Last week, the Fresno Bee ran an op-ed I wrote in opposition to proposals to expand physician-assisted suicide in California, proposals advocated by the Los Angeles Times in a recent editorial. I would encourage our supporters to check my piece out here.
The piece to which I responded was alarming not only for its content—advocating to expand assisted suicide eligibility from patients with a 6-month terminal diagnosis to those with a 12-month diagnosis, including those with Alzheimer’s and ALS—but also its source, the LA Times. The Times is the largest newspaper in the state, and its editorial board is well connected with lawmakers and policy advocates in Sacramento. I fully anticipate that the ideas in this editorial will be introduced as legislative proposals in early 2019.
Assisted suicide is often difficult to oppose, because of our culture’s emphasis on individual freedom and autonomy. How do we argue against it? Let’s think about it.
Our law and public policy are premised on the idea that human life has enormous dignity and value, and that the power of the state must work to shield everyone from acts of private violence. When we deviate from the ideal of government protecting all innocent human life, atrocities result.
In America, chattel slavery was the clearest example of such moral failing. The key problem with slavery was legal—that slaves had no legal protection from acts of private violence, that the state would not protect them from physical harm. Legalized abortion has become our age’s most gruesome deviation from the ideal.
The state’s duty to protect human life from private violence also extends to violence against the self. This is why our law, public policy, and police protocols authorize private individuals and police to forcibly stop someone from killing him or herself. We punish those who assist others in suicide as accessories to murder. All human life is valuable, even when an individual does not see the value of his own life continuing.
Legalized assisted suicide alters the ideal of the government protecting all human life. It is premised on the idea that some lives—in California, the lives of those with a six-month terminal diagnosis—are less worthy of protection. Once we cross this line of defining some at the end of life as less-than-human, the category expands to include those whose end-of-life care is particularly onerous. This is why advocates for persons with physical and mental handicaps are so universally opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia—such persons tend to become the targets of “compassionate” death, as is happening right now in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Last Tuesday, the nation mourned the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush at the age of 92. In her last days, Mrs. Bush decided to decline further medical treatment to deal with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She demonstrated the difference between assisted suicide—in which humans take their lives actively—and the legitimate practice of refusing extraordinary means of care, and accepting death as it arrives.