Euthanasia which was legalized in a number of Western countries is still prohibited by law in Russia. Does it mean that issues related to physician-assisted suicide apply only to Western countries and do not apply to Russia? What shift in the public consciousness makes the population accept homicide? In our talk with Archpriest Maxim Obukhov, director of the “Life” (“Zhizn”) Orthodox medical and educational center, we discuss this and other issues caused by the spread of the “good death”, that is, euthanasia.
Fr. Maxim, what is euthanasia and how has it become so popular in some Western countries?
Euthanasia is the murder of sick and infirm people allegedly for a good purpose. “Euthanasia” is a compound of two Greek words: “eu” – meaning “good”, and “Thanatos” – meaning “death’. So it is a “good death”, a “good murder”. At present, euthanasia is legalized in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and several states of the USA. Beyond doubt, legalization of euthanasia provokes debates in these countries as many people oppose this “good death”.
What kind of arguments do the advocates and opponents of euthanasia offer?
Those who support euthanasia say: give gravely ill and suffering people a chance to die, since they are being tormented by pain and have become a burden to their nearest and dearest. And those who oppose euthanasia are convinced that a society should never legalize homicides. Holland was the first country to legalize assisted suicide. In many countries lawmakers are under great pressure from the pro-euthanasia lobbying groups, but healthy conservative forces still manage to withstand the pressures.
There is child euthanasia as well. How widespread is it?
It is still not widespread, but in the countries where euthanasia is legalized child euthanasia is allowed as well. That is a shameful phenomenon. It seems bizarre and abnormal to us: how can one put a newborn baby to death? But there are quite a few proponents of this practice.
Some people apparently benefit from euthanasia. Who will benefit from it?
As always, when you see a difficult, unsolved problem in a society with much debate around it, then get to the root of things: who will make a profit on one or another phenomenon? If we look at euthanasia, we will find that a sick person is a burden to both the society and those around him. Many find aged folks to be burdensome and irksome. Many of us tend to forget that these people of the older generation took care of us when we were children. So, by taking care of the old we give them their due. Among other things, we pay them a pension through respective state structures where our taxes go. If needed, we can carry out their chamber pots and tolerate their quirks… That is normal. But for Western society it is burdensome. But if we kill old people, it will bring profits: we will cut our expenses and will save our time. And a pension will not be paid to them any more. If a person resolves to be gathered to his fathers a year earlier, then his pension will remain in the retirement fund, in “usurious” banking organizations. People during their life make insurance contributions for health care, for the pension system, and these contributions (deductions) accumulate in insurance funds. When a person retires, he begins to spend these savings. But if he is killed, the money will remain at the fund. And if the equipment for a patient’s resuscitation is disconnected, that provides real cost savings! Treatment of a patient in a resuscitation unit is very expensive and it may reach 1000 US dollars a day. Intensive care presupposes costs of the room, equipment and doctors… But after being treated at an intensive care unit a person may live for another ten years, may reach the age of ninety and see his great-grandchildren… No, let’s kill him instead!
Is euthanasia a compulsory or a voluntary “procedure”?
There are both compulsory and voluntary “procedures”. Officially, these are very different things. Involuntary euthanasia is when someone else decides for a person without his consent that it is time for him to die; voluntary euthanasia is when a person makes an application himself stating that he wishes to end his life. Meanwhile, we well understand that not all sick and old people are capable of expressing their thoughts clearly. So, once voluntary euthanasia was officially legalized, it instantly became involuntary. Thus, there is no distinguished boundary here. Imagine a gravely ill old man. He may be very slow and drowsy. He may be under tranquilizers and sedatives. He may have some speech defects. After medical treatment his speech may be restored, but now he cannot speak well and has a poor diction. Maybe he is now unable to speak at all, but he perfectly understands everything that is going on. How can he express his desire to live or desire to die!? And he may have some mental deterioration that is characteristic of his age; then he will be certified insane and given a caretaker, and the latter will decide for him whether he will live or die…
Let us return to child euthanasia. What is the minimal allowable age for infanticide?
Different countries have different laws. Theoretically, if euthanasia of the elderly is legalized, it means that euthanasia of all other age groups is permitted. As far as I remember, in Belgium citizens have right to euthanasia from the age of twelve. And a child has a right to decide death without his parents’ consent, so parents cannot interfere.
So doctors can call parents at any time and say: “Your child has decided to die,” though in reality he was just in a very difficult physical and psychological state…
Yes, such a problem does exist, and people in depression sometimes resort to euthanasia. And a person can fall into depression at absolutely any health status. Several blatant examples when relatively young and healthy people appealed for euthanasia during depression have been made public through media. They were just in depression! And doctors killed them. It was followed by general indignation of the public, but the lives of these people are already lost! Should such a cruel, unfair and unlawful thing as physician-assisted suicide be legalized, the consequences for society may be fatal.
How are euthanasia and abortions interconnected? In both cases people are killed: in the case of euthanasia they are killed voluntarily, and in the case of abortions it is done involuntarily.
Yes, these phenomena are similar. Both euthanasia and abortion are murders. And there is n inner, direct correlation between them. Why do people resort to abortions? Because a baby stands in the way of these people. It oversets their plans. It requires time, money and energy. If a woman becomes pregnant, how will she solve this problem? The problem will not disappear itself; a baby will be born after nine months. Therefore, the baby should be killed! So, if a baby that stands in your way can be killed, then old folks who become a burden on you can be killed as well; and why not?
Euthanasia for newborn infants is, of course, a consequence of the so-called “abortion thinking”. There is no difference between a pre-born and a born baby; only the method of nourishment, the way of breathing and the medium they live in are different. A born child lives in the air medium and breathes on his own, and a pre-born child is in the aqueous medium and breathes with his mother’s lungs, yet their characteristics as human beings are the same. The personhood is the same both before and after birth. The only difference is that a fetus in the mother’s womb is unviable without someone else’s help. If a baby can be killed before birth, then why not kill them after birth, for the same reason? A pure “abortion logic”! For example, take a sick child. If one can carry out an abortion of a fetus having an abnormality, then why not kill a living born infant? In fact, euthanasia is a direct consequence, a logical consequence of legalized abortions, because people have already agreed that abortion is not a crime.
There is even a special term: “family planning”. So abortion is just a kind of family planning. A new family member has appeared who already breathes, has pretensions upon your living space, food and so on. And we have “planned”; that is, we’ve killed him. This is what is called family planning. The same thing is with adults. An aged man has fallen ill: he is lying in bed and coughing. So let us apply “family planning” here as well and rid ourselves of him! And the poor man is given a lethal dose.
That is really horrific! It is hard to imagine that someone sinks to getting rid of people this way…
If a society accepts a crime, this changes the society itself. The taboo is lifted. You are allowed to kill. And if murdering is not banned, then, for instance, you may kill someone in order to disinherit him. If homicide is decriminalized, then everything becomes possible and permitted.
To date, euthanasia is prohibited in Russia…
Yes, it is prohibited in Russia. But I spoke to doctors who confirm that there have been cases of euthanasia in our country. These cases are very rare, but they do take place. This fact cannot be concealed.
There is more alarming news: according to public opinion polls, there are supporters of euthanasia in Russia. There very many medical students who hold that our society should quit itself from the terminally ill. Assisted suicide is still not permitted in our country by law, but this problem does exist. We have already started changing our way of thinking. We have a social stratum of liberal-minded people who think that euthanasia is permissible. And these individuals may become our legislators and take steps to legalize “mercy killing”. The problem exists and we need to carry out explanatory work. I will repeat myself and say that we cannot state that this issue does not concern us.
I heard the following argument for euthanasia: a man had an accident, he was heavily injured, and has only several days to live… And another patient who lies in a neighboring bed will only be able to survive if the latter donates him his organ. And the man decides to give him his organ, thinking: “If I am not to live, then let another man live on.” Is it a suicide or an act of self-sacrifice?
Well, if you make this decision, to donate your organ… And do you know that there is presumed consent for organ donation in our country?
Why is physician-assisted suicide becoming so widespread in Europe? After all, there are more and more countries legitimatizing it. And you say that young Russian doctors have a tolerant attitude towards “mercy killing”…
Society is changing and liberal values are winning over the minds of more people. Yet I cannot say that euthanasia is celebrating its triumphant victory. Christian organizations are successfully opposing it in the countries where the position of the Church is strong, including that of the Catholic Church. Euthanasia is not legitimatized in Orthodox countries, but the problem is nevertheless evident.
There is also a disturbing phenomenon called “suicide tourism”, or “euthanasia tourism”. Euthanasia is legal in Switzerland; so, a resident of Poland who wishes to commit a doctor-assisted suicide will come to Switzerland for a lethal dose. A good business is built on the euthanasia tourism. It really brings profit: he who wants to die does not need his money any more, and he pays a huge sum of money for euthanasia, which will remain in the economy of the country where “good death” is legitimate. This is a nasty phenomenon.
Legalization of homicide as it is entails a whole concatenation of terrible events. The countries where euthanasia became legal begin to influence other states; they promote euthanasia and benefit from the “suicide tourism”. People’s way of thinking changes too, they start to persuade others that euthanasia is something good, normal and fine. But, indeed, it is a very bad thing.
There are examples from history. Thus, some primitive tribes practiced a barbarous custom which appeared due to food shortage: they used to send old people to die on faraway mountains or in forests… Another example is Nazi Germany, where euthanasia was legitimatized for some categories of people: for the mentally sick (schizophrenics, etc.), for those with congenital defects and so on. They called them “a company of the defective” and murdered them. The most terrible thing is that society accepted the idea that there were “unnecessary” people who could and should be killed. Then that state, that nation overstepped the limits and broke the taboo. We are all well aware of what followed afterwards. The “results” were Joseph Mengele, the “angel of death”, experiments by Nazi physicians on patients, the genocide of many nations, and the Nuremberg Judgment. And now all this unlawfulness and these outrages are returning to the civilized Europe!
What should health care and medicine be like so that all might be happier and live longer, not thinking that their life will forcibly be taken in twenty or thirty years?
Modern medicine is making progress so rapidly that it has become possible to prolong one’s life (I mean an active, sound, and full life) till the age of eighty or ninety. That is natural. Medicine can do it. But the most important thing that we need to understand is that medicine must not kill, must not take people’s lives; instead, it must save people’s lives and keep them alive.