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"Assisted Suicide: The Wind in Their Sails:" Digging Deeper Into Popular Support of Mercy Killing

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:14pm

After Washington voters passed I-1000 legalizing Oregon-style assisted suicide, First Things asked me to weigh in with some analysis. I look at the matter from two angles. The first is political. I noted that the assisted suicide movement had been essentially moribund since the passage of Oregon's Measure 16 in 1994, and that advocates had adopted an "Oregon plus one" strategy to restore their momentum, which finally succeeded last Tuesday. From my column:

And with that success, the sails of the ghost ship Euthanasia rippled with the briskly rising breeze, and once again began to plow through the waves toward other shores, far and near. Soon, legislation will be introduced to legalize assisted suicide in state throughout the country--California, Vermont, Arizona, Wisconsin, Hawaii, perhaps Ohio, and others--to make it Oregon-plus-two, -three, -four, and -five.

The victory will also be used to further the euthanasia cause internationally. Every time a legal sovereignty says yes to mercy killing, it grants permission for others to do the same. Thus, expect I-1000’s passage to boost the cause in countries such as Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand--to name just a few--all of which have been edging ever closer in recent years to joining the Netherlands and Belgium in permitting euthanasia, and Switzerland, which allows assisted suicide by lay facilitators.

The more important issue is why:
Think of it as a symptom rather than a cause. The euthanasia movement reflects a profound nihilism that has been spreading like a cancer throughout the West for the past hundred years.

The extent of our societal illness was described succinctly several years ago by the Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne. Writing in the wake of widespread public support for Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer who murdered his twelve-year-old daughter Tracy because she was disabled by cerebral palsy, Coyne wrote: "A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured."
I discuss three cases out of the UK, already dealt with here at SHS, as illustrations. The first is the horrible situation in which a suicidal woman drank anti freeze and was allowed to die by doctors because she had a note refusing treatment (even though she had called an ambulance). The second is the case of the parents who took their son, grief stricken after becoming paralyzed in a rugby scrimmage, to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. The third is the Debbie Purdy lawsuit, in which a woman with MS wants her husband to be able to take her to Switzerland with no legal consequences.

I conclude:
Doctors' letting Wooltorton die, James' parents taking him to Switzerland to die, Purdy's lawsuit agreed upon by her husband, and suicide-supportive columns like Purves' are unquestionably intended to be kind; but they are not. With such deaths emotively and sympathetically reported in the media, and with every lawsuit that chinks away at the laws intended to protect people with serious difficulties from suicide, mercy killing becomes more easily envisioned, more comfortably embraced.

By passing I-1000, Washington voters added dry kindling to this smoldering fire. If more of us don’t man the hoses soon, we risk being consumed by the flames.
I believe that support for I-1000 specifically and euthanasia generally, is a vote of no confidence in modern medicine, but also in the intrinsic value of life itself. It constitutes a breakdown of societal cohesion in which abandonment masking as "choice," trumps love and interpersonal commitment. Unless this trend is reversed--which I still believe is doable--we are heading into very dark days.

Labels: Assisted Suicide. I-1000. International Euthanasia Movement. Cultural Nihilism.

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