They Euthanized the King!

What Women Really Think
Sept. 3 2009 3:03 PM

They Euthanized the King!

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I just came across a fantastic historical footnote (thanks to reader Joe Garland) to the whole send-the-grandparents-to-their-deaths aspect of the health care debate. Drudge today has a banner headline about how  some terminally ill patients in Britain are being possibly hastened to their demise . It turns out this is a grand tradition, one that applies to both commoners and kings. King George V , who was inconveniently lingering in a lousy state of health, was euthanized by the royal physician with a dose of morphine and cocaine (a speedball!) in 1936. It was timed so that the death could make the morning edition of The Times . (Those were the days when newspapers had some clout!) Maybe the problem was that the chap had gotten terminally cranky. The initial reports were that his final words were, "How is the Empire?" But his physician noted that before the fatal dose, he was given a shot to help him sleep, at which he exclaimed, "God damn you." (Possibly the old boy’s bad mood was because he had overhead conversations regarding the next coronation.) This story seems ready-made as proof that if your fate is in the hands of bureaucrats, it doesn’t matter who you are, no one can save you. But remember that this took place long before the creation of Britain’s National Health Service, and that a man who has footmen was quite capable of footing the bill for any medical care he desired.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.