Human Exceptionalism

Washington State Assisted Suicide Battle Has Begun

Former Governor Booth Gardner has filed his assisted suicide legalization proposal with the Secretary of State and is out buying, er gathering, petition signatures. If the past is any clue, most media will fall over themselves to applaud the effort. But there will be important exceptions, such as this fine column by Seattle Post Intelligentser columnist Joel Connelly:

“My life, my death, my control,” Gardner, who has Parkinson’s disease, told a New York Times Magazine profiler.

Oh, my, what a self- absorbed guy. The magazine revealed what sympathetic local news stories have not disclosed, that opposition to his campaign has welled up within Gardner’s own family

Wow. That took guts. It is usually considered “mean” to question any ill person’s motives in promoting assisted suicide.

Connelly then discusses a different perspective, that of a friend of Gardner’s diagnosed to die within six months–who, as sometimes happens, didn’t:

Chris Carlson, 61, found out eight years ago that he has Parkinson’s disease, and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer late in 2005. His physicians were unable to locate the generating tumor, which usually means the patient will be dead within six months.

He has fought back with an experimental treatment and regained lost weight and describes the cancer as “dormant.” It’s still “a matter of time,” Carlson observed, but he isn’t planning on checking out at any time soon…”I believe personally that Booth Gardner is flat wrong,” Carlson said. “I think suicide is a very selfish act that breaks faith with family and with society. The pain with surviving relatives and loved ones, and I can testify to this, lives on.” Carlson’s father committed suicide, as did one of his partners in founding a Northwest-based public affairs consulting firm.

That’s a point rarely made: We are not islands onto ourselves. As members of society, we are part of an ecosystem, if you will. What happens to each of us matters to the rest of us–including how we die.

Connelly concludes

Individual freedom is, however, not absolute. It can be limited when an individual’s actions harm the self, the family or the human family…Nat Hentoff, the civil libertarian and columnist for New York’s Village Voice, has put it with brutal bluntness: “It is a political issue about who has power and who does not, who is expendable and who is important. It is an issue about protecting the most weak and vulnerable among us. When you are near death is when you are the most vulnerable to coercion, intimidation and to powerlessness.”

In short, it’s not about Booth Gardner. Nor should his medical struggle be used to snuff out debate on his last political goal.

Connelly is a good writer. He makes some very important points. Check it out.

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