HOW CLOSE TO THE EDGE?

by David Sisler

Some where in the 18th century, or so the story goes, a wealthy noble woman was seeking a new horseman to handle her team and drive her carriage. The lady pointed to a steep cliff that led away from the rear of her house and the road which ran down it, criss-crossing back and forth to the bottom of a deep ravine. She asked each applicant how close he thought he could drive the rig to the edge of the precipice without plunging to destruction.

The first applicant said he could drive as close as six inches. The second said three inches. The third said he could recover if even one wheel slipped over the edge. And so it went, each trying to better the other with impressive boasts. Of course you know that the man who got the job said, "Madam, if the choice were left up to me I would descend from this mountain by another road, but if I had to travel that way, I would drive as far away from the edge as possible."

Thirty years ago, when I first heard that story, it was a good way to stress the need to live a lifestyle that stayed far away from disaster, and did not flirt with calamity in the slightest. Today it is a quaint tale, told to snoozing audiences, because most of us live on the edge.

Twenty years ago C. Everett Koop warned that a nation that would accept abortion would sooner or later accept euthanasia. We scoffed and said America would never get that close to the edge. State after state now debate the newest of our "rights," the right to die. Jack Kerkorian hooks his victims up to death machines and flaunts Michigan law, while Oregon voters passed a measure sanctioning euthanasia. We are so close to the edge that we may lose control of the carriage.

The Netherlands leads the way in killing terminally ill patients. A 1991 survey by the Dutch government found that more than half of all Dutch physicians have deliberately killed one or more of their patients. Twenty-five percent admit to ending patients' lives without their consent. Euthanasia is technically against the law, but the practice is so wide spread that experts believe that as many as fifteen percent of the annual deaths in the Netherlands are physician-induced. Indeed, guidelines have been passed by Dutch lawmakers which make it all-but-impossible to prosecute physicians who practice euthanasia.

The Bible says it is appointed unto man once to die. Dutch doctors are now able to set the appointment totally by their own caprice.

Dr. Steven G. Hammer, Medical College of Wisconsin, wrote in Archives of Family Medicine, that there were 25,306 cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands in 1995. Several doctors from the Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine Amsterdam responded to Dr. Hammer saying that the 25,306 deaths were not all cases of euthanasia (they define euthanasia as death by a physician's deliberate act). Included in that total, they insist, are "physician-assisted suicide, life-terminating acts without explicit request of the patient, a large part of the decisions to alleviate pain and symptoms, and nontreatment decisions." Anyway you autopsy those figures, doctors were deliberately responsible for the end of a great many lives.

Herbert Hendin, an American physician, and the author of Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients, and the Dutch Cure notes that "the Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia; from euthanasia for those who are terminally ill to euthanasia for those who are chronically ill; from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress; and from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia."

Medical journals in Holland now report the physician-assisted murder of children. So far only six cases have been documented, but local experts believe there have been far more. Every year 50 handicapped newborn infants suffer passive euthanasia no poisons are administered, but neither are potentially life-saving measures prescribed.

If that wasn't enough to make you spin in your wooden shoes, it has been reported that a measure is being proposed which will give children over the age of 12 the right to request euthanasia.

How close to the edge do you think you will be able to drive and still control the carriage? Six inches? Three inches? One wheel? In Holland, the carriage is on its way to a devastating crash at the bottom of the ravine. Oregon would be well advised to read the history and reconsider. As Georgia legislators meet in their new session, they need to hear a loud cry from those who voted them into office: "Don't even go there. Turn the team away from the precipice before how close ever becomes an issue."

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Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/16/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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