Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

Why the CBC Opposes Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

The drive to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia presents a profound challenge to the integrity of medical ethics and the sanctity/equality of human life. As a consequence, the CBC believes that legalizing mercy killing and suicide assistance by doctors (or anyone else) would corrupt medicine, undermine the viability of suicide prevention efforts by sending a mixed societal message, and threaten the lives and equal societal status of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

This conclusion isn’t conjectural. The history of the last forty years shows unequivocally that a society which permits or legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide for the few, embarks on a path leading inexorably to permissive mercy killing of the many. For example, in the Netherlands, not only may the terminally ill be euthanized on request, but so also may people with serious chronic illnesses and serious disabilities. Strong political advocacy now exists there to permit senior citizens who are “tired of life” to receive suicide as the remedy.

Worse, according to several government studies, hundreds of patients who haven’t asked for euthanasia are lethally injected or intentionally overdosed with pain medication each year by Dutch doctors. A Dutch Supreme Court ruled that a psychiatrist, who assisted the suicide of a woman in grief over her dead children, had not acted wrongly because suffering is suffering, and it doesn’t matter whether it is physical or emotional. The “Groningen Protocol,” an infanticide checklist, has been published by doctors who admit euthanizing dying and disabled infants, and even though such killings are murder under Dutch law, nothing is done about it.

In Switzerland, suicide clinics legally offer death to the disabled and terminally ill alike. A thriving micro industry in suicide has developed in recent years, in which foreigners fly to Switzerland for suicide, a practice known as “suicide tourism.” There have even been joint suicides by spouses who don’t want to live without each other. The Swiss Supreme Court, much like its Dutch counterpart, has declared a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

In Belgium, where euthanasia has only been elected for a few years, studies show that many euthanasia deaths are non-voluntary. Adding to the utilitarian Pandora’s box opened by euthanasia, Belgian doctors now openly couple voluntary euthanasia with organ harvesting.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legally restricted to the terminally ill, the guidelines have not been effective. A study published in the Michigan Law Review found that the guidelines were often not followed by doctors, and indeed, that state bureaucrats in charge of oversight do “not collect the information it [the state] would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.”

Beyond the clear and present dangers posed by euthanasia/assisted suicide, and even if the practice could actually be limited to the terminally ill (it can’t), the CBC believes that permitting doctors to assist the suicides of dying people is wrong and is a form of abandonment. As the New York Task Force on Life and the Law wrote in its seminal 1994 report, When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context, “terminally ill patients who do desire suicide or euthanasia often suffer from a treatable mental disorder, most commonly depression. When these patients receive appropriate treatment for depression, they usually abandon the wish to commit suicide.” Thus, the proper and truly compassionate approach to suicidal desire—whatever its cause—is compassionate intervention and prevention, not facilitation.

The “slippery slope” of euthanasia/assisted suicide flows logically from the two fundamental intellectual principles—autonomy, and the propriety of death as an answer to human suffering—that are the foundations of euthanasia/assisted suicide ideology. John Finnis, the 2005 winner of the CBC’s Paul Ramsey Award, summed it up well when testifying in the House of Lords against the recently defeated “Joffe Bill” that would have legalized assisted suicide in the United Kingdom:

If autonomy is the principle or the main concern, why is the lawful killing restricted to terminal illness and unbearable suffering? If suffering is the principle or concern, why is the lawful killing restricted to terminal illness?

Finnis’ point is that regardless of whatever restrictions might be placed initially into a legalization law, once the two principal premises of assisted suicide advocacy become accepted by a broad swath of the medical professions and the public, there is little chance that those eligible for permitted suicide would long remain limited to the dying. As noted above, this paradigm has already proven true in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium.

The European realities of legalized mercy killing and assisted suicide illustrate that euthanasia/assisted suicide do not just threaten vulnerable people, but undermine society’s view of the value of human life itself. For example, when Zurich voters were asked to rein in suicide tourism, they overwhelmingly rejected the proposal—this in a country where it was recently made against the law to flush a live goldfish down the toilet.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are bad medicine and worse public policy. Permitting privatized killing is not only dangerous to vulnerable patients, but destructive to a truly compassionate and equal society.