Human Exceptionalism

Euthanasia About Killer’s “Choice”–For Now

We keep hearing about the “right to die.” There is no right to die–no escape, of course,–but no right.

Yet, I hasten to add. No right to die, yet.

What do I mean? The killing decision in euthanasia and assisted suicide isn’t really the suicidal person’s “choice:” It is the killer’s or helper’s. In other words, life will end only if the joint venturer in the killing believes the suicidal person’s life is not worth living. 

This ultimate truth about euthanasia–even in wild death cultures like Belgium and the Netherlands–came to mind as I read about gay activist David Mixner’s confession that he “mercy-killed” 8 friends with AIDS during the height of the epidemic. From the Daily Beast story:

Into this network, says Mixner, came medical professionals—“nurses and doctors, heavily into the epidemic”—who saw what AIDS did to their patients and the lack of effective medicine to lessen their suffering, and who wanted to provide death with dignity.

“I would only do it when I was 100 percent sure that there was no hope,” Mixner tells me. “When I felt there was no hope, that all had been done for them, then I would do it. Some of the patients got angry. They’d say, ‘We want to die now.’ But I could only help to do it when it felt right to me.”

In other word’s, it was Mixner’s choice. And the killing is not really a medical act. Of course, in their hearts, people know that even if they pretend they don’t.

I moved to San Francisco at the height of the AIDS catastrophe. The underground euthanasia network Mixner described was well known. 

This was the time I began my anti-assisted suicide activism,  As my public profile rose, I would be invited to debate in SF about The City’s underground euthanasia network. 

In debating the underground killing network it became clear how subjective the kill decision was for assisters. One doctor told me in a debate that he wouldn’t do it unless the patient got below 90 pounds. That was his personal line and he stuck to it!

I challenged him:”But your colleagues have different lines, don’t they?” He admitted they did. Some didn’t wait very far along in the death process at all. 

Also, I sensed that the assisted suicide virus was as contagious as HIV. Dying in that way came to be seen as an act of defiance against an oppressive culture. The idea was, “You can’t tell us who to love or how to die,”–astonishing to me at the time that gay rights would be conjoined with the killing of (mostly) gay men.

So, whether a despairing and sick AIDS patient was killed depended on whether the killer thought the ill gay man’s life was still worth living!

Perhaps Mixner feels guilty in making his confession. Why? When the new drugs suddenly burst on the scene, AIDS patients literally bounced back from death’s door to vitality. In other words, some of those killed by the euthanasia network might not have died at all but for being the subject of homicide!

The same “doctor’s choice” phenomenon occurs in Oregon, Belgium, Netherlands, etc. This leads to what I call doctor shopping, that is, the suicidal person looking for a medic with a prescription pad willing to kill or help kill them under their individual circumstances. Heck, even Kevorkian said no once in a while.

But Wesley, you always warn that assisted suicide will end up in “death on demand!” Indeed, it will.  

The idea is to turn euthanasia into abortion. In Victoria, Australia, every doctor must be complicit in abortion-on-demand, either by doing the fetus killing or referring to a doctor know to be willing.

The KNMG (Dutch Medical Association) issued an ethical opinion–not yet law–opining that Dutch doctors opposed to a legally qualified patient being euthanized must refer to a death doctor willing to do the snuffing. 

In Quebec, that is already the law–and the homicide is paid for by the state.

But for now, the “right to die” is mostly the right to lethally prescribe or administer if asked. Think about the power in that–the right to determine whether another person lives or dies.