This article is a pretty good summary of the presentation I made at the international anti-euthanasia conference in Toronto last week. (Kudos to Alex Schadenberg, head of the Canada-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, for spearheading such a successful and important get together. Many leaders in the movement to maintain ethical medicine internationally, disability rights activists, religious leaders, medical professionals, etc., were in attendance, and more than 300 people turned out to hear the presenters.)
I was asked to speak about “future concerns.” My presentation was divided into two parts. First, I pointed out that the promotion of assisted suicide had moved from the “crackpot” approach (suicide machines, focus on methods of “deliverance,” etc.) into the elitist “professional mode” in which very well off and very well-tailored advocates pitch their poison to other similarly very well off and very well-tailored leaders in the media, professional organizations, etc., who think like them, act like them, speak like them, etc. Here’s how the story described that part of the speech:
Gone are the many cruder elements of the movement such as the antics of Dr Kevorkian or the promotion of “exit bags” that on a number of occasions garnered strong public reactions against pro-euthanasia proposals just prior to key plebiscites or votes by legislators. Instead, the movement has shifted focus away from trying to change public opinion towards that of influencing political leadership in the areas of law, politics and professional medical associations. The key players in the movement today are professional, upper middle class people who are very influential in changing the opinions of important players who in the words of Smith “happen to look, think and act like them.” They are particularly adept at modifying the language surrounding physician assisted suicide to make it more palatable and change the framework within which it is debated.
The bulk of my speech was about futile care theory, which I perceive as the first cousin of assisted suicide. Assisted suicide/euthanasia holds that some people’s lives are so miserable and undignified that if they want to kill themselves, society should permit doctors (or others) to facilitate suicide. Futile care theory holds that some people’s lives are so miserable and undignified that even if they want to have their lives sustained, doctors and ethics committees can say no. This would seem to be paradoxical. It is, if the issue is “choice.” But that isn’t the real issue, that is the facade. The real agenda is getting certain people dead.
Here is how the story covered that aspect of the speech:
…[H]uman lives are increasingly being measured by a combination of factors such as the quality of life (as determined by others), the costs of treatment and their value to society. This naturally leads to the development of “Futile Care Theory” which moves the argument from the right of people to choose death to that of promoting the death of people who fail to meet the standards of the “Personhood Theory” approach to measuring the quality of life. Smith summarized it with the line, “we want to put other people out of our misery.”
On another point: I was impressed with the speech of Canadian disability rights activists Catherine Frazee. She told the audience that there are two general veins of opposition to assisted suicide; political and spiritual, with people in each camp disagreeing with each other on other issues. She suggested that the best way to work together would be to develop a philosophical approach that would include all and permit people to also pursue other agendas when not working against assisted suicide. Well stated, I think.