November 10, 2011

Horse 1247 - Euthanasia Debate III

Whilst watching the episode of QI Series I "Illness", I learnt something which I didn't know before and I think is quite scary. Not satisfied with accepting what was said as fact, I did a little investigating.

King George V was quite ill in January of 1936. It was reported by the then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, that before the King's death:
"each time he [the King] became conscious it was some kind inquiry or kind observation of someone, some words of gratitude for kindness shown. But he did say to his secretary when he sent for him: "How is the Empire?" An unusual phrase in that form, and the secretary said: "All is well, sir, with the Empire", and the King gave him a smile and relapsed once more into unconsciousness"
- The Times, 22 January 1936 (The Times reported on this after the King had died).

The British Medical Journal reports that Lord Dawson of Penn who was King George V's doctor, at 9:25pm on 20th January:
"At about 11 o'clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers and keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr.3/4 and shortly afterwards cocaine gr. 1 into the distended jugular vein."

It has also been reported that King George V's last words to Dawson were "God Damn You!" which would indicate to me that under no circumstances was Dawson's injection of morphine and cocaine requested by the King.
Everything I've ever read about George V seems to indicate that he was a rather stern, severe and direct sort of character, having served in the Royal Navy and also having steered the country through various political crises and the storm of World War I.  I can assume that George didn't intend to blaspheme but meant exactly what he said with all of the venom that someone being killed against their will can muster (because euthanasia is basically a euphemism).
The polite term for this I suppose is involuntary euthanasia but the correct and proper term would be murder.

The question I have is pretty simple. Given that human nature is such that literally everything can and will be misused and abused by someone at some point, what possible justification is there for giving doctors the power to perform euthanasia, even on a so-called voluntary basis?

There are now 7 billion of us on this planet and over time this figure is expected to reach 8, 9, 10... an increased population is going place ever harder strains on medical systems and services, what is going to stop some unscrupulous doctor from going back and fudging the records if it's economically better that someone be euthanised than to keep them alive?

The legal profession is keen to point out the maxim that: "It's better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted". However if the legal power was given to doctors to euthanise people then they can very easily play judge, jury and executioner all at once and since its easier to bring back paperwork from the dead than people, would you really entrust them with that power?
From an ethical point of view is it not better that doctors uphold the requirements of the Hippocratic Oath to preserve life than to presume that by ending it deliberately that the patient's needs are best met? Once that decision is made to deliberately end someone's life, it is very very difficult to reverse it.

Of course there are people who might suggest that I'm grossly exaggerating the situation but if not even the King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India was exempt from being euthanised involuntarily, then what makes anyone think that anyone else lower in status would be?

I of course don't mean to diminish the highly important, difficult, skillful and stressful role that Doctors play in society but they have entered into a profession which holds a lot of responsibility which given the opportunity can and would be misused by a rogue few. If the Hippocratic Oath itself says "Above all, I must not play at God." then I don't think it wise to give them the legal power to do so under any circumstance.

It simply isn't acceptable.

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