Monday, July 11, 2005

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman (Kristof)

When mild-mannered NY Times reporter Nick Kristof isn't flying around to exotic locales like Cambodia (where he attempted to save two Asian damsels in distress), Sudan (where he attempted to save an entire African nation) or North Korea (where he will attempt to save an entire region by negotiating nuclear disarmament on the personal invitation of Kim Jong-Il), he can usually be found in the Blue States pushing the leftist domestic agenda. This week finds our Superman-like hero Kristof taking up the sensitive topic of physician-assisted suicide in the liberal haven of Portland, Oregon.

As with every leftist afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome, Kristof can't help himself in blaming Bush for everything that is wrong with the world. In comic book-speak, George Bush is Lex Luthor to Kristof's Clark Kent. According to reporter Kristof, President Bush is the obstacle to one Jack Newbold from dying with dignity--at least in Kristof's superhero eyes. [Sometimes, I wonder if Kristof thinks he has x-ray vision, just like Superman.]

Jack Newbold is a 59-year-old retired tugboat captain who is dying of bone cancer. It's one of the most painful cancers, and he doesn't want to put his wife and 17-year-old daughter through the trauma of caring for him as he loses control over his body. So Mr. Newbold faces a wrenching choice in the coming weeks: should he fight the cancer until his last breath, or should he take a glass of a barbiturate solution prescribed by a doctor and put himself to sleep forever? He's leaning toward the latter.

"I've got less than six months to live," he said. "I don't want to linger and put my wife and family through this."

I don't know what I would do if I were Mr. Newbold, nor if I were his wife or daughter (they're both supporting him in any decision he makes). But I do believe that it should be their decision - not President Bush's. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush is fighting to overturn the Oregon Death With Dignity law, which gives Mr. Newbold the option of hastening his death. Oregon voters twice passed referendums approving the law, which has been used since 1998, and it has wide support in the state. The Bush administration issued an order that any doctor who issued a prescription under the state law would be prosecuted under federal law. Oregon won an injunction against the order, John Ashcroft lost an appeal, and now the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the fall.

But Kristof neglects to tell his readers that the Supreme Court has already ruled on physican-assisted suicide and the so-called "right-to-die". In Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), the Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide and that allowing physicans to prescribe lethal doses of drugs would lead us towards the "slippery slope" of euthanasia.

In concurring with the majority, Justice O'Connor wrote:

In sum, there is no need to address the question whether suffering patients have a constitutionally cognizable interest in obtaining relief from the suffering that they may experience in the last days of their lives. There is no dispute that dying patients in Washington and New York can obtain palliative care, even when doing so would hasten their deaths. The difficulty in defining terminal illness and the risk that a dying patient's request for assistance in ending his or her life might not be truly voluntary justifies the prohibitions on assisted suicide we uphold here.
And by the way, the Supreme Court voted unanimously (9-0) to uphold existing the statutes to preserve life and outlaw physician-assisted suicide. A unanimous decision--that's every Supreme Court justice from Ginsburg to Scalia. How often do we see such broad consensus on the Supreme Court?

I am very sympathetic to Mr. Newbold's situation, with my own father having recently undergone lung cancer surgery, and the death of my father-in-law from stomach cancer just months earlier. But I believe that if someone wants to self-destruct, they should do it themselves and leave the medical profession out of it. Kristof also seems to have forgotten that the physicians have taken an oath that says they should "do no harm" to their patients.

Finally, it wouldn't a Kristof opinion piece without a parting shot at President Bush.

When patients use the law, they typically set a date and gather family and friends around them. Those who have witnessed such a parting say it's not as morbid as it may sound. "It's pretty weird knowing what day you're going to die, but we could plan for it," said Julie McMurchie, whose mother used the barbiturates about a week before she was expected to die naturally of lung cancer. "Two of my siblings lived out of state, and they were able to come, so we were all present. ... We were all there to hug and kiss her and tell her we loved her, and she had some poetry she wanted read to her, and it was all loving and peaceful.

"I can't imagine why anybody would begrudge us that opportunity to say goodbye, and her that opportunity to have peace."

The same applies to Jack Newbold and everyone in his position. Mr. Newbold faces an excruciating choice in the coming weeks, and he's got enough on his mind without the White House second-guessing him.

Back off, Mr. Bush.
Presumably, Nick Kristof has plenty of time and a large in-house research staff at the Times to help him prepare his twice-weekly opinion pieces, for which he is compensated handsomely and given an enormous travel budget to explore each issue first-hand. Despite the huge resources at his disposal, Kristof usually neglects to tell his readers the complete story--very unbecoming for a Superman-wannabe. In this case, he has declined to inform his readers that the Bush Department of Justice is merely obeying a Supreme Court ruling made during the Clinton Administration. But then, Kristof wouldn't have much to write about as he plays Superman dashing around the world to save civilization.

Quick, someone toss me the kryptonite while Kristof's still on the West Coast.

UPDATE - Reader Rob (who is a lawyer) has kindly reminded me that the Justice Department's argument in Gonzales v. Oregon is based on the interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, and whether or not the dispensing and use of prescription drugs to commit suicide serves a "legitimate medical purpose". There is a nice summary at Duke Law School's website here.

A group called Not Dead Yet has filed an Amicus Brief in support of the Justice Department, citing Washington v. Glucksberg, the Controlled Substances Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's a great document, and wish I had read it before posting my original text.


At 7:39 PM, Blogger littleboxes said...

ah, the analysis we were looking for! It seems to be your opinion that it is OK to kill yourself as long as the medical profession is not involved. So hanging, shotguns, OK...barbituates not OK? How about illegally obtained barbituates? Of course, those would be illegal to use, so one is still breaking the law.

We agree that Kristof is a stupid ass 99% of the time. We also believe that he is incorrect to blame President Bush for the current laws.

The supreme court certainly has a point regarding the difficulty in defining a terminal illness. Yet most of us still support giving people the right to obtain (legally) drugs that will help them end their life. Are they terminally ill? We feel a doctor can make that decision. But, we've been wrong before (well, some of us have been wrong before).

At 12:32 AM, Blogger Da Man said...

No, I'm saying don't get the medical profession involved. It violates their physician's oath and takes us one giant step towards euthanasia. As for suicide itself, I am somewhat ambivalent, although I would not want someone I know to kill themselves.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

I oppose your pro-regulation stance.

The reason physicians have "taken an oath" is that a guild-like protectionist trade regime forces them to before they can work. I'm sure Soviet doctors "took an oath" to preserve Communism, but that is hardly an argument for the medical justification for Sovietism!

The trend in history has been for greater and greater individual empowerment. Kristof's fellow communist Tom Friedman calls globalization "super-empowerment," where individuals have more and more control over how they live their life. Continuing to focus on state- and trade- oriented restrictions and regulations seems unlikely to work in a world where patients are increasingly offshoring their own health care.

There are many far-worse forms of self-death that are rightfully protected. Why not allow individuals to contract for a more gentle one?

-Dan tdaxp

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