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.