indicating essential problems in the culture.
“This issue is like a social thermometer that rises as people take God out of the picture,” Rabbi Winston told Breaking Israel News. “Decisions like this can only be made in a godless reality. ‘Humane’ is defined by God. Men, on their own, have no idea of what humane means.”
“Suffering is an important part of life,” Rabbi Winston said. “It may be difficult to accept but even suffering is from God. True humanity, true mercy and love, is long-term and may take years to work out. To cut that short is man’s desire for comfort, not a desire to be humane. The Torah fights against that. If you take away man’s divinity then all you are left with is a pursuit of comfort.”
Rabbi Winston emphasized a particularly tragic type of euthanasia.
“It is unthinkable but many of these cases require a child giving permission to kill their parent,” Rabbi Winston said. “Society seems to be moving in this direction as the connection between parent and child falls by the wayside. Abortion is a mother rejecting her child and euthanasia may be a child rejecting their parent.”
Rabbi Winston pointed out that respecting a parent is one of the Ten Commandments and explicitly related to lengthening life.
Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that Hashem your God is assigning to you. Exodus 20:12
Euthanasia is becoming an inter-religious concern. In November, the 16th Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Vatican met to discuss the theme of “human dignity with special reference to the child” in Jewish and Catholic teaching.
“At this meeting, the Pope welcomed the information provided to him regarding a draft interreligious position-paper on end-of-life matters with particular reference to the dangers of legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide instead of providing palliative care and maximal respect for God-given life,” the statement said.
At a Commission meeting in 2006, participants specifically condemned euthanasia, calling it an “illegitimate human arrogation of an exclusive divine authority to determine the time of a person’s death.”