Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three ploys for assisted suicide

Massachusetts is threatening to join Oregon and Washington in legalizing physician-assisted suicide. In a new essay, Faulkner University professor Adam J. MacLeod writes:
People quite naturally recognize that life is better than death, that the deliberate destruction of life is an evil to be avoided, and that the state has a role to play in preventing suicides. It follows logically from these uncontested (and incontestable) observations that state laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide are just and efficacious. But, like magicians who use distractions to remove the important object from view, proponents of legalized death have shrouded the inviolability of human life in a mist of confusion. Exposing their ploys is the first step in defeating their efforts to advance the culture of death.
MacLeod then refutes three popular "ploys" used by advocates of assisted suicide.

(1) The Alleviation-of-Suffering Ploy

"In public, proponents of assisted suicide most commonly characterize assisted suicide as the only hope of relief for 'suffering patients' who are afflicted with serious illnesses," MacLeod writes. The problem? "Assisted suicide is neither necessary, nor actually used, for the alleviation of pain. Indeed, the data show a wide gulf between the public justifications for assisted suicide and its actual use in practice."

Moreover, "A much more common motivation than pain management appears to be simple clinical depression. In 2006, the Royal College of Physicians released a statement revealing that patients who want to die will change their minds—will choose life—after they are treated for depression in 98% to 99% of cases. "

(2) The Unnecessary Prolongation Ploy

"A second favorite ploy, related to the first, is to conflate prohibitions against assisted suicide with extreme measures to keep people alive." The problem? "Though legalization proponents trade on fears of being artificially sustained after one’s time has come, prohibiting assisted suicide is not the same as forcing people to live beyond their time. To affirm that life is always worth defending from attempts to destroy it is not to claim that one should always make efforts to lengthen life."

MacLeod continues:
Nor does respect for human life entail that the terminally ill must bear up stoically under extreme pain. Showing respect for all persons regardless of their condition or circumstances means providing needed medical care, including palliative care, when the terminally ill are in their final weeks and hours. That some forms of palliative care hasten impending death is not a reason to condemn its administration. The purpose of administering palliative care is not to kill but to relieve pain. ... The line that we must ask a physician not to cross is the line at which he adopts the patient’s death as his purpose.
(3) The Personal Autonomy Ploy

"The most common motivation for assisted suicide patients is a desire for personal autonomy, to control the time and manner of one’s own death." The problem?
Proponents of legalization invoke a radical conception of personal autonomy. The idea is that each individual person makes the value of her own life by choice. When an individual ceases to value her own life, when she no longer prizes those treasures that life enables her to enjoy, she ought to be free to end her life.

People do not make their lives valuable merely by choosing to live. If this were the case, then the lives of small children and senile adults would have no value and would be unworthy of protection in law. As a matter of fact, myriad laws protect human life at various stages of human development, even in states—Oregon and Washington—that permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill. These laws do not discriminate against the very young or the very old, or against those who ascribe the least value to their own lives. States invest resources in suicide prevention and privilege citizens to prevent suicidal acts, by force if necessary. None of these laws provides for weighing the instrumental value of the life being saved.

So even in states that permit assisted suicide, the law reflects our understanding that life has value, regardless of the conditions in which it is lived. Laws preventing suicide preserve the communities of which the suicidal person is a part. The personal autonomy ploy rests upon the deception that suicide affects only the one who commits it, and that this individual alone should have a say in the matter. But suicides are not purely autonomous acts. Just as the family and neighbors of each person recognize the intrinsic value of that person, the family and friends of a suicide realize the irremediable loss that suicide causes.

Suicide should not be inflicted upon anyone. To assist its commission is to do violence to the very fabric of civil society. For the sake of doctors, their sick patients, and the communities in which doctors and patients live, Massachusetts and Montana should strengthen their legal commitments to protect the sick and suffering. 
Be sure to read the entirety of MacLeod's piece.