Doctors pushed paralyzed Irish man to refuse ventilator and die

“For me, they were asking me to take my own life. Or to endorse euthanasia.
I refused,” writes Simon Fitzmaurice in a moving article.

BY Hilary White

DUBLIN, April 12, 2011 ( – In a powerful op-ed in
today’s Irish Times, an Irish man with degenerative motor neurone disease
(MND) has revealed how he was heavily pressured by the medical community to
refuse the ventilator that is keeping him alive.

After having been admitted to intensive care for pneumonia, a common
complication for paralyzed patients, Simon Fitzmaurice began receiving
assisted breathing and a feeding tube. Shortly after being admitted,
Fitzmaurice said, a doctor came in and told him it was rare and expensive
for patients to have a ventilator at home.

The doctor told him, with his wife and mother present,  “That it is time
for me to make the hard choice. He tells me that there have only been two
cases of invasive home ventilation, but in both cases the people were
extremely wealthy.”

“He looks at me. ‘This is it now for you. It is time for you to make the
hard choice, Simon.’ My mother and my wife are now holding each other,

But Fitzmaurice’s instinctive reaction was for life: “While he is
looking at me, my life force, my soul, the part of me that feels like every
part, is unequivocal. I want to live. It infuses my whole body to such an
extent that I feel no fear in the face of this man.”

Two days after this encounter, he wrote, he and his family were informed
that the home ventilator he needed was covered by Ireland’s national
health insurer, the Health Services Executive (HSE), and that the home care
package needed to run the machine could be covered by the HSE and his

Fitzmaurice recounts that was later asked by a neurologist why he wanted to
live, even though he had a degenerative disease that would eventually kill
him. His answer: “Love for my wife. Love for my children. My friends, my
family. Love for life in general. My love is undimmed, unbowed, unbroken. I
want to live. Is that wrong?”

“Motor neurone disease is a killer. But so is life,” continued
Fitzmaurice. “Everybody dies. But just because you die, just because you
will die at some point in the future, does that mean you should kill
yourself now? For me, they were asking me to take my own life. Or to endorse
euthanasia. I refused.”

Experts say that Fitzmaurice’s experience is not uncommon and that
incidents like these are becoming a trend in medical practice – a trend
that has become nearly universal in developed countries, especially those
with nationalized, government funded health care.

“Sadly, his story is all too common,” said Alex Schadenberg, head of
Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Schadenberg said that philosophical trends away from traditional medical
ethics, combined with massive tax-funded health care systems, have given
rise to a new utilitarian-based ethical paradigm in treatment decision

Under this paradigm, called bioethics, Schadenberg said, “value judgments
and negative attitudes toward people with degenerative conditions have led
to imposing death on people who are vulnerable.”

Hospital bioethics committees now routinely decide to withdraw treatment
that could save lives, based on the principle of “patient autonomy” that
holds it is in the patient’s “best interests” to be “allowed to
die,” often by the withholding of food and water.

These decisions are increasingly being taken without the consent, and
sometimes actively against the will, of the patient and his family. In some
countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, the new ethical system has
led to legalized euthanasia and widespread abuse of the legal
“safeguards” surrounding it.

Recent studies out of Belgium have shown that 32 percent of all legal
euthanasia deaths are committed without request or consent by patients or
families and only 47.2 percent of all euthanasia deaths are reported. In the
Netherlands, the number is 550 deaths without request or consent each year
and at least 20 per cent of all euthanasia deaths unreported.

Schadenberg said, “Everyone needs to be aware, society is already imposing
death on vulnerable people and if euthanasia or assisted suicide becomes
legal then it will simply be done in a quicker and quiet manner.”

As for Fitzmaurice, he writes: “I do not speak for all people with motor
neurone disease. I only speak for myself. Perhaps others would question
whether or not to ventilate. But I believe in being given the choice, not
encouraged to follow the status quo.”

“I am not a tragedy,” he said. “I neither want nor need pity. I am
full of hope. The word hope and MND do not go together in this country. Hope
is not about looking for a cure to a disease. Hope is a way of living. We
often think we are entitled to a long and fruitful Coca-Cola life. But life
is a privilege, not a right. I feel privileged to be alive. That’s

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