Arina Grossu is the Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Federalist on November 18, 2014.
Brittany Maynard’s story has faded into the background, but the work of the euphemistically named pro-assisted suicide organization “Compassion & Choices” (C&C), formerly known as the Hemlock Society, is actively working harder than ever before to bring assisted suicide to your doorstep.
Brittany died a sad and tragic death, in part because terminal brain cancer was overtaking her beautiful 29-year-old body, and also in part because she died from suicide by poison. Yet the pain of her premature demise is accentuated, sickeningly, by C&C using her as a poster child. C&C was founded as the Hemlock Society by Derek Humphry in 1980 to promote legal access to assisted suicide on demand. Humphry helped his wife commit suicide, then wrote a few books on this topic that led to other tragic suicides.
Brittany’s suffering was real, and C&C capitalized on it to package her life and death neatly into soothing messaging points and a tear-jerking YouTube video that has over 11 million views. C&C’s goal? To try to move a nation toward accepting a “right” to commit suicide.
Let’s not kid ourselves: no matter how much C&C wants to color the proposition with sentimentalism, suicide is as ugly in the form of a pill as it is through a gun to the head. If Brittany had decided to jump off a bridge, or shot herself instead of taking lethal pills, would that have made the result any different? Of course not. The direct act of killing oneself is still suicide. One method is just “cleaner” and “neater.”
Brittany Maynard: A Poster Child for Suicide
The ugly, inconvenient truth is that Brittany did not die from brain cancer. Yes, she was dying. But her cause of death was suicide by poison. She most likely died from a lethal dose of secobarbital or pentobarbital in a matter of about 25 minutes between ingestion and death. People committing suicide this way are instructed to take an antiemetic (e.g., metoclopramide) about one hour before ingesting the barbiturate to prevent nausea and vomiting, because the body’s natural reaction is to expel the lethal drug.
The Hemlock Society moved from California to Oregon in 1989 and by 1994 succeeded in securing the “Death with Dignity Act” there. In 2003 the Hemlock Society changed its name to “End-of-Life Choices,” which merged with “Compassion in Dying” (from Washington) in 2005 to form C&C, now headquartered in Colorado. The states C&C is currently campaigning in are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Montana, and New Mexico.
Brittany made her own choice, but was abetted in it by an organization whose agenda is to make suicide seem like a perfectly normal option for the suffering. She was C&C’s perfect spokeswoman because of her beauty, youthfulness, and willingness to cooperate with it in the dispersion of poisonous ideas before her untimely death by a chemical poison.
Those who will suffer the most from C&C’s campaign will be people who are physically and mentally ill, the elderly, and those whose youth and impressionability make them vulnerable to C&C’s lies about suicide as somehow poetic or even mystical.
Assisted Suicide Quickly Becomes Euthanasia
The slippery slope is real. The countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia were permissible only for the terminally ill soon legalized assisted suicide for those not terminally ill—persons with mental illness, physical disabilities, and even those who didn’t or couldn’t consent. Belgium, Netherlands, and England have shown us that legal justification for assisted suicide in some cases quickly crumbles into assisted suicide or even euthanasia for many more regardless of their conditions, where, for example, adults can now euthanize children or mobile death squads go around euthanizing the elderly. On our own shores we see that legalization of assisted suicide contributes to coarseness about taking one’s life. Oregon’s “regular” suicide rate has skyrocketed and in 2010 was 41 percent higher than the national average.
Committing suicide for whatever reason and at whatever age invariably betrays human dignity. Common sense and our laws rightly have considered assisted suicide manslaughter or a felony, but if we don’t speak up against this grave threat against human dignity, we will see other states join Oregon, Washington, and Vermont where the crime of assisted suicide has been re-cast as “medical treatment.”
We must redouble our efforts to defend the Hippocratic Oath in our laws and medicine, the guiding principle being: “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” There is another way for patients who are suffering. Hospice and palliative care can help manage pain and symptoms for patients with chronic or terminal illnesses. Dr. Dan Maison, who specializes in palliative care, said this in response to Maynard’s case: “Actually, we take care of folks like her all the time, and we’re able to keep almost all of them very comfortable.”
The goal of medicine must continue to be to kill the pain, not the patient. What Brittany needed was true compassion. When medicine had done all that it could to ease the pain, she deserved a doctor who would not betray her and his profession by prescribing medicine to kill her, and family and friends to accompany her and to remind her that her life has value even in the midst of suffering. One can refuse disproportionate intervention where there is no reasonable hope of benefit, but one can never morally intend the killing of oneself or another, whether through action or inaction.
There is nothing compassionate about pressuring someone to commit suicide. There is nothing dignified about dying from self-induced poison. Every human person is precious and valuable, whether healthy or sick. Murder, whether of oneself or of another, is never compassionate.