The line between assisted suicide and euthanasia is frighteningly thin and weak. The following case study, reported on the website of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care (www.vaeh.org/resources/Oregon%20Cases.doc), shows that it cannot hold. There will always be people who cannot self-administer the lethal overdose. If those who “help” them by giving it to them escape prosecution, our society will have de facto euthanasia. The proponents of assisted suicide are careful to say that they do not favor euthanasia. Why? They know that voluntary euthanasia in Europe has led to involuntary euthanasia. We will post more about Europe’s slippery slope tomorrow. Is this what we want for Vermont?
Case in Point: Patrick Matheny
Patrick Matheny, 43, had Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). For several months, he struggled with a decision to end his life using a lethal prescription. He would set arbitrary deadlines, then, when the time came, would set new deadlines. At first, it was to be after his 15-year-old son came to visit last Thanksgiving. Then it was to be when he could no longer dress and wash himself. As an article in the Oregonian put it, “Pat felt he would rather be dead than accept help to bathe and dress.” But when the time came, he was able to handle having his mother and hospice nurses help him-so he set new deadlines.
On 3/10/99, Matheny tried to swallow the barbiturates mixed into a chocolate nutrition drink, sweetened with a boxful of sugar substitute. Reportedly, he experienced difficulty swallowing the concoction. The only person Matheny had asked to be with him in his trailer was his brother-in-law, Joe Hayes. Hayes told the Oregonian that he had to “help” Matheny to die, but would not say how. According to Hayes, it was too personal. “It doesn’t go smoothly for everyone,” Hayes explained. “For Pat it was a huge problem. It would have not worked without help,” he added.
The safeguards failed in the Patrick Matheny case:
• Patients are required by law to self-administer the lethal drug in order to protect people from coercion and foul play.
• No investigation was done in the Matheny case, even though the deviation from the law was reported in the newspapers, sending the signal that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act can be violated with impunity.
References: Oregonian, 10/27/99, 1/17/99, 3/17/99