The perils of ‘assisted death’


Recently a 104-year old Australian scientist killed himself in Switzerland and somehow attracted a huge amount of attention to his cause.

Australia doesn’t allow physician-assisted suicide and so the scientist, David Goodall, raised $20,000 to go to the land of cuckoo clocks and have his life exterminated on his own terms.

I sympathize massively with someone who wants to die, especially with the elderly who have often lost all of their friends, their spouse, and many of their family members, who are alone and suffering the manifold degradations of old age.

My first response would be that we as a society should make sure we expect one another to be there for our aging and infirm relatives and friends and not accept that making arrangements for them to enter a “home” fulfills our obligation to them.

Part of the reason we are increasingly permitting assisted suicide is because we as a society just want to be “done” with death. It’s such an unpleasant thing and few of us are able to “age with dignity” because of the inevitable unpleasantness that comes with old age or advanced sickness.

But the solution is not to shun these people out of sight and out of mind. For we all will, one day, die and so it is a condition that we should be most keen to be empathetic towards and supportive of. Because when we reach our final days, we’ll certainly want to be surrounded by loved ones who continue to love us even though we no longer “have value.”

That last term is really the hinge of this discussion on assisted suicide (not “death with dignity” or “aid in dying”; such euphemisms are the Orwellian facilitators of lies, like “terminating a pregnancy”). We have become VERY materialistic in our age, present company not excepted.

I don’t necessarily mean it in the consumeristic sense, thought that too is a problem, but rather in terms of believing people only “have value” if they create value or add value to society. Such an assumption precludes spiritual value, since spiritual value can be added by someone in a comatose state, or can be induced from a fully conscious person by someone in a vegetative state.

No, what I mean is that we only value people as long as they’re able to buy things, make things, generate income, etc.

People like David Goodall, or Alfie Evans, or an unborn child diagnosed with Down Syndrome, are very often deemed by society (and governments) as “not having value” because their existence is a net drain on societal resources. And so, as is more and more the case, we have determined that the best solution is extinguishing such lives.

You don’t have to be a genius to realize that this logic was exactly that of the Nazis, who set up their death camps for eliminating “lives unworthy of life.”

So when we give in to the pleasant old man who just wants to die in peace and dignity, we think we may be doing him and the world a favor. But in fact, we are crossing a red line where we begin saying it’s okay to terminate life if it no longer has value.

Perhaps Mr. Goodall was of sound mind and body when he made that decision for himself, but what happens when a teenager decides she no longer wants to live? Do we take her down to the local death doctor for elimination? Or when someone struggling with Alzheimer’s is deemed by their spouse to no longer be capable of living with value?

The slippery slope in this case is real and very steep. In Holland, where euthanasia has been allowed since 1984, the strict guidelines put in place to regulate it have gradually been worn down and cases of abuse are rampant. Recently, an octogenarian woman with dementia was forcibly injected after the sedative dropped in her apple sauce failed to render her sufficiently docile. She had not given consent, but had written in an advanced directive that she would permit euthanasia “when I myself find it the right time.” She was denied that “right time” and instead was deemed ready to die by a group of doctors and nursing home managers.

Once again, when we give ourselves or our government the right to determine when innocent life can be ended, we create a situation highly vulnerable to abuse and corruption. More importantly, we further diminish the reverence for human life that must serve as the cornerstone of a flourishing and meaningful civilization.

Trey Hoffman
Peachtree City, Ga.