Physician-assisted suicide laws have opened a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences that are anything but compassionate or liberating.
Simon Binner killed himself on camera at a Swiss suicide clinic last October. His death aired last week as part of a BBC documentary on dying. Once we tried to stop people from committing suicide. Now we watch.
Advocates say it is “compassionate” to prescribe death-inducing chemicals to the terminally ill, thereby giving them a choice to end their lives “on their own terms.” They speak of dignity as if it were a condition of the body, rather than a quality of the soul.
I know how brutal dying can be. I’m a hospice volunteer, and I helped care for my own dad as he wasted away from terminal cancer. The fear of helplessness or suffering and the desire to end a person’s suffering is only human.
Enabling suicide, however, is not humane. In the five U.S. states and as many western countries that have legalized physician-assisted suicide, such laws have opened a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences that are anything but compassionate or liberating.
From Personal Choice to Imposed Death Sentence
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Five American states—California, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont—have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and advocates are pursuing legalization in a dozen more. In my own state of Colorado, the House of Representatives is advancing a doctor-assisted suicide bill, and voters may see a ballot initiative this November.
Hopefully Coloradans will not be deceived. What begins as a legal framework for doctor-assisted suicide for consenting terminally ill patients ends in a far darker place. In addition to the thousands of Dutch and Belgian adults who choose to commit suicide each year with doctor support, an untold number of disabled newborns, sick children, comatose patients, and patients with dementia are killed without their consent.
The rate of physician-assisted suicide has tripled since 2002 in Holland, where it accounts for one in 28 deaths. Mobile clinics now make house calls. Patients need not be terminally ill to request death. They need only convince two physicians that they are experiencing “unbearable” suffering. Patients with chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, depression, autism, and blindness have committed suicide with the help of their doctors.
When doctor-assisted suicide elevates suicide as a solution, it necessarily weakens the obligation of friends and family to make life more livable for the sufferer and renders the virtues of courage and endurance meaningless. With this option, the human spirit cannot transcend suffering. It does not endure with loved ones’ help. Instead, suffering gains complete victory over the sufferer, crushing the spirit before taking the body. C.S. Lewis once discerned, “Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man,” When we think we have conquered suffering and death, it has conquered us.
A Particular Threat to Disabled People
The disabled are particularly vulnerable. For this reason, advocates for the disabled like Coloradan Carrie Ann Lucas oppose assisted-suicide legislation. A mother of four and attorney, Lucas has a progressive neuromuscular disease similar to ALS (sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease).
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