Friday, August 28, 2009

Assisted suicide: People should be helped, not helped to die

Below is an unpublished response to a Star Tribune op-ed advocating the legalization of assisted suicide.

In her August 9 op-ed piece ("It's not moral to compel suffering"), the Rev. Trish Greeves argues for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

By not allowing the practice, she writes, we are "legally compelling someone to endure the pain and indignity of an extended terminal illness when they wish to make a different decision." She notes that euthanasia is often the right decision for animals, in order to prevent needless suffering; why should humans be any different?

But human beings are different: they have intrinsic value and ought to be treated accordingly, not like mere animals that may be "put to sleep." This does not mean we must sustain a patient's life by artificial means in all circumstances. Allowing a natural death is not the same as intentional killing.

In any case, research shows that the vast majority of euthanasia and assisted suicide requests are due to depression and anxiety that can be treated, not physical suffering. And current medical science is such that nearly all kinds of pain can be alleviated with the proper techniques.

Assisted suicide would set our nation on a very dangerous path. With its availability in the Netherlands, doctors sometimes fail to correctly diagnose mental illness; instead of getting proper treatment, patients are euthanized or allowed to commit suicide. And assisted suicide can lead to non-voluntary euthanasia when the "right to die" is extended to patients who are not competent.

Greeves forgets that people are people. They should be helped with their problems -- not helped to die.