Tag Archives: Wesley J. Smith

Culture of Death

Wesley J. Smith
Encounter Books, 2016
360 pages, paperback $16.95

Smith has updated his award-winning book critiquing the modern bioethics movement. He chronicles how the threats to human life have accelerated in recent years, from the proliferation of euthanasia to the potential for “death panels” posed by Obamacare.

Subtitled The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, the book reveals how more doctors have withdrawn from the Hippocratic Oath and how “bioethicists” influence policy by posing questions such as whether organs may be harvested from the terminally ill and disabled. This is a passionate yet coolly reasoned book about the current crisis in medical ethics by a recent winner of Legatus’ Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Award.


The clear and present danger of medical martyrdom

Will Catholic doctors who subscribe to the Church’s moral teaching against assisted suicide and abortion ever be forced to take human life? Until recently, such a prospect was unthinkable.

smithIf trends continue, Catholic and other sanctity-of-life-believing doctors will be forced to choose between violating the Sixth Commandment and continuing in good stead in their chosen profession. I call this threat “medical martyrdom” — a potential authoritarianism that looms darkly in the coming decade because of two fundamental mutations in the ethics of medicine.

First, doctors don’t take the Hippocratic Oath anymore and haven’t for decades. The Oath’s ethical proscriptions against participating in abortion and assisted suicide cut against the contemporary moral grain, leading medical schools to dumb it down or dispose of it altogether. Second, “patients’ rights” have become the new mantra in health care where physicians are “service providers” and patients are, in essence, consumers. As such, many among the medical intelligentsia and in bioethics believe that the competent customer is entitled to virtually any legal procedure from “service providers.”

As a consequence, Hippocratic-believing professionals are pressured to practice medicine without regard to their personal faith or conscience beliefs. This moral intolerance is slowly being imbedded into law. In the U.S., such legal controversies have mostly swirled around. Elsewhere, the force of law has — or threatens to — force doctors to be complicit in abortion and euthanasia.

The first such law was passed several years ago in Victoria, Australia, where the local law requires all doctors to perform — or be complicit in — abortion: If a patient requests a legal termination and the doctor has moral qualms, the dissenting physician is required to find a doctor on behalf of the patient known to be willing to do the deed.

Canada is heading rapidly in the same direction regarding euthanasia. Quebec legalized doctor-administered death last year and allows no conscience exemptions. When palliative care centers and hospices balked, the Minister of Health called such resistance “inappropriate and unfortunate” because doctors must “adapt to the patient,” warning darkly that euthanasia “will be offered.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s Supreme Court just legalized euthanasia for those with a diagnosable medical condition that causes “irremediable suffering,” including “psychological pain.” Recognizing that some doctors will have moral qualms about “terminating life,” the Court gave Parliament 12 months to pass enabling legislation, stating that “the rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled” by law or left “in the hands of physicians’ colleges.”

That doesn’t bode well for medical conscience rights. Canada’s medical associations have low regard for conscientious objectors. Saskatchewan’s College of Physicians and Surgeons recently published a draft ethics policy that would force doctors to provide “legally permissible and publicly funded health services” — which now include euthanasia as well as abortion — to “make a timely referral to another health provider who is willing and able to … provide the service.” If no other doctor can be found, the dissenting physician will have to do the deed personally, “even in circumstances where the provision of health services conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.” Meanwhile, 79% of Canadian Medical Association delegates at a recent convention voted against a motion that would have supported conscience exemptions from participating in euthanasia.

U.S. doctors cannot be forced to participate in abortion and assisted suicide (in the jurisdictions where it is legal). But these professional safeguards are generally opposed by the medical establishment — at least as they apply to abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published an ethics-committee opinion in 2007 strikingly similar to the Saskatchewan College’s:

“Conscientious refusals should be limited if they constitute an imposition of religious and moral beliefs on patients. Physicians and other health care providers have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request.”

If these trends continue, 20 years from now, those who feel called to a career in health care will face an agonizing dilemma: Either participate in acts of killing or stay out of medicine. Those who stay true to their consciences will be forced into the painful sacrifice of embracing martyrdom for their faith.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. He received Legatus’ 2014 Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Award for his work against assisted suicide.

CAUTION: Infanticide ahead

WESLEY SMITH warns that bioethicists in the U.S. are beating the drum for legal infanticide . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

The late Fr. Richard Neuhaus famously said: “Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on the way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as unexceptionable.”

In my nearly 22 years of advocating against the Culture of Death, I have found the “Neuhaus Equation” (as I call it) to be absolutely true. Example: In the 1980s, bioethicists began to discuss removing tube-supplied sustenance from people with severe cognitive impairments. Intentionally dehydrating a human being to death — once considered unthinkable — quickly became “debatable.” It was soon justified as merely refusing medical treatment. Today, dehydrating those who need feeding tubes has become routine in all 50 states.

Infanticide has been “debatable” in bioethics for 40 years — although it has been a harder slog getting to the unexceptional stage. Peter Singer became (in)famous for arguing that babies could be killed within 30 days of birth because they are not self-aware “persons.” Because of his views — not in spite of them — Princeton appointed him to head the misnamed Center on Human Values.

Similarly, British bioethicist Jonathon Glover remains in good reputation in the field even after arguing that babies are “replaceable,” and thus: “The objection to infanticide is at most no stronger than the objection to frustrating a baby’s current set of desires, say by leaving him to cry unattended for a longish period.”

A few months ago, the prominent Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk wrote (in essence) that infants judged to have a life unworthy of life should be euthanized: “Does this baby have the capacity for development to an extent that will allow him or her to have a life and not merely be alive? If we reach the conclusion that it would not, we would have reason to conclude that his life is not worth living.” What makes a life worth living? Well, that would be in the eye of the utilitarian beholder, wouldn’t it?

Bioethical arguments for infanticide usually take place in professional journals and at academic symposia where they escape public notice. But once in a while people get a glimpse of what utilitarian bioethicists have planned for them, leading to angry controversy. In 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published “After Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” by bioethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. The article blatantly advocated the moral permissibility of infanticide, specifically asserting that whatever justifies abortion also validates killing newborns. But the baby is a human being! So what? The authors sniff: “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The authors even claim that healthy babies can be killed if they are not wanted by parents, further arguing that babies who would be adopted can be put to death: “Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of the people involved? … On this perspective… we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving up her child for adoption.”

Good grief! Unlike most pro-infanticide journal articles, this one was picked up by the media. Demonstrating that all is not yet lost, “After-Birth Abortion” sparked a firestorm of popular outrage. Indeed, the criticism became so hot, the Journal of Medical Ethics took it offline and the authors wrote a public non-apology apology — not recanting anything they wrote, mind you, but claiming to be harmless philosophers merely chewing intellectual cud.

That’s baloney. Bioethics has always been about changing policy. Moreover, infanticide isn’t just theoretical. Even though it remains murder under Dutch law, doctors in the Netherlands kill babies born with disabilities or terminal conditions without legal consequence. Indeed, baby euthanasia has become so open, that doctors published a bureaucratic checklist known as the Groningen Protocol to guide infant euthanasia decisions. Demonstrating how respectable infanticide has become in the most influential circles, the Protocol received sympathetic reportage in a 2005 New York Times’ story headlined, “A Crusade Born of a Suffering Infant’s Cry.” Even more alarmingly, the Protocol was published in full — and with all due respect — in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That which we don’t condemn, we may ultimately allow. The disturbing fact that infanticide has reached the “justifiable” stage in the Neuhaus Equation speaks volumes about the bioethics movement. Anyone who thinks it can’t happen here just hasn’t been paying attention.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council.

Anti-humanism infects environmental movement

WESLEY J. SMITH writes that environmentalists have declared war on human beings . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

The environmental movement has long indulged a tinge of misanthropy at the fringes. For example, advocates for a “deep ecology” argue that each facet of the natural world (including humans) are equal, and must be given “equal consideration” when reaping the bounty of the land.

Deep ecologists adamantly oppose our materially prospering from the exploitation of natural resources. Indeed, they demand that we sacrifice our own material thriving in order to make common cause with flora and fauna. Deep ecology even advocates for a collapse of human population to one billion. Alas, such explicit anti-humanism has chewed its way from the radical edges to the environmental mainstream in both its advocacy and policy agendas, all in the name of “saving the planet.”

This problem is epitomized vividly by Noah, Darren Arnofsky’s radical environmentalist film. Arnofsky’s “Creator” doesn’t decide to destroy humanity because of man’s unrighteousness, but to — yes — save the earth. You see, after being kicked out of Eden, man became industrial: strip mining minerals, exhausting the soil, and generally despoiling the environment. Noah’s family is not to “be fruitful and multiply,” but to save the animals and die off so that Earth can again become a paradise.

Such anti-humanism has become the norm in contemporary environmentalism. Sir David Attenborough, for example, has called humans “a plague on the earth.” Similarly, the environmentalist rock star David Suzuki has called human beings “maggots” who crawl around “defecating all over the environment.” These antihuman ideas are deployed to convince us to adopt human-harming public policies. Reasonable people can differ on the persuasiveness of the evidence for man-caused global warming. But surely, human flourishing should not be sacrificed in the cause.

Yet, that’s precisely the future for which many warming alarmists yearn. Thus, a 2009 article in the New Yorker by David Owen promoted economic decline. Owen lauded a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the worldwide recession. But he worried that “the environmental benefits of economic decline, though real, are fragile because they are vulnerable to intervention by governments…which want to put people back to work.” Owen argued that saving the earth from overheating would require us to “accept policies that push us back toward the [economic] abyss.”

That’s exactly what will happen if we grant flora and fauna the “right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate vital cycles,” as advocated by the “nature rights” movement. Taking a page out of the Deep Ecology playbook, activists argue that nature be given equal consideration to the needs of humans whenever we want to develop the land. The economic consequences of such a policy should be obvious.

Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as some 30 U.S. municipalities legally recognize nature rights. Demonstrating its mainstream appeal, U.N. secretary general Ban-ki Moon favors the idea.

If nature rights can be envisioned as a shield against resource development, the fast-growing “ecocide” movement is the sword that would punish it. Ecocide would criminalize large-scale development as the “fifth crime against peace,” an evil deemed equivalent by its advocates to genocide. The Eradicating Ecocide Global Initiative website says: “Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” Note that “peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants” includes everything from grass, fish, and insects to mice, snakes, and people.

Switzerland has declared the intrinsic dignity of individual plants in its constitution. A river in New Zealand has been granted full rights of “personhood,” as an “integrated, living whole.” The Department of Interior refused to permit residents of the remote Alaskan fishing town of King Cove to cut a one-lane gravel road through the wilderness for use in emergency medical evacuations. Why? Because Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “I have to listen to the animals.”

Anti-human environmentalists have declared war on humans, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should meekly go along. We are not cancers! We should oppose Green anti-humanism wherever it is advocated precisely because we support good earth stewardship policies that promote liberty and allow us to reach the level of prosperity required to properly protect the environment.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His e-book “The War on Humans” can be found at waronhumans.com

Birth control pretext for destroying religious liberty

Wesley Smith blasts the HHS mandate, saying the ultimate target is Christian morality . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

Government secularism is on the march against religion, and its generals have announced they intend to take few prisoners. For proof, look no further than the Free Birth Control Rule (as I call it) promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This rule requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide coverage for free contraception, sterilization, and morning-after pills — even if it violates their religious beliefs. A very narrow conscience exemption was carved out for churches with religious objections. But two other categories of dissenting employers must comply despite their faith objections: religious organizations (such as universities and hospitals) and private business owners.

Nonprofit religious organizations: When first announced, the FBCR would have required Catholic universities, schools, charities, and other non-profits to offer employees free contraception just like any business. That sparked a political firestorm, causing the Obama administration to delay implementation for these groups until Aug. 1 of this year with the promise of devising a reasonable compromise.

That proposal is now in, and it is all sleight of hand. The administration still requires all female employees (and eligible dependents, meaning teenage girls, among others) of these objecting organizations to be covered for free contraception — like it or not. Here’s how the “accommodation” will work:

• Nonprofit religious employers must comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and purchase a general group health plan.
• The employer must certify to its insurance carrier that it objects to contraception for religious reasons.
• The health insurance carrier then must “automatically enroll participants and beneficiaries in a separate health insurance policy that covers recommended contraceptive services.”
• The insurance carrier must provide this supplemental policy to these girls and women free of charge.

Thus, the mere act of purchasing health insurance — required by law — automatically triggers forced free coverage for contraception. This means that in many cases, even nuns will have to be insured for birth control, with the only opt-out breaking the law by refusing to buy health insurance, which triggers a stiff fine. Any concomitant harm caused to employees will be the government’s fault for forcing dissenting faith employers to choose between offering benefits and violating their religious beliefs.

Private business owners: The Obama administration’s attempt to force its moral values upon private business owners is even more onerous. Not only are business men and women forced to pay out of their own pockets for that which they perceive to be sinful, but the administration contends that business owners sacrifice their religious liberties in operating their enterprises simply by seeking profit Scores of business owners have sued, so far with mixed results. The cases primarily hinge on the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government prove it has a “compelling state interest” when legally forcing individuals to violate their faith tenets.

To get around the RFRA, the Department of Justice argues that business owners cannot “practice religion” in the commercial context. Or to put it another way, the administration believes that business is a religion-free zone. That’s only part of the Obama secularizing agenda. In another radical move, the DOJ argues that by standing up for religious liberty, dissenting business owners are actually forcing their religion on workers. In other words, the administration has recast business owners as theocratic tyrants.

That’s topsy-turvy. Refuse-to-pay is not synonymous with prevent-from-obtaining. Dissenting business owners are not preventing their female workers from using birth control simply because they won’t pay for it.

Ironically, the administration is attempting to impose its ideology on religious dissenting business owners and religious organizations. The DOJ argues that forcing all employers to provide free contraception (one way or the other) is essential to secure “equal access … to goods, privileges, and advantages” that otherwise are denied females due to the “unique health care burdens and responsibilities” borne by women.

Birth control isn’t the real issue. There is an important principle at stake. Indeed, once a legal precedent is established, one day there could be a free abortion rule, a free IVF rule, or a free sex-change operation rule. And it wouldn’t end with health-related issues, either. In the end, the administration is using birth control as the blade that sacrifices religious liberty on the altar of naked secularism.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Anti-humanism subverts environmental movement

Wesley J. Smith contends that the environmental movement has gone much too far  . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Environmentalism has done so much good — conservation, our national parks, cleaning up the air and rivers, remediating toxic waste dumps, and the list goes on. But something has gone terribly awry.

Beginning with “deep ecology” in the 1970s — which proclaims a moral equality between people and nature and advocates radical human depopulation — a nihilistic misanthropy has slowly but surely shrouded environmentalism. It has gotten so bad that conservation and preventing pollution, once the hallmarks of environmentalism, now often take a back seat to thwarting the development of resources in the service of an ideology that is becoming explicitly anti-human.

Consider the campaign to prevent global warming. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that many advocates who view people as potential “planet killers” fall prey to the misanthropic temptation — including support for radical population control and policies — to choke prosperity as a way of lessening our carbon footprints.

Some even extol China’s authoritarian policies. Thus, Financial Post columnist Diane Francis opined that controlling global warming will require “a China one-child policy,” which unleashed massive numbers of female infanticides and forced abortions. Similarly, the Times of London reported in 2009 that “Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population … must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming … even if it means shifting money from curing illness to increasing contraception and abortion.” Yikes!

Global warming isn’t the half of it. We now see successful environmental advocacy to grant “rights” to “nature.” Yes, you read correctly — “nature rights.” Under this neo-paganistic belief, “Mother Nature is a living being” with “the right to life and to exist,” the “right to be respected,” to “continue vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions,” (which is more than can be said for fetuses).

“Nature rights” isn’t something to worry about tomorrow: It’s happening today. Ecuador and Bolivia have already granted constitutional rights to nature. In contrast, recognizing nature as a rights-bearing entity has been promoted in the USA primarily at the local level. More than 20 U.S. cities — including Pittsburgh and Santa Monica — have legally recognized nature rights, under which anyone may sue on behalf of nature to enjoin development projects from going forward.

If nature rights can be conceived of as a shield protecting Mother Nature, she also needs a spear with which to punish her rapists. That is where “ecocide,” a new proposed international crime envisioned as equivalent to genocide, comes in. According to the This Is Ecocide website: “Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given Territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” Please pay very close attention: The word “inhabitants” does not necessarily — or even primarily — refer to human beings. Rather, it includes flora and fauna, meaning that ecocide would put people in jail for displacing plants, insects, field mice, birds, snakes, deer, etc. — no matter how beneficial the use of the land would be to human thriving.

Ecocide isn’t primarily about punishing pollution, although events like the Exxon Valdez oil spill would probably be included. Rather, ecocide is designed to chill corporate leaders from even contemplating large scale resource extraction for fear of being put in the dock at The Hague. Last fall ecocide campaigners held a mock trial in the chambers of the UK Supreme Court “prosecuting” two fictional CEOs for the “crime” of developing the Alberta Tar Sands. One CEO was “sentenced” to four years in prison for the heinous act of helping liberate the West from dependence on Middle East oil.

Why has environmentalism moved in such an economically destructive, potentially authoritarian, and decidedly misanthropic direction? The heart of the problem is that environmentalists increasingly reject human exceptionalism. Believing that we should consider ourselves just another animal among others on the planet, they push us toward self-flagellating policies and a societally enervating moral relativism that elevates nature to the moral status of humans. This actually has the effect of devaluing people to the level of flora and fauna.

At a more fundamental level, green misanthropy reflects how much of society is moving past “post-Christianity” and toward an explicit “anti-Christianity.” What better way to break the spine of the Judeo-Christian worldview than to subvert society’s belief in the unique dignity and moral worth of human beings? If enough of us accept that reductionist self-definition, the faith will totter into general irrelevance, perhaps to be replaced by the neo-earth religion we see forming among some greens in which the creation is worshiped rather than the Creator.

Wesley J. Smith is an award-winning author and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

National Catholic Bioethics Center

Good ethics makes for good science

Find out why you’re not seeing much about stem cells in the news these days . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Have you noticed that the stem-cell controversy rarely makes the news these days? There’s a reason: The greatest advances in stem-cell research over the last decade have not involved cells taken from destroyed embryos.

That doesn’t fit the media template of embryonic stem cells being the “gold standard” for regenerative medicine, and indeed, the “only hope” for people struggling against diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. Hence, advances that would have resulted in screaming headlines if accomplished with embryonic stem cells, barely caused a ripple and in many cases weren’t reported at all.

But there is plenty of good news on the ethical stem cell front. First, induced pluripotent stem-cell research (IPSC) is advancing exponentially. IPSCs are made by “reprogramming” normal cells — such as skin — into “embryonic-like” pluripotent stem cells that can be transformed into any kind of tissue in the body. This means that we may be able to obtain every purported benefit touted for embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) without destroying embryos.

IPSCs can’t yet be used in direct treatments because, like embryonic stem cells, they can cause tumors. But IPSCs are already being used in valuable experiments that we were once told would require human cloning to allow. For example, IPSCs have been made from Parkinson’s patients’ cells and changed into neurons to study the disease. IPSCs are also being used to test drugs and have been turned into mini faulty hearts to study rhythm disorders. This technique has advanced so far that in animal studies, one type of tissue was turned directly into another — without first going through the stem cell stage.

Meanwhile, advances on early human trials using adult stem cells are offering true hope for an eventual revolution in the treatment of some of humankind’s most intractable diseases. Here’s a sampling:

Heart disease: While there have been some mixed results to date in treating heart disease with adult stem cells, several human trials have shown great promise. For example, a March 2011 article in Circulation Research: Journal of the American Heart Association found that injecting bone marrow stem cells reduced the size of enlarged hearts by 15-20% and reduced scar tissue after heart attack by 18.3%.

Blindness caused by eye injury: Last year, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients blinded by caustic chemicals had sight restored with the use of their own eye stem cells.

Multiple Sclerosis: It’s been known for some time that adult stem cells can stop the progression of MS. The treatment has carried some risk because it requires chemotherapy to destroy the patient’s immune system, after which bone marrow stem cells are used to reboot the body’s defenses. More recently, a small safety trial published in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that injecting a pint of patients’ own bone marrow taken from the pelvis is not only safe, but appears to have efficacious benefit for patients — and without the use of potentially dangerous chemotherapy.

There are literally thousands of adult stem cell human trials ongoing at the present time around the world — as opposed to just three very small ESCR safety studies. Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, tracks these studies from around the world. He told me, “Published evidence demonstrating that adult stem cells can repair diverse tissues continues to mount. Even though there is little media interest, adult stem cells are effectively helping thousands of patients for dozens of diseases right now, with much more coming in the pipeline.” It is increasingly likely that the future of regenerative medicine can be powerfully efficacious without crossing important ethical lines.

And that’s the point to always remember whenever discussing the stem cell controversies: The debate has never been an argument about “science,” but rather, over proper ethics. But morality can seem terribly abstract in the face of hyped promises of cures!

But now that it has become clear that IPSCs, adult stem-cell research, and other ethical regenerative techniques have actually travelled farther than ESCR, even that weak argument is collapsing. Indeed, President George W. Bush had it right — and his critics had it wrong — when he expressed faith in the imagination and ingenuity of science to find ways forward in the stem cell sector that both promoted good science and maintained a proper regard for the sanctity of human life.

Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Find out more by visiting his blog, Secondhand Smoke.

Assisted suicide: why now?

Al Pacino sympathetically portrayed Dr. Jack Kevorkian in a recent HBO movie . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Since 1988, when euthanasia advocates failed to qualify for a legalization initiative on the California ballot, the assisted suicide movement in the United States has gone from a barely noticed fringe movement to a well-funded political machine that threatens Hippocratic medical values and the sanctity/equality of human life.

Consider the disturbing history: In 1994, Oregon legalized assisted suicide (by a 51-49% vote), with the law going into effect in 1997. The movement had a setback in 1997 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a rare unanimous decision, that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide. But in 2008, Washington State legalized Oregon-style assisted suicide by a lopsided 58-42%. Then, last year, Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that assisted suicide was not against the state’s “public policy.”

The euthanasia movement is not resting on its recent laurels. Advocates have filed a lawsuit in Connecticut to legalize assisted suicide by redefinition — on the dubious theory that a doctor who lethally prescribes drugs for use by a terminally ill patient is merely performing “aid in dying,” rather than the legally proscribed assisted suicide. Meanwhile, legislative legalization efforts have been initiated in Hawaii, Arizona, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut — all without success.

A question amidst all of this Sturm und Drang naturally arises: Why now? After all, 100 years ago when people did die in agony from such illnesses as a burst appendix, there was little talk of legalizing euthanasia. But now, when pain and other forms of suffering are readily alleviated and the hospice movement has created truly compassionate methods to care for the dying, suddenly we hear the battle cry “death with dignity” as “the ultimate civil liberty.”

In fighting assisted suicide since 1993, I have often pondered the “why now” question. I’ve found two answers: First, the perceived overriding purpose of society has shifted to the benefit of assisted suicide advocacy, and second, our public policies are driven and defined by a media increasingly addicted to slinging emotional narratives rather than reporting about rational discourse and engaging in principled analysis. Add in a popular culture enamored with social outlaws, and the potential exists for a perfect euthanasia storm.

Social commentator Yuval Levin, a protégé of ethicist Leon Kass, described the new societal zeitgeist in his recent book Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy. While not about assisted suicide per se, Levin hit the nail on the head when he described society as no longer being concerned primarily with helping citizens to lead “the virtuous life.” Rather, he wrote, “relief and preservation from disease and pain, from misery and necessity” have “become the defining ends of human action, and therefore of human societies.” In other words, preventing suffering and virtually all difficulty is now paramount. In such a cultural milieu, eliminating suffering easily mutates into eliminating the sufferer.

The prevent-suffering-at-all-costs agenda is harnessed by assisted suicide advocates through publicizing heart-rending stories of seriously ill or disabled patients who want to die. Illustrating how potent this emotional narrative has become, even the ghoulish Jack Kevorkian is being remade into a big softy concerned solely with relieving suffering. Indeed, none other than Al Pacino sympathetically portrayed Kevorkian in the recent HBO movie, You Don’t Know Jack.

Ignored by the script writers and the media, the real Kevorkian was the mirror opposite of compassionate. In his 1993 book Prescription Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death, Kevorkian made his ultimate purpose chillingly clear, calling assisted suicide “a first step, an early distasteful professional obligation” toward obtaining a license to engage in human experimentation.

Writing further: “What I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish — in a word, obitiatry — as defined earlier.” (“Obitiatry” is the word Kevorkian coined to describe experimenting on people as part of the practice of human euthanasia.) That the media depict Kevorkian as caring rather than self serving tells us how far awry we have been pushed by the collective desperation to avoid suffering by whatever means necessary.

Still, there is good news in spite of the darkening sky: Principle and virtue are not dead. To the consternation of assisted suicide advocates, the sanctity-of-life principle has not yet completely lost its vitality. The vast majority of doctors in Oregon do not assist patient suicides; most of such deaths are facilitated by the advocacy group Compassion and Choices. In Washington, physicians and health corporations — such as the Providence Hospitals — have pushed back against the new law by stating publicly that they will not participate. And despite millions of dollars spent promoting the agenda (financed by the likes of George Soros), assisted suicide has not broken into the mainstream of American law and medical practice.

But they will keep trying. Successful resistance does not require giving up vital principles. Opponents, however, will have to tailor their message of true compassion and care in ways that resonate within the current cultural milieu. Just saying that killing is wrong is no longer enough.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in bioethics and human rights at the Discovery Institute and a lawyer/consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy

Animal rights groups often go overboard in putting animals before human beings . . .

smithA Rat Is A Pig Is a Dog Is A Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement
Encounter Books, 2010.
270 pages, $25.95 hardcover

Animal rights groups sometimes focus on animal welfare, but the movement is advancing a radical belief that declares equivalency between animal lives and human lives.

Some believe their cause entitles them to cross the line from advocacy to harassment. All who love animals agree that we owe animals respect. But Smith argues that our obligation to humanity matters more, and that granting “rights” to animals diminishes human dignity.

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