When people decide to go into the field of health care, it’s often with the goal of saving lives — not taking them. Yet sometimes, the job of saving lives is subverted, especially when abortion and euthanasia — acts of clear killing — are touted as health care. Some workers have said they thought they were going to be helping people, only to realize too late the tragic truth.
And while things like abortion and euthanasia affect women and the families left behind, the reality is that the act of killing affects health care providers, too.
Euthanasia causes “deep distress”
Across the globe, euthanasia has been rapidly growing in popularity. More and more governments are legalizing it, even as many doctors refuse to participate. But this often means lawmakers will apply more pressure on the doctors to partake in medically-assisted dying. One study, for example, found that the longer medical students are in school, the more likely they are to oppose euthanasia. And when health care professionals, hospitals, and hospices refuse to participate, they can face repercussions — like one Canadian hospice, which was shut down in retaliation.
Now one book claims doctors who participate in euthanasia experience serious distress. Francois Trufin, a hospital emergency nurse and president of the ethics committee of a neuropsychiatric center in Namur, contributed to a book detailing the experiences of Belgian doctors and nurses with euthanasia.
“More often than not I have been a direct or indirect witness to the deep distress doctors experience when they perform euthanasia,” he wrote. “Such was the experience of a qualified doctor who told me he had performed euthanasia several times in the care institution where he works. His eyes filled with tears as he confessed that some nights he wakes up in a sweat, seeing the faces of the very people he has euthanised in front of him.”
Eric Vermeer, a palliative care nurse, said another nurse he knew had a husband who underwent euthanasia. “This nurse was in great distress. This is what she told me,” Vermeer recounted. “My husband was euthanized and I am not even certain that he met the conditions of decriminalization. He was indeed suffering, but the medication relieved his pain. For days and days, I asked myself what was the right day to make him die, but I could not even speak to him about it. Finally, together with the doctor, we agreed on a date, but since I had promised to say nothing to him, I was not able to say to him, ‘I love you,’ or ‘Thank you.’ The day of his euthanasia both of us died – he physically and I mentally.”
Williams Lemmens, a professor of philosophy and ethics, argued that euthanasia upends the entire medical system. “It affects the physician inevitably as a human being and gives him or her a power which is from a juridical point of view immense,” he said. “No matter how you turn it, the depenalization of euthanasia allows a doctor to break a commandment on which in principle the entire legal order is built. Because of this transgressive nature, I believe that euthanasia can never be conceived of as a purely procedural act, which follows the logic of supply and demand.”
Palliative care doctor Marie Frings pointed out that after a euthanasia killing, “there is a chilling silence in the ward, nothing like the reflective silence following a natural death.”
“The atmosphere following a natural death is different from that following euthanasia,” she continued. “People are upset too, but it is not the same. There is not a deliberate act to cause death.”
Abortion staffers and trauma
It isn’t just euthanasia that has a negative effect on those committing it. Abortion staffers have also spoken frequently about being traumatized.
Dr. Rebecca Holmes, who still supports legal abortion, practiced for a time on how to commit D&E, or dilation and evacuation, abortions. But she stopped because she felt that abortion destroys a child.
“I knew I wouldn’t. I just didn’t want to. I just did not enjoy pulling the fetus out,” she said, adding, “That part actually wasn’t the problem for me, it wasn’t the choice. It was more just the sadness that the mother would, you know, that the child couldn’t have a chance… And personally, I just didn’t want – I just felt like I’d done enough. I just did not want to do them anymore.”
Another doctor said he struggled during abortion training with the notion of trying to save a premature baby one day and kill another the next. “I think when we did the second trimesters and learned D&Es and such, that’s always harder,” he said. “In the same [time period] you’re doing rotations in [premature obstetrics] where you’re… giving meds to these babies and trying to save them.”
Mother Jones once reported on the reactions from abortion interns, with one even becoming sick. “[The abortionist] intently leaned in closely and methodically pulled piece after piece of the fetuses out of the mother’s uterus, ignoring the attending staff’s whispers of horror — ‘It’s twins. It’s twins’ — to each other,” the Mother Jones article read. “The intern reacted violently, running home, throwing up, and asking herself, ‘Is this right?’”
In a book, Jerome S. Legge Jr. wrote of how difficult abortions are to witness for medical staff, especially the first time. “One physician who… refused to perform D&E abortions commented, ‘Killing a baby is not the way I want to think about myself,’” wrote Legge. He went on to say, “Two physicians who did perform D&E felt strong emotional reactions during or following the terminations and had ‘occasional disquieted dreams.’”
Planned Parenthood abortionist Lisa Harris also spoke once about a study from late-term abortionist Warren Hern. “Hern found that D&E was ‘qualitatively a different procedure – both medically and emotionally –than early abortion,'” she wrote, adding, “Many of his staff members reported: ‘…serious emotional reactions that produced physiological symptoms, sleep disturbances (including disturbing dreams), effects on interpersonal relationships and moral anguish.’”
Other staffers at abortion facilities have said they experience nightmares, and pathologists have said they were traumatized by the bodies of aborted babies. Another nurse spoke of still having nightmares, 20 years later, while others had regular “emotional breakdowns.”
One abortionist, Benjamin Kalish, summed up the problem with both euthanasia and abortion perfectly. “Even now I feel a little peculiar about it,” he said. “Because as a physician I was trained to conserve life, and here I am destroying it.”
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