Within the next few months, we will know whether California will join Oregon and legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for the terminally ill by passing AB 651. The CBC believes that permitting doctors to perform PAS on dying people would be wrong and a form of abandonment. As the New York Task Force on Life and the Law wrote in its seminal 1994 report When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context, “the vast majority of individuals who are terminally ill or facing severe pain or disability are not suicidal. Moreover, terminally ill patients who do desire suicide or euthanasia often suffer from a treatable mental disorder, most commonly depression. When these patients receive appropriate treatment for depression, they usually abandon the wish to commit suicide.” Thus, the proper and truly compassionate approach to suicidal desire-whatever its cause-is prevention, not facilitation
Beyond this basic point, legalizing assisted suicide for the dying would quickly expand to include many other categories of despairing people. This flows with the unremitting force of logic from the two fundamental intellectual principles-autonomy and the propriety of death as an answer to human suffering-that underlie PAS advocacy. John Finnis, the 2006 winner of the CBC’s Paul Ramsey Award summed it up well when testifying in the House of Lords against the recently defeated “Joffe Bill” that would have legalized assisted suicide in the United Kingdom:
If autonomy is the principle or the main concern, why is the lawful killing restricted to terminal illness and unbearable suffering? If suffering is the principle or concern, why is the lawful killing restricted to terminal illness?
Finnis’ point is that regardless of whatever restrictions might be placed initially into a legalization law, once the two principle premises of assisted suicide advocacy became accepted by a broad swath of the medical professions and the public; there is little chance that those eligible for permitted suicide would long remain limited to the dying.
We need only look to the experience of the Netherlands to see the social forces unleashed by legalizing the euthanasia/assisted suicide. Since the Netherlands first permitted euthanasia in 1973, the parameters of medicalized killing in that country have expanded steadily to include not just those with terminal illnesses, but also people with chronic conditions, disabilities, and the debilitations of age. Moreover, repeated Dutch government sponsored studies have found that doctors kill approximately 1,000 patients each year who have not asked to be killed. Euthanasia has also entered the pediatric wards where eugenic infanticide has become common. According to two studies published in the British medical journal The Lancet, approximately 8% of all Dutch infant deaths result from lethal injections.
Assisting the suicides of the depressed was approved explicitly by the Dutch Supreme Court in the case of psychiatrist Boutdewijn Chabot, who facilitated the suicide of his patient Hilly Boscher in 1991. Boscher wanted to die because her two sons were dead. Chabot never attempted to treat her. After interviewing her to determine her sincerity and motivation, he assisted Boscher’s suicide. Tellingly, the Dutch Supreme Court approved, ruling that it does not matter whether a patient’s desire to die is caused by physical or emotional suffering.
The experience of the Netherlands illustrates why the CBC is so committed to opposing assisted suicide. Not only has euthanasia clearly become a system of “legalized murder,” but even worse, the Dutch people-who would once have been appalled at their doctors killing disabled babies and assisting the suicides of depressed patients-have become so desensitized to the wickedness in their midst that majorities now support their country’s radical death policy.
Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the CBC. He will be testifying in favor of instituting federal policies against assisted suicide before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, & Property Rights later this month.
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