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A too clever by half justification for physician-assisted suicide

by | Jan 14, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

assistedsuicide883The pro-assisted suicide forces (led by the “Compassion and Choices”–a misnomer if ever there was one) are keen on persuading legislatures to believe that its opponents are almost exclusively faith-based. The goal, obviously, is to marginalize and to imply that is the only reason people of good will can oppose physician-assisted suicide.

To be sure the coalition that is fighting assisted suicide in the United States includes every variation of religious belief. But it would have likely gone nowhere if its membership did not include disability rights organizations, healthcare workers , civil rights advocates , patient advocacy organizations, many medical organizations, hospice workers, and what bioethicist Wesley J. Smith describes as “egalitarian liberals.”

But Stuart Chambers, a professor in the faculties of arts and social sciences at the University of Ottawa and staunch advocate of physician-assisted suicide, claims to have looked behind the curtains. Sure, “over the years it has been not just the religious who opposed decriminalization,” he writes in a piece that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. “Over the past quarter century, staunch prohibitionists also included doctors, palliative care workers, ethicists, politicians and academics.”

But Chambers claims to have found something nobody else has: “Secular prohibitionists share the same moral foundations and values as their religious counterparts, chiefly among them, a belief in the sanctity of human life and a firm conviction that assisted suicide marked the beginning of a dangerous slippery slope towards involuntary euthanasia.”

Put more colorfully, Chambers says the “similarities” are “because many of these so-called secularists were just theologians in drag.”

“In other words,” he intones, “under the cover of some ‘official’ secular rationale, religious beliefs remain operative and are the primary motives behind the prohibitionist tendencies of secularists.”

Like most arguments that pretend to have uncovered the real truth beneath mere “appearances,” Chambers’ argument is more declaration than demonstration. And it is built on the assurance/assumption that those who believe they are secularists are unaware that they aren’t.

What Chambers is arguing is that if there is no proof of a “slippery slope,” then arguing that legalizing physician-assisted suicide for one category opens the door for many others is merely making a “claim.”

And “claims are not a substitute for evidence,” Chambers writes, “and without the latter, one is still adopting a faith-based position.”

So “outside of some anecdotal incident in Belgium involving a euthanasia zealot, “ the secularists are indulging in a kind of “eugenics scare.” Chambers announces, “There is little empirical evidence anywhere in the world that clearly demonstrates how the disabled en masse are being targeted or coerced to die.”

Wow! All that brilliance, all that insight, all that debunking of conventional wisdom–and in only 678 words.

Three quick thoughts.

#1. Chambers just flatly ignores every piece of evidence that demonstrates that physician-assisted suicide is riddled not just with potential abuses but existing abuses. And not just in Belgium. Moreover there are plenty of bioethicists who have been making the case for years that the only potential roadblock–“limiting” physician-assisted suicide” to the terminally ill–is stupid, discriminatory, and at odds with personal autonomy. If you want to die–more specifically, if you want assistance in dying–that ought to be your right.

#2. And that right, which Chambers manages to miss, is not just the individual’s to ask for “help.” It’s to dishonestly report how the person died and to compel unwilling physicians to participate. Look at Canada, Quebec, specifically.

“The Collège des médecins du Québec and pharmacy and nursing regulators have issued a Practice Guide directing Quebec physicians to falsify death certificates in euthanasia cases,” writes Michael Cook. “The physician must write as the immediate cause of death the disease or morbid condition and which justified [the medical aid in dying] which caused the death. It is not a question of the manner of death (cardiac arrest), but of the disease, accident or complication that led to the death. The term medical aid in dying should not appear on this document.

Moreover, the right to refuse to participate is under siege. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario wants to compel physicians to provide services to prevent imminent “harm, suffering and/or deterioration” [including physician-assisted suicide), even if doing so is contrary to their moral beliefs.

#3. Note the all-or-nothing way Chambers frames his dismissive brush off:

“There is little empirical evidence anywhere in the world that clearly demonstrates how the disabled en masse are being targeted or coerced to die.”

“En masse”? Like every person with a disability? That gives Chambers the out he needs.

“Targeted?” Who is the avant garde bioethicist’s first category to extend this “right” to? It’s always someone with physical or intellectual limitations. If not them, children.

“Coerced”? Why does virtually the entire worldwide disability rights community oppose physician-assisted suicide? Because they live in the real world. Referring to a proposal in New York, Marilyn Golden of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), explains

If this bill passes, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.

And , as Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown before he signed California’s physician-assisted suicide bill

But who actually has choice and control under assisted suicide laws? Anyone could ask their doctor for assisted suicide, but the law gives the authority to doctors to determine who is eligible. Doctors make the determination that a person is terminally ill and likely to die in six months, and that the request for assisted suicide is voluntary and informed. The advertised “safeguards” in assisted suicide bills are entirely in the hands of doctors, from the diagnosis, prognosis, disclosures, request form, decision whether to refer for psychological assessment, prescription and report after death.

Chambers’ argument is too clever by half, obscures what he pretends to reveal, and provides the kind of rationalization that could cheer up only proponents of physician-assisted suicide.

Categories: Assisted Suicide