Euthanasia British style

A scandal is breaking out in England over revelations that the National Health Service has been implementing a policy of routinely–and apparently without consulting either the patient or the family–cutting off intravenous food and fluids for patients deemed to be close to death, instead just pumping them up with sedative drugs until they die. From the London Telegraph, Sentenced to death on the NHS:

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.
But this approach can also mask the signs that their condition is improving, the experts warn.
As a result the scheme is causing a “national crisis” in patient care, the letter [from concerned physicians] states. . . .

“Forecasting death is an inexact science,”they say. Patients are being diagnosed as being close to death “without regard to the fact that the diagnosis could be wrong.

“As a result a national wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients.”

The issue being raised here is that the diagnoses of being close to death can be wrong, with the sedation preventing doctors from seeing signs of improvement. But I don’t see how denying a patient food and water can ever be right. Even if the plan is to just “let the patient die,” the active step of withdrawing food and water goes beyond that and seems especially cruel. The patient is allowed to die of thirst and starvation. How does that even rise to the questionable standard of “mercy killing”?

The Christian origins of health care

Christianity Today reviews Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity by Gary Ferngren, a book that undercuts the new atheists’ claims about how bad Christianity has always been for civilization:

When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.
Christians found this intolerable, and they set about to take care of these people and others similarly afflicted. They did so because, Ferngren writes, “Early Christian philanthropy was informed by the theological concept of the imago Dei, that humans were created in the image of God.”

This led not only to a belief in the responsibility to aid others and the inherent worth of every human being, but also to a belief in the sacredness of the body itself. “It was to save the body that Christ took on flesh in the Incarnation. Not only the soul, which in traditional pagan thought was eternal, but the composite of body and soul, which constituted man, was to be resurrected.”

The idea of imago Dei also led to a redefinition of the idea of the poor. Rights in a city or society were given to members, and all members received benefits. Those outside were offered none. Christianity, in addition to seeing all people as “neighbors,” developed a special consideration for the poor. Just as God demonstrated in the Incarnation his solidarity with those who suffer, so the members of his “body” must demonstrate their solidarity with the suffering poor.

The classical understanding of civic care for those who suffered “was not merely insufficient to provide the motivation for private charity; it actively discouraged it,” writes Ferngren. “Christianity, however, insisted that the love of God required the spontaneous manifestation of personal charity toward one’s brothers: one could not claim to love God without loving his brother.”

As a result of these theological beliefs, Christians developed a robust system for caring for the poor, the ill, widows and orphans, and other members of society in need of care. When the plague struck, this system provided an opportunity for churches to quickly expand and care for those outside the church.

As early as A.D. 251, according to letters from the time, the church in Rome cared for 1,500 widows and those who were distressed. A hundred years later, Antioch supported 3,000 widows, virgins, sick, poor, and travelers. This care was organized by the church and delivered through deacons and volunteer societies. The churches in major cities had significant resources at their disposal, and though their care was not professional, it is likely to have saved lives and aided the growth of the church.

When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote, according to Ferngren, “that presbyters, deacons, and laymen took charge of the treatment of the sick, ignoring the danger to their own lives. … Their activity contrasted with that of the pagans, who deserted the sick or threw the bodies of the dead out into the streets.” This care was extended even to those persecuting the church at the time.

This care likely led to much higher rates of survival for Christians. And after the plague, with a staff of workers and an existing administrative structure, “Christian medical care became outwardly focused, now enlarged to include many who were victims of the plague.”
Finally, when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, these services were formalized in a number of institutions, including the first hospitals. “The experience gained by the congregation-centered care of the sick over several centuries gave early Christians the ability to create rapidly in the late fourth century a network of efficiently functioning institutions that offered charitable medical care, first in monastic infirmaries and later in the hospital,” Ferngren writes.

Does the health care plan cover abortion, or not?

Even the different factcheckers are getting confused about this critical question. The answer turns out to be very complicated, as is trying to understand this complicated bill. this article comes up with this helpful conclusion: “Those who claim abortion clearly is covered, and those who say it clearly isn’t, are both wrong.” Read the explanation at the link. A sample:

When advocates claim that the “public plan” — a government-administered health care option — does not cover abortion, they’re being literally accurate…but slippery. The two main bills (so far) do not, in fact, require a plan to cover abortion. However, they don’t prohibit abortion coverage either, instead leaving it up to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to decide, later, whether abortion would be included in a basic benefits package.

Pro-life activists say that if abortion can be covered, it will be covered. It’s certainly not an unreasonable prediction, given that the Secretary and the President are both pro-choice (though neither side talks about the flipside: When President Palin is in the White House she could reverse the policy through a simple executive order). . . .

(Memo to the White House press corps: Please ask Mr. Obama, Robert Gibbs or Kathleen Sebelius the following: “The health care legislation gives the HHS Secretary the authority to decide whether abortion is covered. Will you commit right now that abortion will not be covered?”)

Half of Americans will get swine flu and 90,000 will die?

The White House is putting out dire warnings about swine flu:

Swine flu may infect half the U.S. population this year, hospitalize 1.8 million patients and lead to as many as 90,000 deaths, more than twice the number killed in a typical seasonal flu, White House advisers said.

In a report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, President Barack Obama today was urged to speed vaccine production and name a senior member of the White House staff, preferably the homeland security adviser, to take responsibility for decision-making on the pandemic. Initial doses should be accelerated to mid-September to vaccinate as many as 40 million people, the advisory group said.

Seasonal flu usually kills about 36,000 Americans, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swine flu, also called H1N1, causes more severe illness needing hospitalization among younger people than seasonal flu, while leaving people 65 and older relatively unscathed, said Mike Shaw of the CDC.

“This isn’t the flu that we’re used to,” said Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall. We won’t know until we’re in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it’s a new strain, it’s likely to infect more people than usual.” . . .

“We are making every preparation effort assuming a safe and effective vaccine will be available in mid-October,” Sebelius said today at the CDC’s Atlanta offices.

According to what the advisory report describes as a “plausible scenario,” 30 percent to 50 percent of the country’s population will be infected in the fall and winter. As many as 300,000 patients may be treated in hospital intensive care units, filling 50 percent to 100 percent of the available beds, and 30,000 to 90,000 people may die, the report said.

Do you expect it to be that bad? It sounds like we’ll have a vaccine fairly soon, which should mitigate these worst case scenarios. Why scare people like this?

It has been said that governments often instill fear in their populations as a way to seize more power. Oh, the terrorists are going to kill us all. We’d better let the government take us to war. Oh, the economy is collapsing and we’re going to have the Great Depression all over again. We’d better let the government take over the economy. Oh, the plague is coming. We’d better let the government take over health care.

Of course, there ARE legitimate dangers that we have to deal with. How can we tell the difference between those and political fears? It seems that panic, in general, is a bad thing when facing any danger. FDR, though we might question his ideology, was a good leader and in facing the actual depression he first calmed the country down, saying that people should NOT fear. Shouldn’t we be automatically suspicious when our leaders–of any party– try to scare us to death?

Spanish doctors will go to jail rather than be “fetal executioners”

Spain has no conscience clause that would exempt physicians who do not believe in abortion from refusing to perform that procedure. So pro-life doctors–of which there are many in this largely Catholic country–are announcing their willingness to go to jail. In this account, notice the useful new word: “fetal executioner.” From the Catholic news agency:

Dr. Esteban Rodriguez, spokesman for the organization Right to Life (Derecho a Vivir) in Spain, responded yesterday to comments by the country’s Minister of Justice, Francisco Caamano, who said there was no room for a conscience clause in the new law on abortion. 

“We are willing to go to jail rather than following a criminal law, Rodriguez said, “and we are willing to commit the supposed crime of disobedience before the crime of abortion.”
“We will not kill our patients, nor will we commit a crime against the public health deliberately harming the heath of women, no matter how much the Minister of Justice threatens us and abuses his power,” the doctor said.
“We doctors are not soldiers, nor policemen, nor executioners. There is no civil disobedience in the refusal to kill a human being, but rather the fulfilling of our professional obligation,” he added.
If the government carries out the threat by the Minister of Justice to penalize conscientious objectors as disobedient, Rodriguez said that a “new category of victims of the laws on abortion and the regulation of conscience will be created in the gynecologists who wish to carry out their moral obligations in the face of an imposed ideology.”
After recalling that the statute in the Spanish constitution allowing conscientious objection must be respected, Rodriguez expressed his surprise that the law would shield from prison some doctors who have been convicted of performing illegal abortions, while punishing with prison those doctors who have fought to defend the lives of their patients and the health of women.
“We recommend they think about creating a new level of officials at the ministries of Justice and Equality: fetal executioners,” Dr. Rodriguez remarked.

Co-opt the Health Care Reform bill to restrict abortions?

The House health care reform bill tries to work around the law that forbids taxpayer money going to pay for abortions. Note how that would work, but also note the possibility of a pro-life result that has pro-abortionists nervous:

The House approach to the coverage of the procedure in federally subsidized insurance plans is presented as a compromise: Abortions would be funded out of the premiums that come from individuals, not money from taxpayers. But this is a cover, if not a con. By the nature of health insurance, premiums are not devoted to specific procedures; they support insurance plans. It matters nothing in practice if a premium dollar comes from government or the individual — both enable the same coverage. If the federal government directly funds an insurance plan that includes elective abortion, it cannot claim it is not paying for elective abortions. . . .

The House bill would result in federal funding for abortion on an unprecedented scale. But forbidding federal funds to private insurers that currently cover elective abortions (as some insurers do) would amount, as pro-choice advocates note, to a restriction on the availability of abortion.

Here is the germ of a pro-life strategy to restrict the number of abortions, with the potential of saving untold numbers of lives:

Federal funds for abortions are now restricted to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother. Abortion opponents say those restrictions should carry over to any health insurance sold through a new marketplace envisioned under the legislation, an exchange where people would choose private coverage or the public plan.

Abortion rights supporters say that would have the effect of denying coverage for abortion to millions of women who now have it through workplace insurance and are expected to join the exchange.

If a strong provision of the bill could be added that would forbid insurance companies that are part of this government system to fund abortions, would that make you willing to support it?