Human Exceptionalism

On the Natural Death of Brooke Hopkins

I have long known of the tragedy that struck vocal assisted suicide advocate Margaret Pabst Battin and her husband Brooke Hopkins. Hopkins was catastrophically injured in an accident and has spent years under Battin’s very good care. There were several prominent articles written about the situation over the years, most recently, a cover story in the New York Times Magazine.

I never commented publicly. Absent a compelling reason, I try not to personalize these things when people are going through very tough times.

Now Hopkins died after ordering that his respirator be turned off, that is, he refused unwanted medical treatment. From the New York Times story:

The hospice physician gave Brooke a sedative, and Brooke sat in his wheelchair for a while with his stepchildren, his friends, a few of his favorite caregivers and his wife. He said he was getting sleepy, and he was put into bed. Peggy got in beside him. A gospel song he had chosen for the occasion, Marion Williams’s “My Soul Looks Back,” played on the stereo…

Later, Peggy told the Tribune reporter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, that “it was peaceful and painless, just as he wanted it” — close to the kind of ending he described to me earlier as a “generous death.”

Battin and Hopkins made his circumstance a very public matter, so with the denouement, I think it is acceptable for me to comment.

Note, that–contrary to the propaganda of some assisted suicide advocates–no one forced Hopkins to receive invasive medical treatment he no longer wanted. As a result, he died naturally, from his underlying condition, and was given proper medical care to ease the passing by hospice.

There is a bright line ethical (and usually) legal separation between dying naturally after refusing treatment and being killed by an intentional overdose of drugs. There is the factual distinction, of course. But as policy, the differences are profound, providing a dramatically contrasting impact on greater society and our perceived value of the lives of people going through terminal and disabling illnesses and injuries. 

My sympathies to Battin and good on her for taking such good and loving care of her beloved.

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