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“Right to Die” Can Become a “Duty to Die”

Wesley J. Smith

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Vulnerable people can be bullied into assisted suicide, believes Wesley Smith.

Imagine that you have lung cancer. It has been in remission, but tests show the cancer has returned and is likely to be terminal. Still, there is some hope. Chemotherapy could extend your life, if not save it. You ask to begin treatment. But you soon receive more devastating news. A letter from the government informs you that the cost of chemotherapy is deemed an unjustified expense for the limited extra time it would provide. However, the government is not without compassion. You are informed that whenever you are ready, it will gladly pay for your assisted suicide.

Think that's an alarmist scenario to scare you away from supporting "death with dignity"? Wrong. That is exactly what happened last year to two cancer patients in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.

Barbara Wagner had recurrent lung cancer and Randy Stroup had prostate cancer. Both were on Medicaid, the state's health insurance plan for the poor that, like some NHS services, is rationed. The state denied both treatment, but told them it would pay for their assisted suicide. "It dropped my chin to the floor," Stroup told the media. "[How could they] not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?" (Wagner eventually received free medication from the drug manufacturer. She has since died. The denial of chemotherapy to Stroup was reversed on appeal after his story hit the media.)

Despite Wagner and Stroup's cases, advocates continue to insist that Oregon proves assisted suicide can be legalised with no abuses. But the more one learns about the actual experience, the shakier such assurances become.

At a meeting in the House of Commons on Monday night hosted by the anti-euthanasia charity Alert and Labour MP Brian Iddon, I hope to bring home to MPs and the British public just how dangerous it would be to legalise euthanasia. The Oregon experiment shows how easily the "right to die" can become a "duty to die" for vulnerable and depressed people fearful of becoming a burden on the state or their relatives. I know that a powerful and emotive campaign is being waged in the UK media – using heart-rending cases such as multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy – to inveigle Parliament into changing the law.

Miss Purdy, who lost in the Appeal Court on Thursday, wants to secure a legal guarantee that her husband would not be prosecuted if he accompanied her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland – one of the few places where euthanasia is legal. Much as I sympathise with her plight, such a guarantee would lure us on to the slippery slope where the old and the sick come under pressure to end their lives.

Read the entire article on the Telegraph UK website (new window will open).

Posted: 01-Mar-2009



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