Killing in the Name of the Law

Put assisted suicide on the long list of issues that ought to be left to the states, but that I’d oppose in my own. In the name of civil liberties that conflict with the (until recently) long-standing moral consensus of our culture, we’re building a giant trap that will at some point close on us all — probably too slowly to cause alarm — and leave us absolutely free to drug ourselves into a stupor for a neighborhood orgy as a sendoff to a middle-aged friend who’ll be visiting the city death dispenser because public healthcare won’t cover his methadone anymore. As for practicing religion, speaking our minds on politics during campaign season, and engaging in productive economic activity… well, a culture’s got to draw the “unfree” line somewhere.
But back to states’ rights and euthanasia — sorry, assisted suicide. The problem with the state-by-state experiment model is that those who advocate for the creation of innovative culturally discordant laws have incentive to make their ill effects difficult to trace, and so we get a scenario such as Wesley Smith describes here:

These advances would not have happened but for a powerful myth promoted by assisted-suicide advocates and helped along by a compliant media: the notion that Oregon’s experiment with legalized assisted suicide has been a success, in which problems and abuses are rare or nonexistent. It is true that the annual statistical reports published by the Public Health Division (henceforth OPHD) of Oregon’s Department of Human Services have revealed very few problems. But there’s a reason for that: The reporting system was designed by the authors of the assisted-suicide legislation to be incapable of vigorous policing and in-depth data gathering.
As a result, nobody knows precisely what is going on in Oregon. The data in the state-published reports are based overwhelmingly on self-reporting by death-prescribing doctors — who are as likely to admit violating the law on this matter as they are to tell the IRS that they have cheated on their taxes. Indeed, as the bureaucrats charged with publishing the annual report admitted to an investigative committee from the British House of Lords, the OPHD engages in only very limited and random checking of the information it receives. Moreover, the department has no budget or authority to investigate apparent violations of the law, and all documentation relied upon in writing the annual report is destroyed once the report has been published. Dr. Kathleen Foley, perhaps the nation’s premier palliative-care doctor, and suicide-prevention expert Dr. Herbert Hendin wrote in the Michigan Law Review last year that the OPHD “does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.”

The cliché of the distopia is a sepia-hued society in which everybody fears to act — fears to do anything but work and support the government. The reality, I prognosticate, will be much more a colorful pictures of people free to indulge their darkest notions but undermined wherever they seek to build something positive.

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14 years ago

Assisted suicide is suicide with less suffering, since they can often do it right. Someone in that physical condition may try something (swallowing pills, slashing wrists?) that might not completely do the job. At least if someone like Kevorkian is helping, it’ll be done right with very little suffering. I’d never do it, I don’t think, but I support other people’s right to go out on their own terms.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
14 years ago

I am pro-life on the issue of abortion,but on this I believe that if someone with all their mental facultiess intact makes a decision to commit suicide due to a hopeless,painful,or tortuous medical situation it is not a crime for someone else with the correct ceddentials to help them make sure they go out with the least discomfort tp themselves and the least trauma to their loved ones.
Sticking a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger is a surefire way to accomplish suicide,but not everyone can do it,and it leaves a scene families will never be able to put out of their minds.
I sat with my grandmother who lived with us,and my father many years later as they declined in severe pain due to terminal cancer-neither considered suicide,in one case due to religious belief,and in the other case,just the opposite.
I agree with Patrick here.What I don’t want to see is the demonic social engineers that infest this administration set up a bureaucracy for this kind of thing.It is a private matter.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

I am always troubled when certain matters “move up the line” in terms of the level of government which controls them. So fas as I know, without torturous reasoning, various matters such as murder, abortion and now “assisted suicide” are not Constitutional issues. Under our sytem, that means that they are left to the states.
When they move to the federal level, they seem to expand. Take abortion, the original argument was to prevent “back alley” abortions. Now, the primary participants are middle class housewives. I know several “professional” women who have had 3 and 4 abortions. Aside from my own feelings on the matter, this just doesn’t seem right.
When it comes to assisted suicide, to some extent my sympathies are with the severely ill who cannot be helped. This does not lessen my fear that once it is a “right”, the standard will be lowered. Mild depression will be sufficent cause. Remember “Soylent Green”? If man can think it, he can do it.

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