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Kyle Eller: Assisted suicide — the next front for the Culture of Death

I ran across a rather revealing Minnesota Public Radio article the other day. The subject was a series of forums set up by a legislative advocate of the so-called “right to die” — physician-assisted suicide.

As you probably know (and if you didn’t, consider yourself warned), this is the next front. The Culture of Death is still on the march.

Kyle Eller
Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The legislator in question is state Sen. Chris Eaton, from the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, and I found some of her quotes extraordinary and worth unpacking.

One was this: “You have to be able to self-administer it, it’s only the person who is dying’s choice. As more of us baby boomers are taking care of our parents and looking at our own mortality, we’re saying, ‘I don’t want to die like that.’ ”

Two things stick out to me. Let’s begin with the myopia it reflects — the “chronological snobbery,” as C.S. Lewis called it, as if someone looking at an issue today automatically has a better perspective on it than someone looking at it yesterday.

It takes not even two seconds of reflection to realize that every generation of human beings after Adam and Eve, extending far back into the mists of time beyond memory, has had ailing and dying parents and in so doing has pondered its own mortality. So have some of us who are younger than baby boomers.

Only slightly more reflection will reveal that never in all that time has palliative care been better than it is now, meaning death, at least physically, is usually much more comfortable now than it was for previous generations. There is every reason to believe such care will only continue to improve.

It’s worth noting that the Christian West long ago arrived at a consensus rejecting euthanasia and assisted suicide and the like, based both on principled reasons and on pragmatic ones. Ideologies that reject this consensus have at times brought horrors of eugenics and “life unworthy of life.”

One might wonder, then, what new insights Sen. Eaton believes she and her generation have discovered to overturn this millennia-old consensus and to refute all the principled and pragmatic reasons behind it.

Sadly, I suspect one would ask that question in vain. What we get in this quote is, typical of our ongoing cultural revolution, no argument at all — no engagement with any thoughtful opposing view or even an acknowledgement that one exists. It is simply an assertion of raw will: “I don’t want to die like that.”

This is just an echo of the other striking thing in this quote: the Culture of Death’s favorite word, “choice.” It is to be the dying person’s choice.

For people who wish to ease suffering, advocates of this latest choice-for-death don’t seem to reflect very much on what suffering this choice would inevitably bring.

When a society legitimizes such things, it forces choices on people who never wanted them.

When contraception was declared a “right,” first it was just for married couples who felt they had too many kids. Now schools and clinics push it on children, some doctors treat patients who don’t use it like fundamentalist wackos, people make snide comments to total strangers with more than three children right in the grocery store, and the federal government is fighting in the Supreme Court to force nuns to pay for it.

“If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one,” it was said. How many pro-life mothers have now heard the “suggestion” when a prenatal test suggests Down Syndrome? What does “choice” look like for the teen mom whose parents or boyfriend don’t want her pregnant? Or think of the temptation experienced by a mother who might abhor abortion but finds herself desperate at difficult circumstances or troubled at the thought of being a “burden” to someone.

The same goes for assisted suicide. This libertarian paradise of totally free personal choice is a fairy tale unicorn, not something that could exist in this world.

Once it’s legitimized, what will keep the almighty dollar from making its interests known, in both the public and private sector? What’s to prevent “pro-choice” physicians, eager for their warped vision of medical ethics to sweep the field, from influencing patients’ decisions? What’s to keep the weary caregiver or the relative awaiting an inheritance from making this desire known, perhaps even unintentionally?

Can anyone imagine this not becoming a thought for every person who feels like a burden — a common emotion even among people who are lovingly and gladly cared for?

This kind of choice is not a blessing, it’s a burden, one that will cause more suffering, not less. It’s confronting everyone with an existential choice that rightly belongs only to God. Once given the public imprimatur, to resist it will have to be a deliberate decision, not a given.

And the ones most affected by it, as always, will be the poor and vulnerable.

Consider this, too: If you think it will stop at assisted suicide, you must not have noticed the pattern. It always expands. What “will never happen” today is tomorrow’s rallying cry. You’d best believe that if assisted suicide is legitimized, passive and then active euthanasia, first with and then without consent, will be in the on-deck circle warming up.

God teaches us that life is a precious gift entrusted to our stewardship, not a private possession to be disposed of when it becomes inconvenient or burdensome, and that compassion is caring for people, not killing them.

It’s time to begin understanding this deeply and learning to explain it boldly if we expect to protect our vulnerable brothers and sisters in Minnesota.

Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at keller@dioceseduluth.org.