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Book Review -- Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

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Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder
Wesley Smith
Spence Publishers, 2003
364 pages, $17.95 paperback

Winning the War Against Euthanasia

The war against euthanasia can be won writes Wesley Smith in his newly revised book "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder." The intentional killing of disabled people is not something that most Americans support. Recent events such as the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and the ban on partial birth abortion support his assertion.

Yet death activists are tenacious and won't give up without a fight. What they cannot get from voters they will try to get from state legislatures (an increasingly difficult tactic), or from the courts. Wesley writes that their power derives from a deliberate effort to blur traditional moral categories. They argue that killing disabled or elderly people is a benevolent act, and when these arguments are heard over and over again in the medical community and elsewhere, they foster a moral confusion that opens the social spaces where the dark work of intentional killing takes place.

Wesley writes that death activism obliterates communal values. It jettisons the traditional belief that the strong should bear the burdens of the weak, and replaces it with the utilitarian precept that the weak have value when they are not a burden to the strong. "Ordered liberty" dissolves into the cost/benefit calculus of the medical technocrat. Life and death become economic decisions.

This drift into a "euthanasia consciousness" is part of the larger cultural decay that is aided and abetted by political activists and informed by theorists like Princeton's Peter Singer. Singer's "Rethinking Life and Death" can "fairly be called the Mein Kampf of the euthanasia movement," writes Wesley. Singer rejects all appeals to moral universals or the received moral tradition when valuing life. His moral ground is strictly utilitarian.

Adding to this drift is what Wesley calls "terminal non-judgmentalism." He writes, "Our society has become so steeped in relativism, so unable to distinguish right from wrong, that it fails to react to and criticize truly reprehensible conduct." Silence in the face of intentional killing makes the killing acceptable, thus silence is the soil for advancing the euthanasia ideology. Moral courage, not politically correct non-judmentalism, is what our culture sorely needs to reverse this dehumanizing trend.

"Death fundamentalist" is a strong term but one Wesley applies to the death activist. The fundamentalism is revealed in a quasi-religious fixation with death that many activists share. Wesley writes that Dr. I. van der Sluis, a Dutch doctor who "has opposed Holland's slide down euthanasia's slippery slope for more than twenty years" reports that euthanasia advocates "...are like a little church, a cult of death...always obsessing on dying and the suffering that may be part of dying." (Before he became famous, Jack Kervorkian was fired from a hospital because he sneaked into the rooms of dying patients to watch them die.)

That death activism takes on a cultic character is not surprising. When rejecting the moral precepts that guided how Judeo/Christian culture viewed life and death, the activist must necessarily reject the religion from which the morality was drawn. However, since the activist needs to reference the transcendent if he wants to understand death in any meaningful way, he is forced to create a religion of his own. A deeper look at this cultic dimension would likely reveal articles of faith that function to justify the activist's public declarations and public actions to himself.

Nevertheless, light dispels the darkness and Wesley marshals plenty of examples to expose the lie that the euthanasia movement is driven by benevolence towards humanity. Particularly revealing are cases where people are killed even though their illnesses were treatable, or when they were depressed or mentally ill. Wesley draws the distinction between real futile care (by which he means treatments that provide no real physiological benefit), and the definition employed by death activists which grants health care workers the authority to withhold treatment even against a patient's wishes, or when the potential for improvement of a patient's health still exists. The activist does not want to heal. He wants to determine who lives and who dies.

Wesley argues that medical professionals who favor euthanasia are biased against their patients. Several years ago in San Francisco, a nine year old was intentionally injected with potassium chloride to stop her heart when she suffered brain damage because of neglect arising from jaw surgery. The case is still shrouded in secrecy. The anti-life bias can affect the diagnoses of unconscious patients as well. A study published in the June 1991 Archives of Neurology reported that out of 84 patients diagnosed with persistent vegetative state (PVS), fifty-eight percent recovered consciousness within a three year period. If the death activists had their way, they would be killed before they awoke.

In the chapter "Common Arguments for Euthanasia," Wesley effectively dispels ten dominant myths about euthanasia. For example, death advocates want to characterize euthanasia solely as a religious issue (tearing a page from the abortion activist's playbook), thus marginalizing their opposition as moral cranks. But euthanasia, while drawing on deeply held moral precepts, is nevertheless a vital public policy question which groups like "Not Dead Yet" (disabled people against intentional killing and obvious targets of the death activist's gun) make abundantly clear.

Another myth Wesley tackles is that euthanasia concerns only the "hard cases." Hard cases (by which he means situations where a patient's pain cannot be alleviated through standard therapies) are extremely rare. Wesley quotes Dr. Linda Emmanuel, director of the Institute of Ethics for the American Medical Association, "I have never seen a case nor heard of a colleague's case where [euthanasia] was necessary. If there is such a request, it is always dropped when quality care is rendered."

"Final Exit" is valuable for a reader who is looking for a comprehensive but accessible book about the euthanasia movement's ideology, tactics, and goals. Wesley doesn't pull punches. His critique is sharp, well documented, contains scores of examples, and rings with moral clarity. Anyone who values life should read it.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Reprinting allowed. Please click copyright notice for details.



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