Germany and Assisted Suicide: The Wrong Side of History Again

Snip, snap, snout!

This patient is all snuffed out!

by Jane St. Clair

Author of Walk Me to Midnight

MGM Studio chief Sam Goldwyn once said, “An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

Yet now the highest German court ruled that it is okay to end a life based on an old oral contract — something someone remembers someone once said a long time ago.

On June 25, Germany’s highest court ruled that it was okay for Elke Kloor to cut off her mother’s feeding and hydration tubes herself. Kloor claims her mother told her that she did not want to live that way.

Since there was nothing in writing -no living will–, no one really knows what her mother wanted done.

Inquiring minds want to know:

Was Kloor posed to inherit money if her mother died?

Was Kloor paying for or otherwise taking care of her mother? If so, was this a burden?

Was Kloor extremely emotionally distraught about her mother’s condition, and how would this affect her testimony?

Why did the German court accept hearsay testimony which would ordinarily be inadmissible?

In the Terri Schiavo case, her husband said that she had once told him she did not want to live on feeding tubes. Yet friends and family remembered Terri telling them that she believed where there’s life, there’s hope. Terri had not been in favor of allowing the family of Karen Ann Quinlan to remove her life support. By the way, the family did just that, but Quinlan went on to live another eleven years afterward. (F1)

Snip, snap, snout!

This patient is all snuffed out!

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Had Schiavo, Quinlan or Kloor’s mother signed living wills, their intentions would have been clear to the court and everyone else. They would have left written directives worth the paper they’re written on.

Now people are applauding the Germans for their common sense and rational approach to dying. People are saying the Germans are on the side of history. Yet it may be that now, as in the 1930s when euthanasia was a fad in Nazi Germany, that they are actually on the wrong side of history.

New research on vegetative states and CSI testimony

Let’s look at new scientific research that has found that many people in so-called “vegetative states” are actually conscious in ways we do not understand. Using the latest MRI brain imaging technology, this year scientists have found brain activity in patients that were thought to be brain-dead. (F2) The side of history may be about such new research and learning how better to communicate with them.

CSI or crime scene investigative science has exploded in the past decade or so, since the decoding of human DNA. Courts are increasingly distrusting even eyewitness testimony, as new research is showing how unreliable it is. Northwestern University journalism students have been able to free 11 prisoners in the past ten years –five of them were on death row–, often convicted by witness testimony and then freed through DNA evidence. (F3) The side of history is against admitting hearsay evidence from witnesses with emotional stakes in the outcomes of their cases.

When the German court opened the door to allowing family members to remove feeding tubes on their own without written directives from the person who will die, they are going down the road Switzerland has paved for them. There it is chic to take a “suicide vacation” and die in style with friends. As one doctor put it, “It’s death with vanity, not death with dignity.” That’s the future we want? That’s the good side of history, when even teenagers with histories of depression can end their lives in shabby little suicide huts?

Many European countries spend less on health care than the United States. They do it by cutting care and running up deficit spending. They have to create systems in which people do not need to take care of one another when they are dying. In this new wave of Brave New World, you justify it by saying that killing people is allowing them to keep their dignity.

Are dying people dignified? What about deformed babies? Severely handicapped people like Stephen Hawking — are they dignified? In this future history, only healthy, young, strong and productive people are dignified. As the Mel Brooks song from The Producers has it — “Mankind’s marching to a faster pace! Look out, here comes the Master Race!”

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F1. McFadden, Robert. “Karen Ann Quinlan, 31, dies; focus of 1975 Right to Die Case.” The New York Times, June 12, 1985.

F2. Carey, Benedict. “Study Finds Activity in Brains that Seem to Be Shut Down,” The New York Times, February 3, 2010.

F3. Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, The Innocence Project, www.medillinnocenceproject.org.

F4. Boyes, Robert. “Swiss crackdown on ‘suicide tourism’ could spell end of Dignitas clinic,” The London Times, October 29, 2009.