Human Exceptionalism

Hospice’s Flaccid Defense Against Hemlock

Technically, the hospice movement is part of the diverse coalition opposing assisted suicide.

But people would be excused for being unaware of the hospice position since the organized movement has generally gone silent on the issue–in my view, abdicating its moral and ethical obligation to defend the lives of their patients.

I took a less harsh tone over at First Things today, but that is my message.

First, I distinguish between assisted suicide and hospice. From, “Hospice Defend Yourself:”

Hospice is about living, not dying. More precisely, hospice supports life with dignity for its patients and offers invaluable social and emotional support for patients’ families.

The foundational moral values of hospice are antithetical to everything the assisted-suicide movement represents…As palliative care expert (and self-described political progressive) Dr. Ira Byock recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “deliberately ending the lives of ill people represents a socially erosive response to basic human needs.”

Then, I note that the hospice movement generally–as opposed to some leading individuals, such as Byock–has gone silent in defending itself against the insidious corrosion of assisted suicide advocacy:

Perhaps movement administrators are afraid of controversy, losing donations, or appearing judgmental. Whatever the cause or causes, rather than rebut the noxious notion that suicide is “dignified”—which implies that living until natural death is somehow undignified—they have remained largely silent.

Hospice’s general fleeing from the contest has significant implications for those very people it should be defending:

This abdication of ethical responsibility from the hospice sector presents an existential threat to everything that Dame Cicely Saunders [the movement’s founder] created.

When suicide proponents boast that most of the people who have died by assisted suicide in Oregon were also in hospice (not Maynard, by the way; she rejected that option) and the hospice sector fails to note that suicide prevention is as essential to proper care for dying patients as morphine is for pain, it abandons the dying to those who would transform hospice into hemlock.

If that happens, hospice won’t be about living anymore. It will just be a place where people go to die.

Dying is stressful enough without having to contest against the cruel and insidious meme that your life isn’t worth living and the implication that dying naturally is less courageous–and dignified–than committing suicide.

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