Euthanasia/assisted suicide advocates are masters of word engineering. From the very beginning they have redefined terms, blurred definitions, and coined euphemistic phrases to deflect attention away from the core of their agenda, which is to make suicide and homicide an acceptable answer to human suffering.
The latest example is the now ubiquitously used phrased “aid in dying,” which most media have happily adopted (at the assisted suicide movement’s request) in place of the accurate and descriptive “assisted suicide.” That’s the subject of my biweekly First Things column, out today. From, “Euthanasia’s Euphemisms:”
The movement’s latest euphemistic phrase is “aid in dying,” promoted most prominently by the (euphemistically) named assisted suicide advocacy organization Compassion and Choices (which came into being after a merger with the more descriptively named Hemlock Society). According to C&C, when a terminally ill patient swallows an intentionally prescribed lethal overdose of barbiturates, it isn’t really suicide. Why? Because the word “suicide” has negative connotations, and C&C wants people to feel positive about some self-killings. Here’s the idea: A terminally ill patient doesn’t really want to die, but has no choice. Hence, taking an intentionally prescribed lethal overdose of “medication”—another euphemism, since the purpose is not to treat but to poison oneself—doesn’t constitute suicide.
The constant abuse of language poisons public discourse generally these days, it seems to me, because it interferes with a clear-headed and meaningful debate. But the meme that assisted suicide is merely “aid in dying” is ridiculous:
But surely, accurate language must still mean something in public policy debates. Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.” Thus, under C&C’s reckoning, if the distraught owner of, say, a failed business intentionally takes an overdose of prescribed sleeping pills, it’s suicide. But if the same man takes the pills because he has cancer, and the doctor prescribed the pills for that purpose, it isn’t suicide. That’s nonsensical.
The real issue is how society should respond to our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the darkness of suicidal despair, e.g., whether we will engage in suicide prevention for all, or just for some. One might support legalizing assisted suicide. But considering the cultural consequences, at the very least, those who do owe society a real discourse, not one shrouded in the fog of euphemism.
I have more to say on the subject. For those interested, just hit the link above.