Who Killed Grandpa?

In 2002, twelve states considered legalizing so-called "physician-assisted suicide," like the Oregon law adopted a few years ago. While none of the proposals passed, advocates of what is farcically called "death with dignity" will keep on trying. Christians need to expose "death with dignity" as the inhumane fraud that it is. A good place to start is by looking at what happened to one Christian family in the Netherlands. Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Holland since 1973. This makes the Dutch experience a lesson in what we can expect to happen if we follow its example. And it's a lesson that should scare anyone who anticipates ever getting sick or old -- as the Reitsema family learned. Grandpa Reitsema was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And while his lymphoma was terminal, he was expected to live for a few more years. And he would have, if his nursing home had been located someplace other than Holland. The first hint that something was amiss came when one of his daughters tried to give him some water. A nurse entered the room and said, "Don't give him water." When the daughter asked why not, the nurse replied, "You're not allowed to give him anything to drink. . . . " What the Reitsemas didn't know was that their grandfather's doctor had, as Jonathan Imbody of the Christian Medical and Dental Society put it, "aimed to kill" Grandpa. Without consulting his patient or the family, the doctor had "quietly ordered nurses to administer overdoses of morphine while withholding food and water." By the time the Reitsemas understood what was going on, it was too late. Grandpa died the day after his daughter's run-in with the nurse. The Reitsemas' attempt to figure out what had happened led them to discover what Imbody calls the "dirty Dutch secret": Seventy-five percent of the time a Dutch doctor acts to hasten a patient's death, he acts without the patient's permission. By some estimates, more than five thousand Dutch patients are killed each year by their doctors. In other words, physician-assisted suicide has turned into involuntary euthanasia -- or, as it is called in more traditional societies, murder. Of course, advocates of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia don't see it that way. When Grandpa Reitsema's daughter confronted the doctor, he replied, "But he was sick! Don't you understand, don't you get it? I was just helping him out. . . . " The grandson, a disciple of Francis Schaeffer, told Imbody that the doctor's worldview and the family's represented two "radically opposed" worlds that "couldn't meet." "[The doctor] couldn't understand my aunt, and my aunt couldn't understand him. . . . " That the doctor couldn't understand why someone would regard life as sacred and object to involuntary euthanasia is almost as frightening as what the doctor did to Grandpa. What's just as frightening is how close that worldview is to what's being taught in American medical schools and in American medical journals -- something I'll address tomorrow. The Reitsemas' story is a cautionary tale about what awaits us if we go down the same road as the Dutch: a world where the sick have good reason to fear their doctors. For further reading and information: Jonathan Imbody, "Deadly Diagnosis in the Netherlands," Family Voice, January/February 2001. See the Christian Medical and Dental Association's commentaries on assisted suicide. "Dutch legalize euthanasia," BBC News, 1 April 2002. Rev. Randall E. Otto, Ph.D., "Care for the Dying: The Church and Hospice," Quodlibet Journal 3, no. 2 (spring 2001). Marvin Olasky, "Whistling past the graveyard," World, July 7/13, 2002 (free registration required). Gilbert Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians(Eerdmans, 1996). Mark Blocher, The Right to Die?: Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia (Moody Press, 1999). Learn how you can make a difference in the culture with the "BreakPoint Culture of Life Packet." It includes the booklet "Building a Culture of Life: A Call to Respect Human Dignity in American Life" and a "BreakPoint This Week" special broadcast CD that includes an interview with Wilberforce Forum Fellow William Saunders, Human Rights Counsel and Senior Fellow in Human Life Studies for Family Research Council, along with a speech, "Bioethics and the Clash of Orthodoxies," by Dr. Robert George.


Chuck Colson


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