Human Exceptionalism

Murdering History

Bradford Short is a friend of mine, a young man with a big brain and a passion for bioethics and defending the sanctity/equality of human life. In this NRO piece, he takes the pro euthanasia bioethicist Margaret Pabst Battin to task today for “murdering history.”

I haven’t read her book, but apparently Battin strongly suggests that Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, committed assisted suicide or hastened their own deaths so as to die on July 4. In other words, Battin is trying to wrap the dignitas and reputations of two of America’s Founding Fathers around the euthanasia movement.

Her premise seems to be that it is just too convenient for both to have died on the 4th. And she presents a few flimsly pieces of evidence, for example Adams wondering as he aged whether it would be better to die. But coincidences happen. Two lions of British letters, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, both died on November 22, 1963, for example. (They were cheated out of their deserved headlines by the same day assassination of John F. Kennedy.)

Besides, Battin’s theory is patent nonesense. One of my avocations is American history and I have read much about the lives of both Adams and Jefferson. David McCollough’s sterling biography John Adams, for example, has no hint of his doing himself in. Indeed, when I toured the Adams’ home in Qunicy, I recall the guide pointing to a chair in an upstairs parlor, and telling us that was the chair in which Adams was sitting when he apparently had a stroke. And if it was a plot hatched by the ex presidents, why were Adams’ last words, “And Jefferson lives?” (not knowing that his old friend and political antagonist had died hours earlier.)

If Short correctly presents Battin’s premise, and he is a man of integrity so he would not intentionally distort her thesis, then his criticisms of her work are more than warranted.


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