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THE SECOND ACTION SACKETT took, wrote Horkan, is that he “announced publicly that his bill would permit doctors at the two Sunland hospitals for the profoundly retarded in Florida — one in Tallahassee and one in Orlando — to withdraw or withhold medications and treatments, including antibiotics, from patients, thereby saving the taxpayers of Florida $5 million per year.
“He said to private groups several times that this was the only way that he could get other legislators to take an interest in his bill because so many of them were only interested in financial and money matters.”
On August 7, 1972 — according to the March 7, 1974 Senate testimony of four U.S. cardinals — Dr. Sackett testified “before a U.S. Senate Committee on the topic of death with dignity. At that time Dr. Sackett approvingly quoted a statement made to him by a medical director of a Florida hospital for the care of the severely mentally retarded, to the effect that 90% of the 1,500 mentally retarded now in two Florida hospitals should be allowed to die. Dr. Sackett invoked the cost-benefit model. The money now used to care for these severely retarded individuals could be more usefully diverted to other causes.”
So, even before Roe v. Wade, Sackett was taking pro-death proposals to a federal audience.
In any event, his propagandizing for passive euthanasia in Florida, wrote Horkan, “energized two organizations of parents of Sunland patients to become politically active, resulting in the establishment of the Florida Association of Retarded Children (now Florida Association of Retarded Citizens) to lobby against the Sackett bill.”
In 1973, Sackett got a response on the national level as well. The National Association for Retarded Citizens on November 2 adopted a resolution opposing House Bill 407 of the Florida Legislature.
After summarizing the bill and Sackett’s comments on financial benefits, the resolution declared that “it is a basic Constitutional principle that all citizens including mentally retarded persons are entitled to equal rights and equal protection of their rights including the right to preservation of life.”
Furthermore, “a diagnosis or prognosis of mental retardation in and of itself should never justify the withholding of treatment or care, or the termination of such person’s life by withholding medical treatment or procedures.”
NARC also resolved to attack any such legislation wherever it was proposed.
HB 407, like Sackett’s other anti-life proposals, never became law.
BUT WHAT IF IT HAD, and passive euthanasia of the severely mentally handicapped had become legal?
What if, lacking opposition from the right to life movement and its allies, passive euthanasia had been legalized throughout the country? Some of the soil for that was right.
Immediately after Roe v. Wade, Sackett said that his mail was coming in ten to one in favor of his HB 407 (AP report cited in the Wanderer, April 12, 1973). While some families saw a mentally handicapped child as a blessing, others did not. One mother reportedly referred to her Down syndrome child as an “uncomprehending vegetable” and said “I would elect to have Elaine die, if I could.”
Also, an article in the October 25, 1973 New England Journal of Medicine indicated that 14% of recent deaths in a Yale-New Haven special care nursery were due to withholding treatment.
In this cultural context, what if the logic of Sackett’s proposals had been carried forward? We would have not only passive euthanasia of the mentally handicapped, but also active euthanasia. It’s a commonplace that the one will follow from the other, as providers will want to end the patient’s suffering as expeditiously as possible.