Sunday, October 11, 2009

The "Culture of Death" and Death with Dignity.

Rita L. Marker, who, along with Wesley J. Smith, is a member of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Saturday posted an article that demonstrates the "slippery slope," no-compromise, no-choice position inherent in arguments against the legalization of death with dignity. In an impressive display of argument-against-exaggerated-claims, Marker writes:

Both the Oregon and Washington laws limit assisted suicide to terminally ill, competent adults who must self-administer the lethal drugs. Yet personal autonomy and ending suffering were the two chief reasons given for permitting assisted suicide in the first place. Those reasons, in and of themselves, logically demand that the practice not be limited to terminally ill, competent adults who happen to be physically able to self-administer the drugs. Consider:

If personal autonomy is the basis for permitting assisted suicide, why would a person only have personal autonomy when diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) as having a terminal condition?

If assisted suicide is proclaimed by force of law to be a good solution to the problem of human suffering, then isn’t it both unreasonable and cruel to limit it to the dying?

Once assisted suicide is changed from a bad thing to be prevented into a good thing to be facilitated, isn’t it easy to see how the early “safeguards” will come to be seen as obstacles to be surmounted?

On what basis could one deny a good and compassionate medical “treatment” to those who are suffering from chronic conditions? Or to children? Or to those who never have been or are no longer competent?
If a lethal dose of drugs is considered a good medical treatment, isn’t the requirement of self-administration both illogical and overly restrictive? What about the person who is physically disabled and unable to self-administer the lethal dose?

In fact, assisted-suicide leaders have acknowledged that laws like those in Oregon and Washington are only a “first step” in achieving their agenda of death, for persons of any age and for any reason.

It is in the last sentence that she best reveals her agenda: by equating death with dignity (as legalized in Washington and Oregon, allowing terminally ill, mentally sound patients the right to request a prescription from their doctor for lethal drugs for self-administration) to permission - and, she projects, promotion - of suicide she eliminates the personal narrative of suffering from the discussion. (Depression, a curable affliction, is commonly thought the cause of suicide; if she convinces us that depression is the cause of assisted suicide, it too is curable.)

In this way she paints advocates for assisted suicide as death-hungry mongers, out to kill the weak and infirm - much as anti-choice activists paint women as whores eager to get abortions and happy to kill babies. Assisted suicide advocates must, she asserts, have an agenda other than relief of suffering and protection of personal dignity and rights.

By arguing for actions now unrequested by death with dignity advocates - such as suicide-for-all and government-enforced euthanasia -she warps the issue of assisted suicide into what she calls an "agenda of death." To Marker, either one upholds the "culture of life" at all costs or one slides down the "slippery slope" into institutionalization of the "culture of death."

"Pro-life" activists, those who work to eliminate abortion, contraception, stem cell research, cloning, and assisted suicide ("unjust" war and capital punishment are also sometimes included, though seldom by Republican politicians), often rail against what they call the "culture of death." The term has its roots in the Didache, "a first century Christian document which exposes the doctrine of two ways : the way of life and the way of death. This work is part of the Church's Magisterium...."

Pope John Paul II furthered the use of the phrase in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae, which uses "culture of death" twelve times and defines it as a degradation of society which allows the "eclipse of the sense of God and of man typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test."

Secularism, or elevation of man above God, according to this view results in a "culture of death"; without God, society loses its moral compass and is therefore incapable of protecting life as defined by the church. The godly are warned to prevent against this erosion of society, to fight the 'culture of death' on behalf of the unborn, the elderly, the ill, the voiceless, the "least of these":

It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life, is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness. 18 But it is also a question, in a certain sense, of the "moral conscience" of society: in a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or fosters behaviour contrary to life, but also because it encourages the "culture of death", creating and consolidating actual "structures of sin" which go against life.
"Structures of Sin" would presumably include laws permitting personal rights such as reproductive health services or assisted suicide - conception and death being considered the province of God, or more appropriately, of the church (or, ahem, of the Republican party).

The binary terms, "culture of life" and "culture of death," were brought into US political discourse by George Bush in 2000 in an attempt during a televised political debate with Al Gore to capture Catholic votes.

"Culture of death" has strong Nazi connotations that equate those who support individual rights to abortion and assisted suicide as like the Nazi regime which perpetrated the Holocaust:

Advocates of a "culture of life" argue that a "culture of death" results in political, economic, or eugenic murder. They point to historical events such as the Holocaust or the Great Purges in the Soviet Union as examples of devaluation of human life taken to an extreme conclusion. In the United States, the term is used by those in the pro-life movement to refer to support legalized abortion and/or euthanasia.[4]

(Those who deny this binary construct, such as the "pro-choice" president Barack Obama, are often likened to Nazis, and the legalization of abortion is often called a holocaust.)

Under this construct, now not only espoused by Catholics but by Christian conservatives and "pro-life" advocates, disbelief in God results in a "culture of death"; there is no room for compromise, personal rights, or allowance that the ungodly have a moral agenda which conveys the ability to care for society.

Personal rights (or the desire to avoid suffering of "God's injustices") must be abandoned for the sake of society. In other words, personal suffering benefits society. Marker concludes:

Do we want to go from a situation where, initially, people are horrified by assisted suicide, but then tolerate it and, finally, accept it? Do we want to see a time, in the not too distant future, when people feel guilty for not choosing assisted suicide? Many people in Oregon and Washington, including those who voted for a “death with dignity” law, didn’t have a clue about its implications. All of us need to help others know what legalized assisted suicide really means. That is the only way we can prevent its spread. We must work to prevent assisted suicide from becoming the American way of death. Not only our lives but the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on it.

Not only does she equate death with dignity to an all-out campaign to kill other segments of society, but she works to create the fear that the "culture of death" will come for them or their loved ones next.

All attempts by assisted suicide advocates to address the suffering of the terminally ill is equated to elevation of man above God or, as Wesley J. Smith, loathe to so blatantly hark God, put it the other day in a fit of frustration, elevation of personal narrative above the good of society:

“Aid in dying” is just a gobbledygook euphemistic advocacy term that pretends terminally ill people can’t commit suicide. In other words, it is postmodernism run amok in that it would disregard facts and sacrifice accurate definitions on the altar of personal narrative."

I accept that Marker and Smith are sincere in their criticism of the legalization of death with dignity laws in the US. What I don't accept - and what I find disingenuous and damaging - is that they accuse a segment of society as bent on perpetuating the systematic killing of innocent people. There is historical and religious precedent for such accusations - the Catholic church, for instance, is invested in maintaining jurisdiction over suffering, and political entities are determined to have jurisdiction over punishment as part of the state's power.

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