Monday, June 7, 2010

What accounts for the rise of assisted suicide?

Wesley J. Smith wonders why we're seeing a push for physician-assisted suicide now -- at a time when it's less "necessary" than ever.
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."
Part of the explanation may be the general devaluing of human life that undergirds and connects the issues of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and embryo-destructive research. Another part may be a kind of "convenience" or "comfort" mentality, a tendency to do what's easiest (abortion for a pregnant woman in distress, euthanasia for a suffering patient) rather than what's right. Smith writes:
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.
These two ideas -- devaluing life, doing what's easiest -- seem to work together whenever we dehumanize or abandon the most dependent and vulnerable members of the human family. One provides justification and the other motive.