Posts tagged with: assisted suicide

Last Thursday at Rome’s (but technically part of Vatican City) Pontifical Lateran University, Istituto Acton held a day-long conference on “Ethics, Aging and the Coming Healthcare Challenge.”

It was a successful event, if a bit unusual compared to some of our other Roman gatherings. It’s not often that an Acton conference is so focused on the finality of death, after all; we often stick to the other “inevitability” of life, i.e. taxes. Yet in both spiritual and economic terms, there’s no sense in denying it.

The conference covered many different aspects of the changing demographics affecting health care, ranging from declining fertility rates to pharmaceutical research to pensions to hospice care. One of the main objectives of the conference was to help participants understand how both ethics and economics can work together to help us confront the challenge of aging populations.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and Family, the Centro di Orientamento Politicio, Associazione Famiglia Domani, Human Life International, and Health Care Italia. As you can tell from the nature of these organizations, we sought to place health care issues in the context of the family, following Catholic social teaching’s emphases on this fundamental institution and the principle of subsidiarity.

Here are audio clips from three of our speakers who appeared on Vatican Radio’s English World News service:

Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, click here

Dr. Daniel Sulmasy of the University of Chicago, click here

Dr. Michael Hodin, executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, click here

For the first time, we live-streamed a conference on the Acton website, and we’ll soon post the conference papers and presentations as well as related media on the Istituto Acton webpage.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Sunday, June 3, 2007

The pro-assisted suicide movement always couches its argument in terms of “compassion” and “choice,” downplays the word “suicide,” and breezily dismiss any counter arguments about the (very real) slippery slope that will accompany the legalization of the practice. For example, here’s a section from the FAQ of the Compassion and Choices website:

The slippery slope argument hypothesizes that legal aid in dying will lead to forced euthanasia. Slippery slopes are precarious situations that one step logically necessitates subsequent steps. This does not define aid in dying, which is always dependent upon one individual. That said, we recognize that any law is subject to abuse, which is why the Oregon law and other proposed legislation have built-in safeguards.

The breezy dismissals are a little harder to swallow when reality looks like this:

Prosecutors are calling for tougher regulations on Switzerland’s assisted suicide clinics after uncovering evidence that some of the foreign clients they help to die are simply depressed rather than suffering incurable pain.

The clinics, which attract hundreds of foreigners, including Britons, every year, have been accused of failing to carry out proper investigations into whether patients meet the requirements of Switzerland’s right-to-die laws.

In some cases, foreign clients are being given drugs to commit suicide within hours of their arrival, which critics say leaves doctors and psychologists unable to conduct a detailed assessment or to provide appropriate counselling.

I don’t know; is suicide cheaper and more effective than, say, Paxil or Cymbalta?

Let’s face facts: when you deny that human life has intrinsic value from start to finish, and substitute the idea of “quality of life” as the sole determining factor as to whether someone can live or take their own life, you’re marching full tilt down a path that leads to people killing themselves to avoid the pain of a completely treatable condition – and worse.

Why is this man smiling?

Assisted suicide crusader Dr. Jack Kevorkian is out of prison as of this morning. For a good recap on who Kevorkian is, what he proposes for society, and just how creepy the man really is, I encourage you to check out Wesley Smith’s article at National Review Online. A sample:

…most of Kevorkian’s “patients” were not terminally ill, but disabled and depressed. Several weren’t even sick, according to their autopsies. Moreover, Kevorkian never attempted to treat any of the 130 or so persons who traveled to Michigan to be hooked up to his suicide machines to die either by drug overdose or carbon monoxide poisoning.

And as for compassion — forget about it. Kevorkian was never in the killing business to alleviate unbearable suffering. Indeed, over the course of decades he repeatedly explained his ultimate goals in professional journals and in his 1991 book, Prescription Medicide. As Jack Kevorkian articulately expresses it himself, compassion had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Kevorkian’s adulthood obsession has been to perform live human experimentation on people he was killing.

No doubt this event will bring the issue of physician assisted suicide to the forefront of our national dialogue for a time. I added my two cents to this debate almost two years ago and I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already said:

We hear a lot in our society about the importance of “death with dignity.” Often this phrase is used in the promotion of physician-assisted suicide by people who argue that those with terminal illnesses should have the right to “hasten their death” in the face of suffering. In so arguing, however, advocates of assisted suicide reinforce the idea that those who suffer have no intrinsic value as human beings that would cause society to favor sustaining their life; and as a result they strip those who suffer of any dignity at all. They seem to say that the terminally sick and aged have no inherent dignity – but it can be earned by choosing suicide.

The assisted suicide movement – like so many well-meaning “compassionate” efforts – fails because it does not recognize the inherent worth of every man, woman, and child. Dignity and value are not commodities that rise and fall on some moral market in response to the fluctuations of human frailty. They are intrinsic to what we are as humans. They are a part of our very nature, as real a part of us as the blood that flows in our veins.

These thoughts come to mind as I read of the passing of Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern Hospice movement. Her life’s work has allowed countless individuals to face the end of their life with some amount of physical comfort, often in their own home surrounded by their loved ones. There is a profound truth at the core of the movement that she founded: that dignity in death comes not through the act of dying, but through the act of living one’s life to the fullest until death.

You can read the full post here.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, my grandmother, and the other friends and loved ones now departed who demonstrated to me – in the midst of their suffering – the true nature of dignity at life’s end.

More: Jordan Ballor sent along links to three commentaries written by Rev. Robert Sirico in 1996 and 1998 on the topic of Dr. Kevorkian’s activities; they’re all well worth a read as well:

  • How About a Debate, Dr. Kevorkian? (October 26, 1996): “I am challenging Jack Kevorkian to a formal debate on assisted suicide. I’d like this debate to go beyond the legality or illegality of his practice, and even beyond the facts of the many cases of suicide in which he has assisted. These are the areas most critics concentrate on, whereas he and I both know that real issue here is the morality or immorality of the ‘right-to-die’ position itself, and the ethical implications of assisting people in exercising this supposed right.”

  • Kevorkian’s Moral Lapse in Right to Die (December 1, 1996): “The faxed response from Geoffrey Feiger reads: ‘”‘Keep your religious nose out of medical affairs,” says Dr. Kevorkian and me.’ I take from this that Dr. Kevorkian thinks people of faith–and 95 percent of Americans describe themselves as such–have nothing to contribute to the subject of medical ethics.”
  • Terminal TV (November 25, 1998): “What the man actually wants to legalize, it is now apparent, is the untrammeled right to pull the trigger on anyone he deems ready to die anyway – a step from ‘assisted suicide’ to outright medical homicide, an action that violates every code of medical ethics.”