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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

How Media Helps Push Us Off Suicide Cliff



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I’ve seen it again and again in my more than twenty years of opposing assisted suicide: the media promote suicide in the guise of reporting the news. Indeed, these days, it is almost a universal rule.

Here’s the biased–both by what is reported and what isn’t–usual pattern:

1. Make sure the headline promotes assisted suicide, particularly important since many won’t read the story;

2. Introduce an ill person with terrifying disease–often ALS (motor neurone disease), the bloody flag of the euthanasia movement;

3. The patient just wants to die when a “line” is crossed;

4. But mean society won’t let doctors prescribe death, so he has to die in a way he would rather not (take your pick) violently, with his family absent, in Switzerland, in agony, etc.;

5. If the law would only permit doctor-prescribed suicide, he could die at home, in his own bed, surrounded by the things and people he loves;

6. Write the story as if it appears or implies that the suicide is a necessity;

7. Never mention suicide prevention and how people similarly situated were helped not to kill themselves and are glad to be alive;

8. Don’t fairly present opposing arguments, e.g. no quotes, quotes from priest only, no or bare a mention of reasons to keep assisted suicide illegal;

9. Immediately have the suicidal hero–or a “compassionate” family doctor–slap down the concern;

10. Don’t describe the horrors of Belgium, the Netherlands, or Switzerland–oft discussed here;

11. Assure that assisted suicide guidelines will prevent abuse–without noting it hasn’t worked out that way wherever society widely embraces euthanasia consciousness.

Et voila! You have a story in which the reader is left nodding, “Of COURSE the law should be changed so he could die as he pleases.” 

Read this story in the Bristol Post, and you see the pattern played almost to a tee in all its propagandistic reader manipulation:

1.Pro allow the suicide headline:

Beethoven and Bordeaux, not Beatles and beards for my dying wishes, says ex-Bristol head 

2. Suicidal person with terrifying disease:

Former schools inspector Chris Woodhead has revealed that he has planned his final moments in his battle with the progressive disease which has left him quadriplegic and  unable to feed himself since his diagnosis in 2006. 

3. Wants to die when line crossed:

A former Bristol teacher and head of Ofsted says he wants to die when motor neurone disease deprives him of his ability to speak.

4. “Has” to die in way he doesn’t want:

Bristol University graduate Mr Woodhead, a former head of English at Gordano School in Portishead, previously stated in 2011 that he might be willing to go to Dignitas, an assisted suicide centre in Switzerland, to die.

5. Would rather die at home with what he loves:

…he said he would not be going to the clinic to end his life alongside “bearded social workers”, and would much prefer to live his final moments with his loved ones, listening to Beethoven’s later quartets with a bottle of Bordeaux.

6. Suicide a necessity: Implied in this case as the story says zero about what can be done to ensure comfort or alleviate impact of person’s “line.” For example,this story never mentions technology that facilitates communication, e.g. as used by Stephen Hawking, if the patient loses the ability to speak.

7. Other options not mentioned: The story does not interview suicide prevention expert or hospice professional who works to help people with ALS keep on keeping on. The medical director of St. Christopher’s Hospice could have given the reporter an earful of such hopeful examples.

8. No meaningful opposition allowed. Here’s the only sentence involving the reasons not to legalize assisted suicide:

But it has concerned critics who are worried it may be open for abuse.

9. Slapdown!

Mr Woodhead said he didn’t ‘buy for one moment that we are going to see all sorts of vulnerable people bumped off by their avaricious relatives’.

10. Don’t mention horrors elswhere already documented abundantly. Check

11. Guidelines will prevent abuse!

He said: “It seems to me obvious that society can build necessary safeguards to guard people and that people are making huge song and dance about something which is quite simple.”

Of course, it isn’t nearly that simple.

And once assisted suicide was allowed for ALS patients, the same pattern would apply to people with disabilities, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, etc.  Because legalized assisted suicide for the terminally ill would not stop trips to Switzerland to be made dead by the non terminally ill–already occuring

But why do a balanced job? That takes work. And insight. And objectivity. And professionalism.



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