USA TODAY US Edition
The vulnerable will be the victims
California required legislative sleight of hand to pass physician-assisted suicide in a special legislative session that bypassed committee votes. This broke a string of defeats — even in liberal states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and previously in California. In an embarrassing loss for supporters last month, the British Parliament rejected it, 330-118.
Many lawmakers have reconsidered this issue, particularly after listening to the views of minorities and the disabled. While a 2013 Pew survey found that 47% of Americans approve of doctor-assisted suicide, for Latinos the percentage falls to 32% and for African Americans to 29%. Disability communities overwhelmingly reject it.
But what could their argument be? Don’t they have compassion for people suffering terrible pain at the end of their lives?
Oregon reports that pain doesn’t even make the top five reasons people seek doctor-assisted suicide. Instead, people are afraid of losing autonomy and dignity. Notably, they’re afraid of becoming a burden on others.
In the face of a youth-worshiping country that marginalizes the sick and dying, we should resist making the vulnerable feel like a burden — not make it easier for them to kill themselves. Dignity doesn’t come from the illusion of power and control, but from mutual dependence and love.
What happens when whole cultures legalize this? Belgium and the Netherlands have found out the hard way. They started with limited laws and safeguards. But then they simply changed the law. Now people in the Netherlands get assisted suicide simply because they are going blind; Belgians can get it simply for having suicidal thoughts.
Think it can’t happen here? If physician-assisted suicide is about the right to do what you want with your body free of government interference, then who are we to judge? How can we set arbitrary limits? If the so-called right to die permeates U.S. culture, nothing can stop the logic behind the myth of individual autonomy. Safeguards will fall, laws will change, and the victims will be the most vulnerable.