Human Exceptionalism

Debating Assisted Suicide on NPR

Two weeks ago I taped a debate about assisted suicide on the NPR program Talking Justice. It begins airing around the country on Saturday, October 8th, and can also be accessed at the show’s WEBsite. My adversary was Kathryn Tucker, the lawyer for Compassion and Choices (aka Hemlock Society). It was a pretty good exchange. The show was taped the day Compassion and Choices issued their press release urging media not to call assisted suicide, assisted suicide, but instead a gooey euphemism such as “death with dignity,” or “aid in dying,” the subject of a recent Secondhand Smoke entry. And sure enough, right out of the box we got into the lexicon. Sigh.

The mainstream bioethicist Art Caplan also appears on the show, although I did not hear what he had to say. He once opposed assisted suicide but has taken a far more equivocal stance since passage of Measure 16 in Oregon in 1994. For example, he bitterly opposes the federal government striving to ensure that controlled substances are not used to intentionally end life, based on a state’s rights argument. I, of course, disagree. Moreover, his breezy assertion in the article that there have been no abuses in Oregon is simply not true. Assisted suicide is itself an abuse. Beyond that point, there have been abuses of the law as written and here is one individual case.

My impression is that his whole take in recent years has been one of, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” But we are beating them (so far)–no thanks at all to Art Caplan.