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Friday, March 18, 2011

GPS for bioethics

When we go on a trip, we put our destination into the GPS, click Go, and it we have our route laid out. Once in a while after we start going, we realize that we put in the wrong destination, so we pick the right destination and turn aside from the first one.

A recent post at Secondhand Smoke talks about how permitting assisted suicide quickly evolves into promoting it. I certainly agree. It's time to take a look at the destination keyed into the bioethics GPS and pick a new one.

Wesley Smith makes a great observation that I will not soon forget: How heartbreaking it must be for a terminally sick or injured person to say to his loved ones that he's thinking of ending it all, and they agree it's a good idea.

Chilling. Creepy. But it happens.

Surely, the sick person wants to hear, "NO! NEVER!! C'mon, Dad/Mom/Sis/Granny, we LOVE you, we want you around as long as possible! I know you're suffering, but we NEED you!! The kids need you!!! I'll talk to the doctor about pain medication for you, we'll do everything we can to make you comfortable. BUT DON'T LEAVE US!!!"  Even if the sick person is adamant about ending his life, surely it must be a huge slap in the face to have no resistance.

It must equally hurt to have only token resistance, fake but polite, like a friend resisting when we offer to pick up the tab at lunch. We appreciate a sincere, "No, let me pay my share," but more often than not it's just his way to say Thank You, and our guest would feel slighted if we agreed to let him pay for his food. We're duty-bound to follow through on our offer.

But when we offer to kill ourselves? "Well, Dad/Mom/Sis/Granny, we want you around, but if that's your decision..." Surely if our loved ones -- our reasons for living -- indicate that they endorse our decision, we really have no reason left to live except selfishness. We would feel duty-bound to die as soon as possible.

So our loved ones' attempt at neutrality fails. Their lack of resistance is tacit endorsement.

Neutrality is simply illusory in these sorts of issues. Not stopping someone from killing himself is endorsement of the deed. We can be neutral about buying a car: "It matters not to me if you buy this one or that one." But neutrality fails when a life is at stake: "It matters not to me if you kill yourself." That is clearly a statement of the lack of worth of the life in question. The same applies to law. A law that permits a thing endorses it. It is seen as a Good Thing To Do.

The article at Secondhand Smoke references a news story about the possibility of Vermont joining Oregon and Washington in permitting assisted suicide. The news article is far from neutral.

It seems that apparent neutrality is really endorsement. And endorsement becomes pressure to those not considering it. Smith argues in part that our society, our culture, must always and actively discourage suicide and voluntary euthanasia, or else we start down the path of duty-bound suicide and involuntary euthanasia.

If we start down a road that leads to a particular destination, we are not obliged to arrive at that destination if we stop or turn off along the way. But if we do not stop, we cannot claim to be surprised if arrive at the destination.

We are on the road to enforced euthanasia according to the bioethics GPS. Faux neutrality is the on-ramp. We've already missed the exit before Assisted Suicide. We really should turn back.