- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

Power to kill or to comfort?

In "At deaths door with dread," columnist Cal Thomas and Oregon assisted suicide advocate Bruce Fein debate a key ethical distinction between the legally established right to refuse treatment and a supposed right to assisted suicide (Commentary, April 17). The tragic truth is that so-called "death with dignity" measures like those adopted in Holland and Oregon unwittingly translate into a right to kill.

During several months of research in the Netherlands interviewing the victims of the fatally flawed Dutch euthanasia policy, I heard firsthand what happens when doctors make decisions about killing patients. Henk Reitsema, a Christian scholar living in Eck en Weil, described the arrogance of the physician who devastated his family by unilaterally ending his grandfather´s life:

"There was something very unreal about the doctor who euthanized my grandfather and his perception of what life meant," Mr. Reitsema explains. "The framework is radically different. And the whole connectedness with other people was totally absent from his mind. The doctor thinks, 'This guy´s life isn´t worth anything, his standard of life isn´t worth living, so let´s just save them all the effort.´ It´s a very mechanical mode of thinking."

Dutch politicians and health officials, like those in Oregon, are careful to emphasize a system of controls designed to ensure patient autonomy. In practice, however, those controls function as a fairy tale. Dutch medical surveys reveal that in three out of four cases where doctors intervened to hasten death, the patient did not give permission. When a doctor can serve as judge, jury and executioner, it is no wonder that thousands of wary Dutch citizens now carry documents saying they do not want euthanasia. Instead of giving patients the ultimate in self-determination, Holland´s dance with death has proven to be the fastest way for patients to lose autonomy.

Mr. Fein, a Compassion in Dying advisory board member, quotes Oregon bureaucrats´ sterile statistics of state-sanctioned suicides as if they represent objective truth. Oregon´s assisted suicide program mandates that the specifics of assisted suicide records be kept hidden from the view of media and the public. Who can possibly detect and trace abuses? Will a violating doctor chronicle his misdeeds? Can the dead patient testify of coercion? Will government bureaucrats readily reveal evidence that could unravel the state´s reputation?

If laws concerning the dying need liberalizing, let us liberalize laws to allow physicians to aggressively yet ethically prescribe pain relief. Instead of giving doctors the power to kill, let us give them the power to comfort.



The writer is senior policy analyst of the Christian Medical Association

Blue skies ahead for air travel

Your April 4 editorial "The increasingly unfriendly skies" compels me to set the record straight. The 11th annual Airline Quality Rating report to which you referred misleads the public and relies on questionable methodology to reach its "conclusions."

The authors write in their report, "Weights were established by surveying 65 airline industry experts regarding their opinion as to what consumers would rate as important (on a scale of 0 to 10) in judging airline quality."

What qualifies these so-called, unidentified experts? Do the personal opinions of 65 unnamed persons represent the views of the some 665 million passengers who traveled safely, and by and large without service difficulties, aboard U.S. airlines last year? Certainly not.

The report extrapolates from the 23,381 total complaints filed at the Department of Transportation (DOT) from January to December 2000 and attempts to apply that small sample, representing 0.000035 of the passenger enplanements in 2000, to the entire system. How can 65 undisclosed "experts" take complaints from 0.000035 percent of airline customers, attach arbitrary weights to this raw data and assume this accurately represents the entire industry? They cannot.

The airline industry is working every day to make the travel experience as pleasant as possible and freely acknowledges it can do better. That effort, however, is ill served by the hollow grandstanding of the "Airline Quality Rating."

I would ask you to keep in mind the enormous growth experienced by this industry, such that demand for air travel is outpacing the ability of the air transport system to respond adequately demand is overwhelming capacity. Delays, cancellations and gridlock lead to customer frustration that affects customer service.

I hope you will join with us to promote policies that will enhance capacity to meet the needs of the traveling public and, in turn, improve the air travel experience. Air travel is the safest mode of transportation in existence, and our goal remains to make it safer, more efficient and more affordable.


President and chief executive officer

Air Transport Association


Congress, mayor should respect role of council in D.C. General decision

Your April 17 editorial "The battle of D.C. General" argues that Mayor Anthony A. Williams should veto the D.C. Councils counterproposal to his plan to privatize D.C. health care services, reasoning that the councils plan would keep the Districts public hospital, with inpatient and trauma care, through the end of the fiscal year. The editorial reported, "The cost of the privatization plan is an estimated $75 million a year, and the contract would cover about five years, giving city leaders enough time to iron out a long-range plan."

I am not an opponent of privatization, and I am sure that the District´s public health care system for the poor and uninsured can be made more efficient. But the words "estimated" and "about" in the context of a long-term taxpayer liability is not comforting and appears to support what opponents of the mayor´s proposal have been saying: There is no long-range plan.

The District´s home-rule government has executive and legislative branches, a traditional separation and balance of powers. I admire and respect Mr. Williams. But when my elected officials on the council are unanimous on an issue, I take their opinions seriously. I cannot, however, take The Washington Times seriously when it describes an expected unanimous council override of a mayoral veto as "an all-expenses paid self-governance kick" and accuses that body of practicing "student government."

The editorial praised Mr. Williams for arguing that a council override will erode self-government and "invite congressional involvement in this purely local matter." That argument is dreadful and twisted. If the mayor fails to persuade a majority of the public and the council of the merits of his plan, and the Congress involves itself in this local matter either directly or by extending the control period, it will be for one of two reasons: Either the mayor invited Congress to override D.C. self-government, or Congress wants to privatize the District´s locally funded public health care system and is not interested in what D.C. citizens think.

If the District had a true republican form of self-government, citizens wouldn´t be threatened with its removal every time their elected officials do not make what Congress or its agents believe is the "right" policy choice.



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