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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

New York Times’ Biased “Aid in Dying” Bunkum



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I have long ago given up on the media fairly — or even accurately — reporting on the assisted suicide movement. Most stories exhibit some or all of the following bias methods:

  1. Adopt the advocacy lexicon of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement.
  2. Center the narrative around a man who “just wants to die,” rather than an event, e.g. actual news.
  3. Word engineering by redefining terms and blurring moral distinctions to make reasoned ethical analysis more difficult.
  4. Only present the perspective of pro-assisted suicide activists.
  5. If an opponent of assisted suicide is quoted, make it a Catholic priest–or better yet, a bishop–to imply that religion is the only reason to oppose. Don’t give actual public policy reasons for rejecting assisted suicide.
  6. Omit details on how the suffering person can be helped without being killed. 
  7. Pretend assisted suicide has worked without a hitch in Oregon and wherever else it has been tried. 
  8. Fail to report the astonishing levels of abandonment and abuse unleashed by assisted suicide/euthanasia in Europe.
  9. Pretend the movement is experiencing a ground swell of public support, gaining momentum, etc..
  10. Threaten dire efforts at suicide because assisted suicide isn’t legal.
  11. Ignore all mention suicide prevention services that could help transform a desire to die into a desire to keep on living. 

Today’s New York Times–a cover story, no less, byline Eric Eckholm (who seems to have the NYT’s culture war beat, an area criticized by the paper’s public editors for biased reporting)–follows the usual formula almost to a tee. Using the numbering above, let’s analyze, shall we?

NUMBER 1, CHECK: The language bias starts with the headline, and continues throughout the “story:”

‘Aid in Dying’ Movement Takes Hold in Some States

The story described aid in dying and why, supposedly, it isn’t suicide:

​​Giving a fading patient the opportunity for a peaceful and dignified death is not suicide, the group says, which it defines as an act by people with severe depression or other mental problems.

There is no rebuttal to this assertion by opponents.

Aid in dying is an advocacy, not a descriptive term, chosen after much polling and focus group testing by the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement to move its agenda forward. It pretends that terminally ill people can’t commit suicide because they would want to live, but for their condition, and that if a doctor supplies an overdose it is just a medical treatment.

In past legalization attempts, such as in California–and in the pending legislation in Quebec–aid in dying was active euthanasia. 

NUMBER 2, CHECK: The “story” centers around Robert Mitton, who “just wants to die,” about his plans for suicide because he has serious heart disease and considers a right to help in suicide “a basic right.” (U.S. Supreme Court already ruled 9-0 that it is not.)

NUMBER 3, CHECK: The story redefines language–see “aid in dying” discussion above–and blurs the crucial distinction between dying naturally after refusing life-extending medical treatment. Yet, the Supreme Court ruled long ago that refusing treatment is not the same thing as assisted suicide.

NUMBERS 4 AND 5, CHECK: Three people were interviewed for the story–Barbara Coombs Lee, head of Compassion and Choices, Mitton, and his sister who “respects” the decision to commit suicide.

A Catholic bishop from New Mexico is quoted from a speech. In that way, no chance to give a quote about what might be done in this situation to help the man short of killing. No specifics for reasons to oppose other than religious are provided.

NUMBER 6, CHECK: The word “hospice” is mentioned, but no details are given how that truly beneficent medical intervention keeps seriously ill heart disease patients comfortable and socially connected. And certainly, no interviews about successful hospice cases that would undercut the story’s false premise that the choice facing Mitton is dying in agony or suicide.

NUMBER 7, CHECK: Assisted suicide in Oregon is presented as working without a hitch. Not true. For example, there is no mention of Barbara Wagner, who was denied life-extending chemotherapy by the state’s rationed Medicaid program–but offered payment for assisted suicide.

NUMBER 8, CHECK: There is utterly no mention of the ever-increasing euthanasia horrors in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland–or how the same things could happen here should our culture widely embrace the assisted suicide movement’s policy agendas.

NUMBER 9, CHECK: The headline and story work hard to give the impression that there is a popular demand for legalizing assisted suicide. Not true. It doesn’t even register in the Pew Poll’s list of “Top Policy Priorities.”

Moreover, only three states have formally legalized assisted suicide, not five, as in the story. The Montana Supreme Court’s supposed legalization court ruling is very muddled and still subject to differing interpretations. New Mexico’s recent decision is only that of a trial judge, with an appeal surely pending–also not mentioned by the reporter. 

NUMBER 10, CHECK: Mitton threatens to kill himself with household chemicals.

NUMBER 11, CHECK: No mention of suicide prevention. In this regard, see my First Things piece, published yesterday.

Had Mitton or Coombs Lee written this as an opinion piece, these biases would be understandable. But in a supposed news story? No.

Eckholm’s story has all the earmarks of a plant with the reporter diligently following the formula he was handed by issue activists.  All too typical, these days.  



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