(RNS) — Only a few U.S. states have formally legalized assisted suicide, but for decades bioethicists have worried about what might be called “stealth euthanasia,” when a medical professional actually induces death of the patient he cares for simply stopping treatment or stipulating doses of opiates at levels that kill them.
It can be difficult to know when such euthanasia has taken place. As long as one is not aiming for the death of his patient, there are legitimate circumstances in which a doctor can make one or the other choice.
Then there is cases like that of Ryan Hayes.
After he was admitted to an Ohio intensive care unit in April 2017, a doctor named William Husel gave Hayes 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that is deadly even in small doses. The dose Hayes received, said Dr Wesley Ely, an expert witness in Husel’s trial last month, was enough “to wipe out an elephant”.
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Husel is accused of hastening the deaths of 14 people, including Hayes. Ely described the amount Husel prescribed as “astonishing” and “breathtaking” and likened it to “driving 250 mph through a school zone while people are crossing the street”.
There is nothing in the medical literature that discusses this kind of practice. “There’s no literature at all,” Ely testified, “because nobody does that.”
Patients like Ryan Hayes can be cared for by Husel very sick, but it wasn’t their illness that killed them. Husel killed them, Ely testified.
For the record, Ely is not one to “avoid death at all costs” – far from it. In conversations I had with him for this column, Ely said he helped countless families grieve and come to terms with the impending death of their loved one. The families are so grateful that he sometimes receives Christmas cards from them for years after the death.
There are small graces in these cases that make a huge difference. If a ventilator needs to be removed, Ely said, he makes sure it’s done in the middle of the day when the family has had a chance to rest and prayerfully reflect on what they might need. say and do for their own healing before their loved one passes away. In many cases in which Husel was charged, Ely told me, the family was not kept informed and the act was committed at night.
When the defense attorney had the chance to cross-examine Ely, she did not examine his claims about science and medicine. Instead, she went after her Catholicism.
She basically accused him of being a publicly religious health care provider, as if that in itself was disqualifying. She pointed out that – horror of horrors – he received an award from the pro-life Catholic Medical Association.
Ely had no interest in denying that he is a proud and devout Catholic. (Indeed, he told me he prayed the rosary in his pocket for much of his time on the stand.) But he stressed that it had nothing to do with the medical judgments he made. or the medical expertise he used. to do them.
But this lawyer’s attack could well land with the jury. As I wrote in my new book “Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Undermines Basic Human Equality” In recent years, a new kind of hostility has developed towards any hint of faith in the practice of health care. This hostility aims, at least in part, to keep violent acts like euthanasia and abortion free from criticism.
The idea that health care should be a religion-free zone is absolutely bizarre. Consider history: Western medicine – and what we think of as hospitals – originated with the Catholic Church. Today, a large number of American hospitals and clinics have been established and supported by orders of nuns.
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Even today, 1 in 7 people seen in a hospital are seen in a Catholic facility. Millions and millions of health care providers in the United States are deeply religious. Indeed, the reason many Christians turn to health care is to imitate Jesus, who is often called the great doctor.
But as the wars on euthanasia and abortion escalate, we see more and more cynical moves like the legal maneuver targeting Dr. Ely. This not only creates an artificial and ridiculous barrier between faith and health care, but casts deep suspicion on anyone who dares to publicly admit that their religious vocation and their vocation as a health care provider bear on any of the issues. controversial of our time. .
We must not let our disagreements on these admittedly essential issues cloud our view here. Technical expertise is essential for health care, of course. But the motivation to practice health care very often comes from a religious place. And when a supplier publicly acknowledges this, it’s anything but disqualifying. It is deeply honourable.