I read Frank Bruni every Sunday in the New York Times. I usually don’t agree with him, heck I almost never do. But he is a talented writer and an articulate and passionate advocate for his views. Besides, I believe in reading differing opinions from my own.
As I get him, Bruni is mostly a social liberal–and thus it comes as a sadness–but hardly a surprise–that he supports assisted suicide and uses his huge advocacy platform to push the death agenda. (I think liberals should be adamantly opposed to assisted suicide, but then, liberalism has changed since my day when its primary purpose was protecting the weak and vulnerable.)
The context of his column involves a case in PA in which Barbara Mancini is being prosecuted for handing her aged father a jar of morphine, apparently knowing he intended to use the drugs to kill himself. I commented previously on this case in the context of demonstrating the lie of Compassion and Choices heads, Barbara Coombs Lee and Kathryn Tucker, that the prosecution violated the U.S. Constitution.
Bruni has a different take: He claims sort of a no harm, no foul opposition to the prosecution. From, “Fatal Mercies:”
That’s all that Joseph Yourshaw, 93, seemingly wanted: to exit on his own terms, at home, without growing any weaker, without suffering any more. And that’s all that one of his daughters, Barbara Mancini, 57, was trying to help him do, according to the police report that set her criminal prosecution in motion. She’s charged, under Pennsylvania law, with aiding a suicide, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Such a sentence would be ludicrous, but so, by all appearances, is the case against her: a waste of public resources, a needless infliction of pain on a family already grieving, and a senseless prioritization of a frequently ignored (and easily ignorable) law over logic, compassion, decency.
It would have been easy for prosecutors to walk away; that sort of thing happens all the time. That it didn’t happen here suggests how conflicted, inconsistent and bullheaded we Americans can be when it comes to the very private, very intimate business of dying.
Bruni doesn’t know the facts of that case, nor do I. But his easy comfort with a daughter allegedly helping kill her father is terribly misguided–even if you disagree with me that helping someone else kill themselves is intrinsically wrong and an (often unintended) form of abandonment. And we wonder about why there is a crisis of elder suicide.
Bruni’s quick and unequivocal embrace of Mancini recalls to mind the enthusiasm of the media in defense of George Delury, when he was arrested for assisting the suicide of his wife, Myrna Lebov. Lebov had a progressive case of MS and was growing increasingly disabled. Like so many of these kinds of cases, Delury claimed the mantle of compassion in helping his wife ”exit on her own terms,” the advocacy slogan the media now use almost as a cliche in reporting assisted suicide stories. From my Weekly Standard article, “Abandoning the Most Vulnerable:”
Delury became an instant celebrity. He was acclaimed as a dedicated husband willing to risk jail to help his beloved wife achieve her desired end. The assisted-suicide movement set up a defense fund and renewed calls for legalization. Delury made numerous television appearances and was invited to speak to a convention of the American Psychiatric Association. He signed a deal for a book, later published under the title But What If She Wants to Die?
But then, the truth came out. Delury kept a computer record of the events leading up to the suicide, which the police eventually discovered. It turned out that Delury had put Lebov out of his misery:
The diary showed that Lebov did not have an unwavering and long-stated desire to die, as Delury had claimed. Rather, as often happens with people struggling with debilitating illnesses, her mood waxed and waned. One day she would be suicidal–but the next day she was engaged in life. Delury, moreover, encouraged his wife to kill herself, or as he put it, “to decide to quit.” He researched her antidepressant medication to see if it could kill her, and when she took less than the prescribed amount, which in itself could cause depression, he stashed the surplus until he had enough for a poisonous brew.
That wasn’t all. He worked assiduously at destroying Lebov’s will to live by making her feel worthless and a burden. On March 28, 1995, Delury wrote in his diary that he planned to tell his wife: I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic] like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact, it would appear that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.
Delury later admitted on the NBC program Dateline that he had shown his wife that very passage.
Not only that, but after emotionally bludgeoning Myrna into taking the poison, he put a plastic bag over her head to make sure she died,
Now, which of these stories resonated the most with you? The compassionate daughter or the vile husband?
It is very telling that in our current culture, the abuse of Lebov’s is so easily and quickly shrugged off. In fact, had he been on the Times’ op/ed page when Lebov died, before the diary came to light, I can see Bruni writing in support of Delury in the same language–and for the same reasons–he did Mancini.
After all: For the assisted suicide warriors, these things always are approached as no harm, no foul until proven otherwise.