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Assisted suicide: An idea that loses its appeal when it is understood

by | Mar 17, 2016

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

assistedsuicide883The state of Minnesota is currently debating assisted suicide bill SF 1880. There was a hearing Wednesday in the Minnesota Senate’s Health, Human Services and Housing Committee on the bill.

Yesterday, an article by Charles Camosy, “Assisted suicide: An idea that loses appeal as it becomes tangible,” appeared in the local Star-Tribune newspaper. After reading Camosy, a professor of bioethics at Fordham University, liberals may find themselves opposed, as they should be.

Camosy first explains how education and liberal opposition to assisted suicide was important in defeating a measure in Massachusetts:

The truth about assisted suicide is that it 1) takes time to understand and that it 2) turns political stereotypes on their head.

Let’s go back to June 2012, five months before the elections that year. Massachusetts has assisted suicide on the ballot. Polls indicate “overwhelming support” in that liberal state: 68 percent support legalizing it, while 19 percent favor its remaining illegal.

But then something remarkable happened. The people of Massachusetts began to understand the issue.

Support of assisted suicide is thought to be a liberal idea, but supporters often sound quite conservative. “I want my personal freedom! Government stay out of my life! My individual rights trump your view of the common good!”

The summer of 2012 saw Massachusetts liberals calling this out. Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, published a piece titled “Question 2 Insults Kennedy’s Memory.” Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. also wrote a piece arguing against the measure, “Liberals Should be Wary of Assisted Suicide.” Disability-rights and physicians groups also were fundamentally opposed.

The result? In a mere five months, the liberal case defeated assisted suicide.

Camosy then explains assisted suicide’s inevitable slippery slope:

Virtually everyone is sympathetic in cases of extreme and unbearable pain, but palliative care and terminal sedation now can keep patients from feeling it. Indeed, physical pain doesn’t even make the top five reasons people choose assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is more about not wanting to be a burden on others and having control over how one dies. But especially in a culture that prizes autonomy and freedom, it just isn’t clear — once we open the door — how we can put limits on this choice. Why, as in the case of Oregon, limit it to those who will die within six months? Why not six years? Why must one be terminally ill at all? If it’s simply “their choice,” why any limitation?

Think this is scaremongering? Consider the Netherlands, a country with a similar love for individual autonomy, which has had euthanasia for two generations. It first was permitted only in a case of “hopeless and unbearable suffering.” But two years ago an otherwise healthy woman, who asked to die because she was going blind, was euthanized. Thousands of Dutch have called for euthanasia for people over 70 who are “tired of life.” Along with those who argue for assisted suicide in Minnesota, the dominant value in the Netherlands is personal freedom and choice. Who are we to judge?

Camosy then explains why liberals should oppose assisted suicide:

Against the individualist approach, liberals focus on how policies impact vulnerable people who are pushed to the margins. In a youth-worshiping culture, older people are understood as a drain or burden on their families and society. Hardly surprising, then, that older people would feel “tired of life” and seek a way out. But it is diabolical to make it easier for vulnerable people on the margins to kill themselves. Good liberals must absolutely affirm the goodness of their existence — especially when the surrounding culture can make them feel unwanted and burdensome.

Finally Camosy uncovers problems with assisted suicide as practiced in Oregon

Cracks are already starting to form in the policies of states with legalized assisted suicide. In Oregon, physicians have witnessed depressed patients receiving deadly drugs. Minnesota’s bill follows Oregon in requiring that death be fewer than six months away. But Jeannette Hall, who at first requested assisted suicide after being told she had six months to live, is alive today (15 years later) because she kept fighting.

Yes, our health care system has terrible gaps that cause tremendous suffering for patients and their families. But the proper response, especially from liberals, should be to work to reform. Let’s kill the pain, not the patient. Care and accompaniment must trump violence and abandonment.

Camosy is right. Let’s kill the pain, not the patient.

Editor’s note. This appeared in

Categories: Assisted Suicide