Politics & Policy

What If Steven McDonald’s Last 30 Years Hadn’t Happened?

McDonald, with wife Patti Ann, speaks at the 2004 Republican Convention. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
A witness to the robbery that is assisted suicide

Some years ago — in 2001 — I interviewed Dr. Philip Nitschke, an international advocate for assisted suicide, based in Australia. He was candid during the course of the interview, admitting that the option to “give away” life should ultimately be available to “anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, [and] the troubled teen.” He insisted that “if we are to remain consistent and we believe that the individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers in the way of sub-groups who don’t meet our criteria.” He wanted to make sure that anyone who desired it had the “knowledge, training, or recourse necessary.”

As Wesley J. Smith has pointed out, 15 years later, Dr. Nitschke is waging the same campaign. He just has fewer people to convince now.

He launched a group late last year called Exit Action to push through legislation from a “a militant pro-euthanasia position.” At the announcement of the group, Dr. Nitschke laid out its guiding principles:

Exit Action is critical of the “medical model” that sees voluntary euthanasia as a privilege given to the very sick by the medical profession. . . . Exit Action believes that a peaceful death, and access to the best euthanasia drugs, is a right of all competent adults, regardless of sickness or permission from the medical profession.

As dark as his philosophy is, I’ve always given Dr. Nitschke credit for honesty. On so many of these issues that strike at the heart of our humanity, euphemisms and cloaked motives often rule the “debates,” such as they are. They tend to include glamorous profiles in People magazine of a person’s last days, and other propaganda that seduces the readers into believing that love, wanting the best for another, is wanting them dead — better, presumably, for everyone in the long run.

As Smith points out at NRO, Nitschke is no “euthanasia outlaw disdained by his fellow travelers” but a respected activist on these issues. And he’s not alone in believing what he does.

Former prosecutor Ed Mechmann notes a recent legal blog post by the executive director of the End of Life Liberty Project. In it, Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer among those currently suing New York State to legalize assisted suicide, protests against any legislative “burdens and restrictions” on legal assisted suicide. “While in some ways these enactments are a step toward expanding end of life liberty, they impose heavy governmental intrusion into the practice of medicine, which is concerning because it creates barriers to patient access and to physician participation.” She lists a litany of such supposedly unnecessary burdens: a 15-day waiting period, witnesses, written requests to make sure the patient isn’t acting rashly, doctor record-keeping, and a mandated second opinion to ensure against misdiagnosis. None of which seem overly burdensome; they are the least of protections against, yes, rash decisions and coercion.

Steven McDonald was often open about the fact that some days early on, in the hospital and after going home, he didn’t want to live.

I recalled and read all of this as Steven McDonald, the New York City police officer who was left for dead 30 years ago in Central Park, was being laid to rest. In giving testimony — which included explaining why he forgave the teenager who shot him, paralyzing him from the neck down — he was often open about the fact that some days early on, in the hospital and after going home, he didn’t want to live. He contemplated suicide, so seriously at one point that his wife called someone who had become a close family friend, Cardinal O’Connor, who spent the day with them both, ministering to them in fatherly love. That’s what he needed: support and friends to walk the road with them. He didn’t want to be a burden on his family. And at certain moments, it was hard to see how God was using him for good, for great inspiration.

Since the birth of his son, Conor, now a police officer, his message has been forgiveness. The day Conor was baptized, his wife gave voice to his decision to forgive his attacker. He would later explain:

I needed healing — badly — and found out that the only way forward was with love. And I learned that one of the most beautiful expressions of love is forgiving. I know that will sound illogical or impossible to some. Others will find it downright ridiculous. But I’m talking as one who has lived through this.

At a time when there is so much violence and anger, and especially on city streets, and especially having to do with police, what better message could we hear? And we never would have heard this message had McDonald decided to end his life. Maybe from a new perch he can help us see the way to embrace life in all its challenges and beauty. He sure showed us how.

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