Human Exceptionalism

Debbie Purdy Dies: Case Echoed I Accuse!

Debbie Purdy, who won a landmark legal case in the United Kingdom requiring the public prosecutor to issue guidelines when assisted suicide would be prosecuted, has died in hospice after refusing to eat. She was 51.

Purdy’s case thrust the legalization of assisted suicide onto the front burner in the UK in 2009, where it remains today.  Ironically, even though she wasn’t terminally ill at the time–and died now because she stopped eating–UK assisted suicide promoters continue to pretend that legalization is about terminal illness.  

Considering Purdy’s case–and the support she received for the right to assisted suicide–it clearly is not. Any such limitation is only the proverbial foot in the door.

I am reminded of the 1941 German pro-euthanasia propaganda movie Ich Klage An! (I Accuse!).  As in the Purdy case, the plot involved a woman who contracts progressive MS.  As she loses abilities, she wants to die. Her physician husband eventually assists her suicide and is arrested. The movie ends with the character looking into the camera, as if the audience were the judges, declaring:

No!  Now, I accuse!  I accuse the law which hinders doctors and judges in their task of helping people.  I confess . . . I have delivered my wife from her sufferings, following her wishes.  My life and the lives of all people who will suffer the same fate as my wife, depends on your verdict.  Now, pass your verdict.

The answer the movie-makers wanted was to validate the husband’s act.  In essence, that is what the Purdy case was also about.

If you agree that the husband acted properly in I Accuse, stop pretending assisted suicide is about terminal illness and admit it is much more about disability–which is why the disability rights movement remains so opposed as they are the primary targets.  It is about allowing killing as an acceptable answer to many causes of suffering, whether terminal or chronic disease, disability, mental illness, or existential despair.  

Indeed, as we have seen in Switzerland, Netherlands, and Belgium, once the fundamental premise us accepted, the sheer force of logic leads to permission for virtual death-on-demand.

Debbie Purdy looked at society and said, “I accuse!”  What is your verdict?

Mine is to never legalize. Ever.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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