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Legatus Magazine

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Bill Donohue | author
Feb 03, 2015
Filed under Columns

Beware doctor-assisted suicide

BILL DONOHUE says the merchants of death are not just fixated on the elderly . . .

Bill Donohue

Bill Donohue

If there was one strain of political thought that was evident in the November elections, it was libertarianism. As a political philosophy, libertarianism today is roughly what was called liberalism in the 19th century; it is also known as classical liberalism.

Essentially, it maintains that the good society is best served by having a minimal role for government. Liberalism today, of course, favors a big role for government. In the mid-term elections, libertarianism manifested itself as a revulsion against ObamaCare, and other intrusions by the federal government into our lives. The public has become increasingly wary of government busybodies, and this is especially true of young people: Many possess a strong libertarian streak.

Is libertarianism a good thing? When it comes to taming the federal government’s appetite to regulate markets, it is. But when it comes to moral issues, that’s a different story. Take doctor-assisted suicide. Libertarians support doctor-assisted suicide. The government, they argue, has no business telling people they don’t have the right to terminate their own lives. Sounds seductively attractive at first glance: Whose rights are interfered with if someone elects to kill himself? It’s a consensual act, so why should there be any laws against it?

Let’s examine these propositions. Bribery is a consensual act, but we wisely have laws against it. Why? Because the person making the bribe is given an unfair advantage over others; so it really doesn’t matter if the person making the bribe — as well as his happy recipient — like the transaction. Society matters. To be sure, society does not have rights — only individuals do, but it surely has interests. Among them are justice and the general welfare of the people, as outlined in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

It’s true that no one’s rights are being interfered with if someone chooses to kill himself. It’s also true that no one’s rights are interfered with if two men choose to duel to the death in public. Why not allow them to kill themselves — the winner must kill his challenger in order to collect his booty — at Madison Square Garden and show it on pay-for-view TV? The coarsening of our culture that such an exhibition would yield is not something we should encourage. If human life is nothing more than a commodity to be disposed of any way we choose, would we not be going down a dangerous road? The history of the 20th century, especially in Germany, suggests we would be.

The problem with the libertarian position is that it sees individual rights as dispositive of all societal interests. But there is more to the good society than rights. How people treat each other and themselves matters. Moreover, rights are not an end: They are a means. They are a means to liberty. The exercise of rights that intentionally result in the death of a human being is not advancing the cause of liberty; death eliminates the prospects of liberty interminably.

There is another problem with doctor-assisted suicide, namely the doctor. Doctors are trained to save lives, not end them. When we change their mission, we change who they are. Once they become mere instruments, their profession is no longer the same. Consider what has happened in nations where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

Euthanasia has a familiar history. It always starts with putting down the terminally ill, and it never stops there. In this country, at least 70% of those who were killed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian were not dying, and some weren’t even ill. So-called mercy killing is not a slippery slope — it’s a sheet of ice.

It’s a myth that some of the sick are suffering so badly that nothing can be done to stop it. Quite frankly, because of advances in medicine those days are over. The picture of the screaming patient writhing in pain is more than a canard — it’s a cruel demagogic ploy promoted by those who have a vested ideological or financial interest in the budding euthanasia industry.

The merchants of death are not fixated on the elderly; they are quite egalitarian in their pursuits. For example, the cause of infanticide is seriously argued by Nobel Prize winners and Ivy League professors: Parents, they maintain, should have the right to kill their infants. (See page 27 for related story.) Then there are those who may be physically healthy, but are nonetheless hopelessly depressed. They also make fine candidates for an early death.

If we are truly interested in achieving the good society, we need to ask ourselves how the adoption of policies that accelerate the death of innocent human beings facilitates that end.

BILL DONOHUE, Ph.D., is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His new book The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful will be released on March 3.


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