NRL News

NYT Op-Ed Pushes Assisted Suicide for the Mentally Ill

by | Apr 27, 2023

By Wesley J. Smith

The phony argument that legalized assisted suicide will permanently be limited to the terminally ill took a big hit by a New York Times op-ed in which an oft-suicidal Canadian philosophy professor, Clancy Martin, argues that mentally ill people who are suicidal should receive help from doctors to die.

Martin’s first paragraph makes clear why his thesis should be rejected out of hand:

My first attempt to kill myself was when I was a child. I tried again as a teenager; as an adult, I’ve attempted suicide repeatedly and in a variety of ways. And yet, as a 55-year-old white man (a member of one of the groups at the highest risk for suicide in America) and the happily married father of five children, I am thankful that I am incompetent at killing myself.

If a doctor had helped Martin, he wouldn’t be alive today to be happily married, a father of five, and published in the “newspaper of record.” When a doctor helps a patient die, either by prescription or lethal injection, the job gets done.

Rather than appreciate the gift of life he received as a result of doctors’ being prohibited from helping him die, Martin wants mentally ill patients to qualify for lethal overdoses — an act that doctors foreswear in the Hippocratic Oath:

One might expect that as someone who has repeatedly attempted suicide and yet is happy to be alive, I am opposed to euthanasia on psychiatric grounds. But it is because of my intimacy with suicide that I believe people must have this right.

It’s true that policymakers, psychiatrists and medical ethicists must treat requests for euthanasia on psychiatric grounds with particular care, because we don’t understand mental illness as well as we do physical illness. However, the difficulty of understanding extreme psychological suffering is in fact a reason to endorse a prudent policy of assisted suicide for at least some psychiatric cases. When people are desperate for relief from torment that we do not understand well enough to effectively treat, giving them the right and the expert medical assistance to end that misery is caring for them.

But that’s precisely when a compassionate psychiatrist may be able to stand between the despairing patient and the grave. And, as he apparently did, these despairing people often rally and find the strength to go on.

Martin does the “strict-guidelines-can-prevent-abuse” soft-shoe, but as we have seen over and over — in Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, and even the U.S. — guidelines offer a veneer of assurance and are liberalized and expanded as soon as the political paradigm allows. Indeed, in recent weeks, that is precisely what happened in Vermont, Oregon, Canada, and the Netherlands.

He concludes:

Suicidal people suffering from psychological torture should have the right to consult a medical expert about medical assistance in taking their own lives and be given that assistance if their need is justified. Having terrified or anguished people in acute mental suffering ending their pain by the many means available to them, often resulting not in death but terrible physical injury, is much worse, and it’s happening every day.

Who will be the “expert” to judge whether someone else has suffered enough? The patient’s doctor? If the doctor refuses, a suicidal person can go doctor-shopping with the help of euthanasia-advocacy organizations to find one who will say yes. Indeed, wherever euthanasia is legal, doctors participate in the assisted-suicide deaths of patients outside their own medical specialties.

We should never make suicide easy — the West is experiencing a suicide crisis, after all — and we should always strive to engage in interventions, whether the patient is suicidal because of cancer, a mental illness, or a calamity such as the death of a child. To do anything else is abandonment.

The question is whether we still care enough about each other for that to matter. At least Martin’s advocacy has the virtue of being an honest recitation of what euthanasia advocacy is really about.

Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear on National Review Online and are reposted with permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide