I was asked to write a piece for an online magazine called The Church Report. I decided to expand my criticism of the lawsuit in Connecticut to redefine the word “suicide” in the assisted suicide context to “aid in dying.” The suit wants a judge to rule that when the suicidal person is terminally ill and is assisted in self-killing by a lethal prescription from a physician, it is not assisted suicide, in short, a blatant attempt to legalize by lexicon that which could not be done by legislation.
I get into the history of “aid in dying” as an advocacy term coined to overcome poll results showing that people have a negative attitude toward suicide. From the column:
Never mind that it is accurate. The dictionary definition of “suicide” is “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suicide And forget for the moment that fear of stigma can save lives. C & C is blatantly promoting a postmodern word engineering scheme that would sacrifice accurate and precise legal lexicon on the altar of emotional personal narratives.
Lest you think such subterfuge cannot succeed, it already has. Under Washington State’s newly legalize assisted suicide regime, participating doctors are legally required to lie on the death certificate by listing the cause of death as the underlying disease rather than the prescribed suicide drug overdose.
Redefining the term in order to legalize assisted suicide by judicial fiat would have consequences:
Consider the surrealistic possibilities: If the lawsuit succeeded and I gave a terminally ill friend in Connecticut an overdose with which to intentionally end his life, it would remain a crime. But if my friend consulted a doctor he doesn’t know who is affiliated with Compassion and Choices to obtain the overdose—as happens with most assisted suicides in Oregon— it would merely be legal “aid in dying”—this, even though the act, the motive, and the lethal consequence would be precisely the same in each instance. That’s not only nuts, it is blatantly Orwellian.
But the issue is bigger than just assisted suicide:
It is also dangerous beyond the issue of assisted suicide. The United States, we are often told, is a nation of laws and not of men. If we are to be governed by the rule of law, words have to matter and definitions must be capable of being relied upon. But if a commonly understood term can simply be tossed out in order to legalize what the people’s elected representatives made a crime, why couldn’t a judge similarly criminalize an otherwise legal act via the same sleight of hand machination? Indeed, should judges decide they can unilaterally change the rules by simply redefining terms, what law could permanently be relied upon?
The case should be a slam-dunk, the lawsuit thrown forcefully out of court. But the way things are in the courts today, you never know what will happen. In this sense, the assisted suicide lawsuit in Connecticut not only threatens to remove a vital legal protection from vulnerable patients, it is a lethal threat to the rule of law itself.
And frankly, I don’t think that assisted suicide advocates much care.