The Magazine

The Suicide Juggernaut

Euthanasia activists are on a roll.

Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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That has certainly been the pattern for the last 40 years in the Netherlands, where the categories of killable people have expanded like a sinkhole. Now, psychiatrists want to get in on the killing. A 2012 article in a Dutch journal of psychiatry concluded that not only is euthanasia for mental illness legal in the Netherlands (absolutely true), but making euthanasia—the “midwife of death”—more available to those with mental illnesses would constitute “an emancipation of the psychiatric patient and psychiatry itself.”

On this side of the pond, Quebec is close to legalizing euthanasia. All major political parties in the provincial parliament support the plan, which would—unlike any other proposal I have seen—forbid assisted suicide and require doctors to kill qualified patients as medical treatment. It would accomplish this bit of prestidigitation by renaming euthanasia “medical aid in dying” and mandating that doctors “administer such aid personally” when asked by a legally qualified patient. 

As under most legal schemes outside the United States, eligibility would not be limited to the terminally ill. If of “full age” and “capable of giving consent,” the suicidal patient would be able to have him or herself killed if suffering from “an incurable serious illness” in an “advanced state of irreversible decline” that causes “unbearable physical or psychological pain which cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.” As in the Scottish proposal and the Belgian and Dutch laws, the definition is broad enough to drive a hearse through.

What’s more, all Quebec doctors would be legally required to euthanize qualified patients—or, if morally opposed, to refer patients to others willing to kill them. In other words, complicity in euthanasia may soon become a condition of practicing medicine in Quebec—Hippocratic Oath be damned.

The United States too has seen a lurch in assisted suicide policy. Americans still have qualms about the issue; voters in Massachusetts narrowly rejected a legalization referendum last year. Thus, as a political expedient, proposals here usually limit doctor-prescribed death to the terminally ill and include bureaucratic guidelines that supposedly will protect against abuse.

True to form, Vermont has a new assisted-suicide law that contained such provisions when lawmakers passed it in May. But the “safeguards” will sunset in 2016. After that, no state oversight of any kind is mandated. Instead, suicide-assisting doctors will make their own rules so long as the patient is “capable and does not have impaired judgment.” The doctor informs the suicidal patient of “feasible end-of-life services” and discloses the “risks” of taking a lethal overdose. 

To recap: Starting in 2016, doctors in Vermont will assist patient suicides under what amounts to an honor system, no questions asked. What could go wrong? 

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture. 

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