Assisted Suicide: People With Disabilities Are in the Crosshairs

October 20, 2008

This is how the culture of death moves toward cultural hegemony: The first step is to claim that killing (which is descriptive and accurate in that it means “to end life”) will be reserved for the very rare case. But as soon as that premise is accepted, the acceptable category of killable people steadily increases.

Now in a tragic case in the UK, we see that very process in action. An athlete who became paralyzed and subsequently suicidal, was taken by his parents to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. From the story:

From the moment that Daniel James drank the milky liquid and laid his head on the pillow, there was no going back. Within minutes his eyes had closed, his breathing slowed and then he was dead, his once-vigorous body peacefully but lethally shut down by the barbiturate solution he had swallowed…

In the room with the 23-year-old when he died were his parents Mark and Julie. Their grief was tempered only by the knowledge that this was the end that Daniel, who had been almost completely paralysed in a rugby accident, had desperately and determinedly sought. Yesterday Maitland, a supporter of the right to die movement who has spoken to Julie James, said: “When Dan found out about Dignitas he knew that he wanted to go. It was simply his decision and no one else’s.”

Well, he wanted to die, many will say. Wouldn’t you? My answer is I hope not. But if I did, I would also hope that my society would care more about me than I cared for myself in the not unlikely chance that I would eventually adjust to the new difficult circumstances, and thrive. Happens all the time.

But Daniel’s case is now being used politically to promote the legalization of assisted suicide. A Times columnist named Libby Purves has swallowed the hemlock, arguing that assisted suicide, which she says should really be called aid in dying, since we musn’t be accurate with our lexicon, should be legalized, but probably only for the terminally ill, except it is clear that she doesn’t really mean it. Plus, she doesn’t even have her facts right. From her column:

However, assisted dying is not the same thing as assisted suicide. Even in Switzerland it is illegal to help a healthy but depressed person to die

Not true. The assister just has to not have a venal or bad motive. Besides, that’s exactly what happened here, the assisted suicide of a depressed and healthy man! Unless one believes that disability equals sick. Besides, all of that is irrelevant since Switzerland’s Supreme Court created a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill anyway, so it comes close to death on demand.

Purvis then, wringing her hands in the typical style of those who promote the death culture as a matter of compassion, oh so earnestly prattles on about how in the UK, assisted suicide would probably be limited to the terminally ill. Oh really? Than why does she support the lawsuit of But Debbie Purdy, a woman with MS, who wants her husband to be able to help kill her when she wants to die?

Debbie Purdy has an incurable degenerative disease and all she wants is permission to shorten the last painful months. Knowing there is an escape route might be so comforting that you never use it. Many terminally ill people willingly live each day, particularly if they get palliative care and comfort from the hospice movement rather than suffering in a stressed, overlit general hospital. But the law on Swiss-bound helpers must be clarified. Dignitas will not be un-invented.

Debbie Purdy wants to be able to be killed if she decides her disablities make it not worth going on. Remember, MS usually isn’t a fatal disease. From the Telegraph:

Debbie Purdy suffers from a progressive form of multiple sclerosis that will lead to the degeneration of her body. When she feels she cannot go on she wants to be able to end her life at home, surrounded by her loved ones, but because of the country’s “inhumane” law against assisted suicide she says she is unable to do so. Instead, she says she will have to make arrangements while she is still able so she can travel to Dignitas, the Swiss clinic that helps people end their lives by lethal injection, but fears her husband will be prosecuted if he helps her do so.

But Purvis has accepted the premise: So, even within one column, she can’t hold tight to a “terminal illness” restriction, and the slippery slope slip, slides away.

I know, I know: I am mean. How dare I criticize people’s intimate decisions. Judgmental moralist! I’ve heard it all.

But it seems to me that I care more, not less, than those promoting the death agenda–not only for the those whose lives have been lost forever, but for the people whose spirits are increasingly burdened and crushed by the rush of society to sanction mercy killing. And believe me, I hear from them. And in their letters to me are increasingly despairing of a society that they have begun to believe doesn’t give a damn whether they live or die.

Actions like the assisted suicide of Daniel, Purdy’s lawsuit agreed upon by her husband, and supportive columns like Purves’s are cruel, even though they are unquestionably intended to be kind. With every such death emotively and sympathetically reported in the media, with every lawsuit that chinks away at the laws intended to protect people with serious difficulties from suicide, mercy killing becomes more easily accepted. In this sense, the be all and end all justification–“choice”–actually promotes the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living and that those folk who have such lives should be facilitated in ending it all instead of being rendered care and suicide prevention services to help them past the yawning darkness.

And so the foundations crumble.

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