Website Hit Counter
Free Hit Counter

Quotidian Video

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Slippery Slope

I recently read an infuriating essay written on doctor-assisted suicide. There are so many aspects to this issue that really bug me, so i'm going to try to attack the author's points and go even further.
The main point the author argued was that personal autonomy and freedom was more in danger of being eroded by a slippery slope of making doctor-assisted suicide illegal. He said that pro-lifers used logical fallacies in arguing that doctor-assisted suicide would lead to euthanasia and eugenics. Just because they involve a 3rd party doesn't mean they are logically related.
What he fails to address is the psychological impact of "death with dignity" on society. We saw what happened with contraception; what started off as a tool to help married couples space births for legitimate reasons became a tool to help unmarried women avoid pregnancy and married couples to avoid children for illegitimate reasons. We went from a society where children were seen as a natural occurence in marriage (a blessing) to believing children can be burdens if we want to engage in immoral activities without responsibility.
If you look at "death with dignity" you can see how the same thing can so easily occur in the American psyche. What one person deems as an undignified death warranting suicide, another may be willing to tolerate because they see things in life that make living with pain or the embarrassment of a colostomy bag worth dealing with. As soon as one person makes the comment that his/her mother opted for death rather than to be a financial burden or a burden who required care because of her bedridden status or any other trivial reason, a person who wants to continue living for the same trivial reason may feel shame for choosing to be a burden on their family. Her adult children may feel irritation at her selfish choice for life. Pretty soon choosing death with dignity becomes an obligation because other people have decided that your wants are undignified. If you don't think this is realistic, ask a woman who "chose" to have 6 children how many times people have respected her choice despite the fact that she was married and financially stable. We hate kids now; soon we will hate the elderly.
My suspicion is that this is a concerted effort by pro-eugenics people. You really don't need a doctor to commit suicide. If you're in a bad way medically, how hard is it to obtain enough medication to O.D.? How hard is it to kill yourself using conventional methods? What people suffering in chronic pain seek in doctor-assisted suicide is not necessarily help in killing themselves, but rationalization from a higher authority that what they want is acceptable. Suicide carries a negative stigma, but somehow if a doctor says it's okay, it makes you feel better about your decision. In France, a woman recently killed herself after losing a court case to obtain doctor-assistance in the matter. Why did she need to involve a doctor at all? She wanted to feel right about the decision. Family members want reassurance from a doctor that hastening the death of a loved one is acceptable because they feel horrible watching them suffer. These are understandable feelings, but a doctor is not a moral authority, and while easing physical pain is moral and compassionate, killing someone outright is neither.
I think people who suffer with terminal illnesses are being used in the doctor-assisted suicide debate. Instead of being given moral alternatives and counsel by clergy, they are given a bleak analysis by an increasingly indifferent and utilitarian medical staff. Eugenicists know that by gaining respectability for this immoral practice, it helps move things closer to ridding the world of other "useless eaters". How much longer will it remain optional to screen pre-born children for genetic abnormalities? As human beings, it takes love and patience to serve the elderly, the mentally disabled, and other people with less "quality of life". When we as human beings are no longer challenged to love the most vulnerable among us because they have been mercifully exterminated, we become coarsened and weaker.
As Catholics, we need to inform ourselves of Church teaching on this issue, live those teachings when our parents get to that stage, and witness to our children through the way we deal with their grandparents that caring for the sick and disabled is an opportunity for spiritual growth and service to Christ Himself, not a burden. We need to be sure, too, that everything possible is done to alleviate the physical pain of those who suffer so we don't get accused of advocating sadism (thank you very much, Christopher Hitchens). And finally, if we're lucky enough to see our golden years, we need to pray for the strength to endure suffering, the humility to be served as needed, and that our children do what we've taught them in Christ's love.