California Assisted Suicide Bill Can’t Stop Exploitation of Elderly, Disabled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 7, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Assisted Suicide Bill Can’t Stop Exploitation of Elderly, Disabled Email this article
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by Wesley J. Smith
April 7, 2007 Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

Here we go again. For the fourth time in eight years, a bill is moving through the California Legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

If history is any guide, assisted-suicide proponents and the media will cast the debate in strictly religious terms — as the Catholic Church versus rational modernists. But the coalition opposing AB374 is a broad and diverse political alliance that vividly reflects California’s unique multiculturalism.

Leading the charge against the latest assisted-suicide bill are disability rights advocates — the nation’s most effective anti-euthanasia campaigners — who are overwhelmingly secular in perspective, liberal in politics and pro-choice on abortion. They will be working closely with civil rights activists. (The League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization, is on record as firmly opposing assisted suicide.)

These groups will be joined by medical, nursing and hospice professionals — with organizations such as the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association adamantly opposed to transforming assisted suicide into a medical treatment.

Add advocates for the poor, such as Oakland’s Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals, mix in religious conservatives, and it becomes clear that assisted-suicide opponents have forged a potent, strange political bedfellow alliance that bridges the usual liberal versus conservative, secular versus religious, and pro-choice versus anti-abortion disputes that divide the country.

Why would people who fundamentally disagree about other issues ally against assisted suicide? One of the most important reasons is that assisted suicide ultimately devalues those it supposedly protects from so-called "bad deaths." Indeed, legalizing and popularly legitimizing assisted-suicide opens the door to an epochal shift in the way society perceives dying, disabled and other suffering people.

To see why this is so, consider the pillars of assisted-suicide ideology. The first is a fervent devotion to personal autonomy that views "choice" as the be all and end all of liberty. The second is the conviction that ending life is a legitimate answer to the problems of human suffering.

Advocates of assisted suicide may claim that hastened death is "only" for the dying. But given the conjoined beliefs that drive assisted-suicide advocacy, other than as a temporary political expediency, why should the "ultimate civil right" — as some assisted-suicide proponents call it — be limited to those diagnosed with terminal illnesses? After all, many people suffer far more intensely and for a longer period than the dying.

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