“You don’t see people marching in the street demanding the right to be killed by a doctor,” Attorney and Award winning Author Wesley J. Smith told a packed conference room at Saturday’s East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide in Hartford, Conn., coordinated by the Family Institute of Connecticut and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
“Suicide pushers are a small group. We look like America, they don’t,” Smith emphasized.
The “we” to whom Smith referred, are essentially anyone for whom legally sanctioned, assisted suicide poses a very real risk. The elderly, the frail, the mentally ill, those who face serious illness or disability of any kind– all eventually may be judged as “better off dead” in a culture where the solution to suffering is to kill the sufferer, Smith told the audience.
“We’re not talking about a theoretical slippery slope, we’re talking facts on the ground,” he said.
Yet, despite their small numbers, the persistent efforts of the “suicide pushers” to pass legislation to allow doctors to help patients kill themselves have begun to change the national consciousness about suffering and perhaps more significantly, about those who suffer. The exploitation in recent weeks of Brittany Maynard by Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, has catapulted the topic into the headlines and onto social media, putting a sympathetic, but deceptive face on the realities of legalized assisted suicide.
The cultural consciousness about suffering is quickly devolving into a mindset where anyone who suffers is viewed as the “cause” of suffering—their own, and the suffering of those around them. As Smith aptly demonstrated with numerous examples from the United States and around the world, any one of us may one day be at risk if the “suicide pushers” succeed. Elder abuse is already a serious problem in the U.S., and legally-sanctioned doctor-prescribed death will only exacerbate cases of abuse. Over the past 30 years in the Netherlands, legal euthanasia has expanded to include children, the mentally ill, and people with disabilities as diverse as blindness, anorexia nervosa, and autism. There have been cases where elderly married couples afraid of leaving one another widowed have been euthanized together, on request, to avoid being left alone. It’s entirely legal, and what’s more—approved by society at large. Smith provided some chilling anecdotes of witnessing the applause of onlookers at staged home suicides, a macabre tableau which he labeled, “Cruel and Unusual Death with Dignity.”
Smith’s message, a theme repeated by speakers throughout the conference, was clear: when society accepts killing as a solution to some kinds of suffering, it is only logical that it will eventually expand to include killing for any suffering. The so-called “choice” to die will become a “duty” to die.
Conference attendees heard from numerous speakers who described personal experiences with such attitudes, including:
- Maggie Karner, a woman with glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer, the same cancer that Brittany Maynard had until her suicide on Nov. 1. Her video plea to Maynard to rethink her suicide went viral: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZR-qB3HaQY
- Tom Mortier, a Belgian man whose otherwise physically healthy mother was legally euthanized by her psychiatrist, after requesting death in response to her suffering from chronic depression, and without the knowledge of her family. http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/how_my_mother_died
- John Kelly, a leader in the disability-rights group Second Thoughts-Massachusetts; http://www.second-thoughts.org/
- Kathy Ludlum and Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts Connecticut
True Dignity plans to report in more detail on some of the presentations and themes that emerged from the conference over the next few days.