The passive forms of euthanasia are not of concern in most cases because nothing is being done to hasten the end of life. In such situations, medical personnel keep the terminal patient comfortable and pain-free while allowing nature to take its course with regard to the death itself.
It is the active forms of euthanasia—whether voluntary or involuntary—that are of great concern. Active, involuntary euthanasia can include “mercy killings” in which a family member or doctor takes the life of a terminally ill patient or a patient that has “no quality of life.” In the past few years there have been several cases where a wife or husband have shot and killed a sleeping spouse that was either terminal or was greatly disabled due to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. In such cases, the spouses have been prosecuted for murder, as they should.
In other forms of active, involuntary euthanasia, family members talk a doctor into using drugs to euthanize a patient, or the doctor simply does so on his own without the family’s knowledge or consent.
As researcher R. Finigsen reports: “The Dutch experience is instructive. A survey of Dutch physicians was made in 1990 by the Remmelink Committee. They found that 1,030 patients were killed without their consent. Of these, 140 were fully mentally competent and 110 were only slightly mentally impaired. The report also found that another 14,175 (1,701 of them were mentally competent) were denied medical treatment without their consent and died.” (Footnote #18)
In Ethics for a Brave New World, Dr. J. S. Feinberg offers a brief history of how a U.S. Supreme Court decision laid the groundwork for active euthanasia:
Several events in recent years have really captured the attention of Americans, polarized views on the euthanasia question and galvanized many to action. One is Dr. Kevorkian’s suicide machine, and another is the book Final Exit. But undoubtedly the right-to-die case of Nancy Cruzan has been the most significant factor in raising people’s awareness and “temperature” on this issue. Because of its importance, we briefly sketch the details of this case.
On January 11, 1983, twenty-five-year-old Nancy Cruzan was in an automobile accident in the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri. Paramedics arrived and restarted her breathing, but she had been without oxygen for so long that she never regained consciousness. On February 5, 1983, doctors implanted a feeding tube in Nancy’s stomach. Apart from this apparatus, she was not on life-support systems.
Over the next years Nancy did not die, but she did not improve. She seemed to be in what is called a permanent vegetative state. As a result, in October 1987, Nancy’s parents went to court to get permission to remove the feeding tube and let her die as they believed she would want.
On July 27, 1988, the Jasper County (Missouri) Judge granted them permission to remove the tube. However, the case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, and on November 16, 1988, the court in a 4-3 decision overturned the lower court ruling, claiming there was no legal authority to grant the Cruzans’ request.
The Cruzans appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time the Supreme Court had ruled on a right-to-die case. In a 5-4 decision on June 25, 1990, the Court ruled to deny the Cruzans’ request. However, the decision was not based on a belief that food and water could not be removed because they are basics of patient care and are not medicine. Nor was it based on a belief that patients do not have a right to choose to die. Instead, the ruling came because there was no “clear and convincing evidence” that Nancy would have wanted to stop artificial nutrition.
Had she signed a living will to that effect or granted power of attorney to her family to make decisions on her healthcare, the petition would have been granted. But she had done neither, and once comatose she obviously couldn’t. Though the Cruzans’ request was rejected, the Supreme Court in essence affirmed a patient’s right to die under certain circumstances so long as there is a living will specifying those situations or a power of attorney granting decision-making power to a surrogate.
On August 30, 1990, the Cruzans went back to the Missouri judge and asked for another hearing, claiming they had new evidence that their daughter had once told three people she would rather die than live in a persistent vegetative state. In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that clear evidence of her desire to die was necessary to remove the tube, and in view of the new testimony to that effect, on December 14, 1990, the judge ruled that Cruzan’s parents could remove her feeding tube. Shortly thereafter, that was done, and Nancy Cruzan finally died. (Footnote #19)
The non-decision decision by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgate for cases like that of Terri Schiavo. In 1990, Terri Schiavo, a twenty-seven-year-old Florida woman suffered a heart attack and lost oxygen to her brain that left her greatly disabled and without the ability to speak. Terri’s husband fought to have her feeding tube removed and to starve her to death despite the fact her parents did not want their daughter to be a victim of active euthanasia. Terri’s parents even agreed to take complete responsibility for Terri’s care and medical expenses. The October 28, 2003, St. Petersburg Times published a story by Curtis Krueger that revealed Terri’s awareness:
Terri Schiavo smiles. She laughs, cries, and moans. Her eyes appear to follow a balloon around the room. When a cotton swab slips into her mouth, she grimaces. Those images, from video clips on television and a Web site created by Schiavo’s family, have helped fuel the national debate over whether to remove the feeding tube that has kept the brain-damaged Pinellas County woman alive.
The multi-year legal battled resulted in the Florida legislature passing Terri’s Law in 2004 that would allow Governor Jeb Bush to intervene, which he did, ordering Terri’s feeding tube to be re-connected so Terri would not starve to death.
On September 23, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Terri’s Law was unconstitutional based on a separation of powers concern. It seems the judges are far more concerned about a separation of powers issue than the murder of Terri Schiavo.
The Terri Schiavo case is a great example of the dangers of active euthanasia. Terri’s family is fighting for her life and believes that she would not want to be killed. Terri’s husband believes Terri would want to be killed. The solution to this problem is to choose to follow the Hippocratic Oath which is “to do no harm.” Footnote #20)
Obviously, doctor-assisted suicide is active euthanasia. In Terri’s case, there were two versions of the question. One is: What would Terri want? If she could choose death and her preference was granted, it would be a case of voluntary, active euthanasia. The other question is: Should another person (i.e., Terry’s husband) be permitted to decide she should die? If so, this would be involuntary, active euthanasia. Tragically, we will never know Terri’s wishes. On March 18, 2005, by court order, Terri’s feeding tube was disconnected. Without the food and water it supplied, this full-grown but helpless American citizen starved to death under the watchful eyes of her physicians.
Writing about Terri’s death, David Limbaugh explained the implications for America:
What this boils down to is that our courts (and far too many in society) are so acclimated to our Culture of Death that they are erring on the side of death. Despite enormous doubts about Terri’s condition, her intentions and even her initial injury, the courts are determining that in the end, none of this matters because anyone in Terri’s diminished state (no matter what it specifically is) is better off dead. It’s essentially a court-ordered murder based on the court’s subjective assessment of the victims’ quality of life—an assessment tainted by its diminished reverence for human life.
The decision to kill Terri Schiavo is not in defense of Terri’s intentions, about which there is way too much doubt, but to godlessness, humanism and death. It is to quench society’s lust for death.
This case marks a turning point in the Culture War, where society is making a giant leap toward the dark side, embracing the lie over truth and death over life. In our relentless quest to become like gods, we are crossing another sacred line, and it is hard to imagine how we might return. (Footnote #21)
The consequences of legalizing active euthanasia will impact every American because of the frightful danger that doctor-assisted suicide could be forced onto those that don’t want to be killed. As Limbaugh notes, this takes our culture of death to a far deeper level of potentially appalling personal disasters.
R. Finigsen, “The Report of the Dutch Committee on Euthanasia,” Issues in Law and Medicine, July 1991, 339–44.
19 J. S. Feinberg, P. D. Feinberg, and A. Huxley, c1993, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996).
20 Curtis Krueger, St. Petersburg Times, October 28, 2003.
21 David Limbaugh, “A Turning Point in the Culture War,” www.Worldnetdaily.com, March 25, 2005,