Suicide by any other name (COMMENTARY)

Print More
A nurse or doctor gives a patient medication. Canada has drafter legislation to allow doctor-assisted dying.

Photo courtesy of Leonardo da via Shutterstock

A nurse or doctor gives a patient medication. Canada has drafter legislation to allow doctor-assisted dying.

The grim reaper is feeling bullish.

Following success in California — the fifth state where doctors are now free to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally-ill or dying patients —  so-called “right-to-die” activists have turned their eyes to Maryland, New York and beyond.

I think that this is a national wave,” Maryland House of Delegates member Shane E. Pendergrass told The Washington Post. Pendergrass plans to sponsor “right-to-die” legislation in January.

It’s a wave with the potential to sweep some of society’s most vulnerable — the elderly, the terminally ill and disabled — prematurely into the hereafter.

When Oregonian octogenarian Kate Cheney was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she sought a prescription to end her life. The first doctor denied the request due to concerns about Cheney’s mental capacity and her daughter’s aggressiveness. A second doctor deemed Cheney mentally competent but noted that her “choices may be influenced by her family’s wishes and her daughter, Erika, may be somewhat coercive.”

Months later, Cheney gathered with her family, drank the deadly mixture provided by her doctor and died.

Dr. Leonie Herx, a Canadian palliative care doctor who opposes physician-assisted death wrote this year, “Let’s not kid ourselves or cloak reality with soft words — physician-assisted death is killing.”

But verbal cloaking is the stock in trade of the “right-to-die” forces. The Orwellian-speak they employ to describe their effort is telling. It’s death by euphemism.

For starters, no one is being denied the “right to die.” What some are trying to prevent is the drafting of doctors into the death business. Physicians are meant to help us heal or provide relief from pain. They aren’t supposed to play assistant in a suicide.

Oh, but we aren’t supposed to refer to self-inflicted death as “suicide.”

Rocky Shaw, president of the California State Coroners Association, told the Los Angeles Times that before California’s new law passed if someone took a lethal dose of drugs it would be ruled a suicide. But the new law states that “death resulting from the self-administration of an aid-in-dying drug is not suicide.” This, according to Shaw, “leaves a question about how to classify” a physician-assisted death.

This is no doubt because Compassion and Choices, a national “right-to-die” organization that lobbied for the California law is working furiously to, according to its website, “Normalize accurate, unbiased language throughout the end-of-life choice discussion (‘aid in dying’ instead of ‘assisted suicide’).”

Like all Orwellian creeds, it states the opposite of its intention. The goal here is to ensure that inaccurate and biased language is used to obfuscate the truth.

Interestingly, Compassion and Choices was once called the Hemlock Society just as the Euthanasia Educational Council morphed into the more gauzy Concern for Dying.


READT.I. won’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman


Assisted suicide advocates often claim that they merely want to help people avoid pain in their final days. But according to Oregon’s public health department, the top reasons given for physician-assisted suicide in the state are loss of autonomy (91 percent), decreased ability to engage in enjoyable activities (87 percent), loss of dignity (71 percent), loss of control of bodily functions (49 percent) and becoming a burden on others (40 percent).

Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.

Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY and is author of “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.” Photo by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.

Is anyone ashamed that we live in a culture where people believe that if they aren’t autonomous or might be a burden on others that they should ingest drugs and die? This is the unrelenting message of the “right-to-die” crowd that sees “dignity” in shoving people toward death when they are in their most vulnerable state.

This attitude is reminiscent of “the Quietus” as it was called in P.D. James’s dystopian novel “The Children of Men.” Elderly people, who were viewed as a drain on society’s resources, would don white garments and commit mass suicide in a ceremony covered approvingly by the media. It turned out that many were drugged and coerced by the government.

Today, sadly, the coercion seems to be coming from closer to home.

(Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY and is author of “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.”)

  • Pingback: Suicide by any other name (COMMENTARY) - mosaicversemosaicverse()

  • Jon

    Anyone opposed to letting people have a right to die is saying that they want the government to prevent people from making their own choices. It’s quite understandable if you, personally, don’t want to have a choice over your medical care. That’s fine for you. For others, they may want to have a choice over their medical care. People like Kirsten want to force their personal preference on everyone, and here, as usual, resort to doomsday fantasy stories to do so, because they know they have no rational leg to stand on.

  • Larry

    “Is anyone ashamed that we live in a culture where people believe that if they aren’t autonomous or might be a burden on others that they should ingest drugs and die?”

    Only people who lack empathy for those in such a situation. Those who like people to suffer horrifically in order to conform to their views as to behavior.

    Other than flinging poo and calling the assisted suicide supporters “Orwellian”, I don’t see an actual argument against them here. Ms. Powers is notorious for writing screeds that show little knowledge of the subject. The article has a lot of self-righteous indignation, attempted association and analogy. But there is nothing to note as to why the contrary position has a valid point to make.

  • Joan

    Christians believe that their lives belong to God and they have no more right to destroy it than to destroy another life. Assisting someone else in taking their own life is to be complicit in (dare I say it?) murder. However, I recognize that if one believes that one’s life is one’s own it is a different matter in their conscience. Like abortion, this is another indication how our society is moving away from it’s Judeo-Christian roots and toward radical individualism.
    I would like to lend my support to Kirstin’s viewpoint. I only hope that we don’t try to coerce physicians into this sad practice.

  • Bernardo

    Bring on the morphine!!

  • John

    Joan —

    >>>I would like to lend my support to Kirstin’s viewpoint. I only hope that we don’t try to coerce physicians into this sad practice.

    Fair enough. No physician should be coerced to assist in suicide but now physicians are coerced into withholding their services. Unfortunately, the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, flat-earth, anti-science, pro-war political factions believe entirely in coercion because their ideas are being rejected.

  • Loren Haas

    So Ms. Powers would catch the “jumpers” from the Twin Towers mid-air and push them back up onto the window ledges to burn to death?
    The cause of death for the unfortunate souls caught in this circumstance was not suicide, but rather terrorist attack.
    The obfuscation is what is left out of this commentary. The California law requires that the patient has a condition that is expected to be fatal in less than six months. Like to people on the ledge, their fate is already determined. The only real choice they have is how they choose to die: Agony or leaping into the arms of their loving God.

  • Jay

    Methinks it is Kristen Powers and other opponents of individual rights who are coercive. Talk about an Orwellian word salad: it is coercive to request assistance in ending one’s life, but not coercive to forbid people from ending their lives. Such thinking turns ideas on their heads, and that sadly is the only purpose for this silly column.

  • Ben in oakland

    My two posts were deleted. Not one word of them violated any possible terms of service. What gives, RNS?

    Of course, my identical posting over at USA lasted about an hour. So much for the right wing whining about free speech and censorship.

    Maybe I should start flagging everyone’s posts to see how many of them disappear.

  • dmj76

    The New Testament clearly teaches that suffering is good for you because it builds character. (This is in Romans.) Believers should appreciate that not everyone shares this view, and many unbelievers think that suffering, especially the horrible suffering of cancer, is just plain bad and if someone wants to avoid it we should not interfere with the resulting doctor-patient relationship.

    The police have enough to do without watching hospice workers.

  • Deane

    I am not a Christian because, among other things, I think that Christian ethics are deeply flawed and nowhere more than in the absolutization of biological continuation above all else. I value my dignity and autonomy above my life and reserve for myself the right to kill myself should I find myself in an intolerable situation – death before dishonour.

    I respect the right of others to believe and act as they please on this matter, but I resent and will resist any attempt to trammel my freedom and ability to dispose of my own life as I please. Those who love me will respect that.

  • Deane

    “This attitude is reminiscent of “the Quietus” as it was called in P.D. James’s dystopian novel “The Children of Men.” Elderly people, who were viewed as a drain on society’s resources, would don white garments and commit mass suicide in a ceremony covered approvingly by the media.”

    It is interesting that the writer has to resort to fiction here to make her point: “It turned out that many were drugged and coerced by the government.” In actual historical Inuit civilization, however, suicide (especially of the elderly) was dealt with in a sane and loving fashion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit#Suicide.2C_murder.2C_and_death