Why Secular Humanism Is Wrong: About Assisted Suicide. (Physician-Assisted Suicide, Pro and Con)

By Smith, Wesley J. | Free Inquiry, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Secular Humanism Is Wrong: About Assisted Suicide. (Physician-Assisted Suicide, Pro and Con)


Smith, Wesley J., Free Inquiry


Secular humanist believers in assisted suicide! euthanasia routinely dismiss opponents as religious zealots who are driven by a sectarian desire to impose Christianity on society. In this view, people like me care little about the right to personal autonomy and even less about human suffering. Rather, driven by religious fervor, we see ourselves on a "divine" mission to force the extension of each human life for as long as medically possible.

While this ridiculous stereotype might play well to those who see religious fundamentalists lurking under every rock, the most compelling arguments against assisted suicide are entirely seculair. Moreover, many of the most effective opponents of the euthanasia agenda aren't religionists at all. These include medical and hospice professional organizations, advocates for the poor, and most especially the disability rights movement.

Why do so many secularists oppose assisted suicide? Books could be--and have been--written on the subject. But with space limited in this forum, I will focus briefly on just four: money, abuses, alternatives, and abandonment.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

It takes only about forty dollars for the drugs used in an assisted suicide. But it could take $40,000 (or more) to provide the medical care and mental health support necessary to alleviate an ill or disabled person's suicidal desire. In a health care world dominated by health maintenance organizations (HMOs), where profits come from cutting costs, assisted suicide would ultimately be about money

Don't take my word for it. None other than Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society argued in his most recent book, Freedom to Die, that "economic reality" is the answer to the oft-asked question about legalizing euthanasia, "Why now?" He writes that assisted suicide could result in the saving of "hundreds of billions of dollars" that "could benefit those patients who not only can be cured but who want to live." (1)

Taking that attitude even further, imagine how much more money could be saved--and thus profits made by HMOs--if euthanasia were made available (as many advocates want) to persons with disabilities, to the elderly who are "tired of life," and to those with permanent cognitive incapacities. Permit the killing of these folk as a "medical treatment," and Wall Street investors in HMOs would be dancing in the street!

And don't forget the pressures involving inheritance, life insurance, payment for nursing home care, and the like. Since our values often follow our pocketbooks, a right to die could quickly morph into a duty to end your life for the benefit of society and/or your family.

GUIDELINES DON'T PROTECT

Euthanasia proponents say that the answer to these and other concerns about abuses is for careful government regulation of assisted suicide. But experience in the Netherlands demonstrates clearly that "protective guidelines" don't protect against abuse. They merely give the illusion of control.

The Netherlands has permitted euthanasia since 1973 under supposedly rigorous guidelines, including requirements for repeated patient requests and an absence of alternative ways to relieve suffering. These so-called protections are violated with impunity Indeed, since 1973, Dutch doctors have gone from killing terminally ill people who ask for it, to killing chronically ill people who ask for it, to killing physically well but depressed people who ask for it. (This later category of permissible killing resulted from a Dutch Supreme Court ruling that approved a psychiatrist's assisting the suicide of a healthy but grieving mother whose two children had died.) (2) Moreover, people who have not asked for euthanasia are routinely mercy-killed. According a paper published in the British medical journal The Lancet, doctors kill 8 percent of all infants who die in the Netherlands. (3) Repeated Dutch government studies have concluded that doctors there kill approximately one thousand patients each year who have not a sked for euthanasia. …

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