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"We never say no."

The right-to-die movement abandons pretense.

12:00 AM, Apr 27, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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To qualify for a rational suicide, the patient would have to demonstrate to the mental health professional that he has a "hopeless condition," which Werth defines as, "terminal illnesses, severe physical and/or psychological pain, physically or mentally debilitating and/or deteriorating conditions, or qualify of life no longer acceptable to the individual." This is circular thinking. By definition, if one is suicidal, he has a quality of life that he believes is no longer acceptable.

Not surprisingly, assisted rational suicide is already permitted in the Netherlands where the Dutch Supreme Court approved a psychiatrist's facilitating the death of a distraught woman who wanted to die because her children were dead.

Similar suicide-friendly attitudes are often expressed among mainstream bioethicists--and not just by Princeton's Peter Singer. For example, the University of Utah's Margaret Pabst Battin suggests that "suicide can be rationally chosen," to "avoid pain and suffering in terminal illnesses," as a "self-sacrifice for altruistic reasons," or in cases of "suicides of honor and principle." Along these same lines, Julian Savulescu, an up-and-comer in the international bioethics community, argues that respect for human freedom demands that society permit the suicides of competent persons--even when they are expressing an "unjustified desire to die."

"Some freedoms are worth the cost of innocent life," Savulescu wrote in a chapter for the book Assisted Suicide. "The freedom to finish one's life when and how one chooses is, it seems to me, about as important as any freedom."

The right to receive assisted suicide for virtually any reason is especially popular among self-declared "free thinkers" and humanists. Thus, Tom Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry, the house organ for the Council for Secular Humanism, wrote in the Spring 2003 issue, that the belief in human liberty must include an unfettered right to die. "While suicide has never been exactly popular, a new assault on our right to suicide is brewing. It's something secular humanists ought to resist." Why? Because Flynn (and other humanists) believe fervently that a right to suicide is a crucial element of human liberty:

What's really in play here is the old dogma that individuals don't own their own lives. Physician-assisted suicide is but part of the issue. If we trust our fellow humans to choose their occupations, their significant others, their political persuasions, and their stances on religion, we should also defend their right to dispose of their most valuable possessions--their lives--even if disposing of life is precisely the choice they make.

There are even ongoing discussions in bioethics suggesting that some people might have an ethical obligation to commit suicide. Thus, a 1997 cover story in the prestigious bioethics journal the Hastings Center Report, philosopher John Hardwig argued that there is not only a right, but also a "duty to die":

A duty to die is more likely when continuing to live will impose significant burdens--emotional burdens, extensive caregiving, destruction of life plans, and yes, financial hardship--on your family and loved ones. This is the fundamental insight underlying a duty to die.

A duty to die becomes greater as you grow older. As we age, we will be giving up less by giving up our lives . . . To have reached the age of say, seventy-five or eighty years without being ready to die is itself a moral failing, the sign of a life out of touch with life's basic realities.

Bioethicist Battin has also supported the concept of an eventual duty to die for those living in rich countries, not just to spare burdening our loved ones but to promote world egalitarianism. Thus, she wrote in a book chapter called "Global Life Expectancies and the Duty to Die" that the time may come when we will have the moral obligation to "conserve health care resources by forgoing treatment or directly ending [our] life" toward promoting "health prospects and life expectancies" that are more equal around the globe.

DESPITE THIS THICKENING ATMOSPHERE of suicide permissiveness, most assisted suicide advocates in this country continue to insist that "all" they want is for the terminally ill to have access to hastened death.

For some, clearly, this is a mere political tactic. The ultimate goal is a much broader death license. Others may actually mean for the initial terminal illness limitation to be permanent, believing that "restricted" assisted suicide, once accepted widely, would not spread to ever widening swaths of acceptable killing (as it has in the Netherlands).