By KATHY SCHMUGGE
LEXINGTON — Corpus Christi Church’s Respect Life Committee invited one of the country’s most compelling speakers to address life and death issues. No one could be more equipped to deliver such a talk than J. Wayne Cockfield, an articulate Vietnam veteran from Florence, who tragically lost both legs and the full use of his right hand during the war at the age of 20.
The recipient of the Bronze Star with a “V” for heroism spoke from experience to those gathered at the Lexington church on Oct. 15. He brought new insights to the discussion of assisted suicide and euthanasia. As a disabled person, he is targeted for these killing methods that are now legal in the Netherlands and gaining acceptance in the United States.
“I am living in the bull’s eye of euthanasia because every right-to-die case has involved a disabled person,” said a passionate Cockfield, who believes the chronically ill, disabled and elderly could be next on the culture of death’s hit list.
Evidence of this growing threat can be seen already in the United States, where poor, disabled people are refused treatment in certain hospitals because of the financial risk of treating them.
“In 1973, a decision was made to allow the killing of a group of people (unborn). Who is next, because the victims always expand?” he asked. Cockfield recognized a historical precedence for a domino effect of devaluing life, once society begins judging a group of human beings “less than human.”
Cockfield travels extensively for the National Right to Life Committee promoting public awareness about the present and growing threat of euthanasia. In his presentation, he exposed some of the common misconceptions circulating around the public debate.
“First, dying and killing are not the same,” he explained, “Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not for those who are dying but for those who will not die.”
While praising the work of Hospice, he showed the clear distinction between providing comfort for someone in their final days as Hospice does and killing someone directly or indirectly through euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Probably the most common and flawed argument for assisted suicide and euthanasia, according to Cockfield, is to spare the patient pain. After spending two years in the hospital, undergoing 27 operations, Cockfield is intimately familiar with pain.
“Death is not an appropriate pain medicine,” Cockfield said, adding that experts report that 98 percent of all pain can be treated. He believes the reason people still suffer pain is that some doctors are unable to keep up with the cutting edge in pain management, a problem that can be resolved through training programs.
“Pain management was not as sophisticated in 1969 as it is today,” he said, “and yet I never once wanted to be killed. God made us to want to live.”
Unfortunately, political language has been used in the debate to make killing more palatable and accepted by the public. “Choice” and “a right to die” are terms used by advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Cockfield has trouble with them. He cannot see a person having a real choice when made to feel a burden, forced to obey the provisions in a purposely vague living will, and denied pain medication or treatment for depression.
He described the limited choice of a patient in Virginia who is withheld life saving treatment because his “quality of life” a highly subjective term that was determined by a medical ethics board to be poor.
Certain deceptive words, according to Cockfield, can be used in documents like a living will giving a person a sense of false security. For example, the words “terminal illness,” used in a living will, means any illness that cannot be cured, which is not the common definition. According to this definition, someone with diabetes could be considered terminal and be refused routine treatment if such a will is on file at the hospital.
One obvious motive behind the push for assisted suicide/euthanasia is money, according to Cockfield. For example, a poor person with cancer in Oregon would have to pay for pain medicine but would be offered a lethal injection for free. Denying treatment, turning off respirators, and refusing medications have now become realities at U.S. hospitals that look at the cheaper way to treat high-cost, non-profit patients such as the disabled and chronically ill.
“If you take morality out, the cheapest way to treat the sick is killing,” he said.
Cockfield discussed ways in which medical professionials encourage the “cheaper” alternative. A hospital in Columbia had a patient who was in a serious accident and paralyzed. The patient was told, “If you love your family, you will let us turn off the respirator. With all the medical costs, you don’t want to lose your house ”
Cockfield’s own mother was awakened at 4 a.m. while in a hospital to sign a living will. When she refused, the nurse said, “You don’t want to be a burden on your family? You don’t want them to suffer?”
To illustrate the severity of the situation, he explained how the parents of a newborn with Down syndrome refused a routine surgical procedure for their daughter and allowed the hospital to starve her to death. The chart read, “Do not feed and do not hold.” Ironically, 14 days later on the same day the child died, a veterinarian received five years in prison for starving a German shepherd dog.
As Cockfield describes the dark curtain coming down on a seemingly apathetic world, he believes the tide can turn if people are informed about the realities and the means to curb their growth.
“First, elect pro-life leaders who will help promote legislation that protects all human life. Second, get rid of vague living wills and replace it with “A Will to Live” distributed by S.C. Citizens for Life; and last, convey your wishes to your family, so they can be your advocates,” he concluded.
In all that Wayne Cockfield has been through, he has gained wisdom. One lesson he has learned is that “your level of personal happiness is not based on physical appearance or ability.”
If that message were accepted, the fear of disability or illness would not consume the culture into devaluing those with less than perfect bodies.