By recent headlines, it appears the culture of death, often conceived of as limited to abortion, has spilled into the world of the born. Infanticide by neglect is not only on the table, it is already in practice in states that do not have protections for aborted infants born alive. Yet infanticide is but one fang in the mouth of a Typhon we see emerging from the shadows, abortion being the head that holds it.
Legal abortion affects how special-needs and physically disabled people are seen by society and cared for, how much choice women feel they have in dealing with difficult pregnancies, and how babies born prematurely are treated. It lets men off the hook for caring for their children, not just granting supposedly consequence-free sex but depriving them of the opportunity to rise and meet the rewarding responsibilities of fatherhood.
Abortion fosters a culture of learned helplessness, where women are not encouraged to fight for their vulnerable little children and abortion is seen as the easiest solution to the “problem” of a child. It fosters a culture where motherhood is seen as an impediment to other pursuits rather than a precious and fulfilling calling.
As many harms as can be halted by ending abortion, we cannot defeat the culture of death by lopping off just that one head. To understand the full breadth of the civilizational threats posed by pro-death policies, we must shine a light on another head of that monster: assisted suicide. (For my purposes here, I will include euthanasia by lethal injection from a medical professional, into this definition).
In the opening lines of the 2018 documentary “Fatal Flaws,” we see how abortion and assisted suicide are connected by an underlying devaluation of human life. “The way society looks at death is changing,” says documentarian Kevin Dunn. “We’ve even sanitized death…One might argue that we’ve become so desensitized by the culture, that even human life and death have become matters of personal choice.”
Personal choice. That is the mantra of Planned Parenthood as well as advocates of “aid in dying.” It is almost as much a lie in assisted suicide as it is in abortion.
Consent? What Consent?
Promotion of assisted suicide revolves around autonomy and self-determination. Euthanasia is, as one advocate put it, “the ultimate help” toward that end. Yet in 2016, a Dutch patient, who had previously said she wanted to be euthanized in case of dementia, physically fought back as a doctor attempted to euthanize her. The doctor asked her family to hold her down as he killed her. A legal review found he was acting “in good faith.”
In the Flanders region of Belgium in 2013, more than 1,000 non-consenting patients were killed by doctors. Why keep them alive when killing them is so much cheaper and easier?
Abortion and euthanasia are one and the same in some cases. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legally performed on infants in cases of “unbearable” suffering “with no prospect of improvement,” despite the fact that pain can be treated. If that’s an option, why even bother with an age of consent?
Children as young as 12, deeply impressionable and under the influence of their guardians, can “consent” to be euthanized, given certain conditions. Belgium recently lifted all age restrictions on euthanasia. Its euthanasia committee already approved the euthanization of three minors in the past two years. One was only 9 years old, and another was 11.
The Default Option Will Be Death
American doctor Annette Hanson said in “Fatal Flaws” that her concern is that “physicians will come to approach this as a suggested treatment option. The potential to persuade or to encourage or to guide people in a certain direction is certainly there.” Of course it will. We see this already in the abortion industry: Planned Parenthood doesn’t put abortion at the bottom of a list of options for pregnant women. It is instead presented as the default option.
The cold truth is that health-care providers don’t fight as hard to save patients when assisted suicide is an option. In one Dutch case, doctors perceived complications in an elderly patient and instead of pursuing treatment, they stopped treating her and even stopped feeding her. Then they met with her to speak about euthanasia. Her mother fought for her, though, and the 94-year-old woman lived another year, giving her enough time to meet her second granddaughter.
The effects of legal assisted suicide on the state level have already reached insurance companies. In a mini-documentary by the Center for Bioethics and Culture, “Compassion and Choice Denied,” terminally ill mother Stephanie Packer said that although her own doctors were just as supportive as before assisted suicide became law, she was profoundly affected by it through her insurance company: “When the law was passed [in California], it was a week later I received a letter in the mail saying that they were going to deny coverage for the chemotherapy drug we were asking for.”
When Packer asked her insurance company why it was denied, she got a roundabout answer. Then she asked whether assisted suicide pills were covered under her plan. They said yes. “You would only have to pay a dollar and twenty cents for the medication.”
Death Becomes an Attractive Option to More People
The list of qualifying categories for assisted suicide is steadily increasing. In the last ten years, the Netherlands added people with dementia and psychological illnesses. The number of Dutch people who’ve been euthanized has tripled over this period, and 2,000 of those who were euthanized had dementia or mental illness. Even in the more cautious United States, patients with diabetes qualify under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law.
“Don’t be naive,” warned Dutch journalist Gerbert Van Loenen. “It is very difficult indeed to limit euthanasia once you have started.”
Aurelia Brouwers brought international attention to medically assisted suicide mission creep as the young Dutch woman who fought for years to get doctors to euthanize her due to her “number of psychiatric problems.” She got her wish on January 26, 2018.
The Dutch people are now debating legalizing euthanasia for “completed life” — that is, euthanasia for generally healthy people who feel life is “pointless” or that they are “weary” of living. The conditions supposedly insufferable enough to warrant “completed life” euthanasia are things as banal as arthritis, failing vision, and incontinence—normal aspects of growing old. Euthanasia may prove to be more about the fear of future pain and suffering than in ending pain and suffering that have already begun.
Suicide Can Be Contagious
Anyone who says assisted suicide is a “purely personal” decision that doesn’t affect anybody outside the circle of loved ones is kidding themselves. This is another reason “consent” isn’t the bulwark against inflicting suffering that advocates think it is. Suicide is a social contagion, and it spreads rapidly.
After legalization, the number of “medically assisted deaths” has skyrocketed in the Netherlands and in Oregon, which has had legal assisted suicide for two decades. As of 2017, 4.5 percent of all Dutch deaths are the result of assisted suicide. In Oregon, assisted suicide deaths climbed from 16 deaths to 132 deaths between 1998 and 2015.
The suicides haven’t been limited to those who receive the death pill prescription. Oregon’s suicide rate jumped from 14.9 to 19.0 between 2005 and 2017, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, a rate 36 percent higher than the national average. The rate in neighboring Washington, which legalized assisted suicide in 2008, also jumped 4 points.
The Hippocratic Oath specifically forbids killing patients: “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.” It is only to be expected that one vow comes under systematic attack after the other has already been dismissed as oppressive.
Much as many OB-GYNs offer medical support for the pregnancy or life-ending abortion depending on the patient’s preference, Dr. William L. Toffler, professor emeritus at Oregon Health and Science University, said doctors are ludicrously being asked to argue both the prosecution and the defense with assisted suicide. Yet this destructive conflict of interest is being covered under the euphemistic promotion of “death with dignity”—much like abortion is covered by “pregnancy care.”
Oregon Oncologist Kenneth R. Stevens Jr. is concerned that the doctor-patient relationship is changing for the worse. Yet when doctors like Stevens fight for the lives of their patients, it often pays off. One of his patients, who had initially wanted to refuse treatment, told him five years later that he had saved her life. “If I had gone to a doctor who believed in assisted suicide, I would not be here. I’d be dead.”
Loss of Hope and Dignity for Terminal or Suffering Patients
That perspectives have shifted rapidly among providers, insurance companies, and patients is undeniable. Packer discusses the impact California’s assisted suicide laws have had on terminally ill patients in support groups who weren’t initially considering suicide.
As soon as the assisted suicide story of Brittany Maynard was highlighted in the media, “The feeling in our groups really changed very quickly and the conversation was different. Normally we would talk about support and love and we would be there for each other and just encourage each other…after that story took place in the national spotlight the conversation turned to, well, maybe it is time for me to stop trying to fight a terminal illness, and once they became depressed, it became negative and it started consuming people.”
As William Peace, a professor of anthropology, said in “Fatal Flaws” after discussing how his health care provider asked if he wanted to die due to the severe negative effects of an infection, “I’m a human being. And just because I’m in a wheelchair that does not mean my life sucks.”
The bigotry disabled people face in the states is already very real. “When you go to a hospital setting, you’re going to war,” he says. Peace’s case is just one among many that show how the “death wish” is cinching inward past the terminally ill who explicitly consent to being killed.
Assisted suicide “should not ever be supported or run by the government,” Packer insisted. “Allowing those patients to make that choice affects me negatively…you see it everywhere when these laws are passed, patients fighting for a longer life end up being denied treatment because this will always be the cheapest option. End of life care is the most expensive care, everywhere.”
“When you give people the opportunity to kill themselves,” that’s not fixing the problem, she argued. “That’s making terminally ill people feel like they’re less than, that they’re not worthy of that fight, that they’re not worth it.”
Dr. Toffler’s wife passed away from cancer: “If taking a massive overdose of medication to kill yourself is dignified, then what does it say for the majority of people who die naturally like my wife did?”
Sometimes Life Involves Suffering
What assisted suicide and euthanasia ultimately promote is not “death with dignity,” but the idea that if life isn’t comfortable, it isn’t worth living. Instead of finding ways to cope with or treat suffering, death becomes the simple, obvious answer.
If life is only worth living if it is consistently happy and free of suffering, we have cheapened human life to the point where it is truly a “throwaway” item. We should expect this, especially in America, where some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world have sent the message that even separate, non-consenting human lives who inconvenience you can simply be shoved down a garbage disposal. The culture at large has already accepted that human life in itself, especially in its most fragile and vulnerable states, isn’t worthy or dignified.
But life, no matter how ugly and helpless and vulnerable, is inherently dignified because God gave it to us, along with a purpose, and we are made in his image. Human life has value beyond being physically useful or emotionally useful. Its value must trump convenience, in the case of mothers considering abortion, or the ease and simplicity of supporting a family member’s suicide instead of fighting for their lives.
While many, particularly atheists, may not accept this philosophically, look at the result of abandoning that principle. You may not see the value in a baby the size of a walnut or an octogenarian with severe dementia from a utilitarian or “preference” philosophy, but look at the horror that proceeds from denying that value.
“I want to live for my kids,” Packer said. “I want them to see that dying is a part of life. Your end of life can be that opportunity to appreciate things that you didn’t before.” We do not live just for ourselves, we live for our loved ones and for the good we can do in the world. We find meaning and purpose in our social bonds. For Christians, we ultimately live for God and to serve his kingdom.
‘Everybody Has Something’
Even for those who don’t have close family, the support of a church, or things they want to accomplish before they die, as Packer said, “No one has nothing, everybody has something.” There are many resources and support groups where people are willing to keep company with the dying, make them food, and offer emotional support. There are also housing resources and medical resources for the financially challenged to get the right doctors and pain medications to manage dying naturally.
The culture of death is not compatible with human rights. Both abortion and assisted suicide, whether by self-administered pills or a health-care provider’s lethal injection, are killing. They are inherently eugenic practices aimed at those who are perceived as burdens or unworthy of life, whether because they are losing their autonomy as they near the tomb or because allowing them to develop their autonomy in the womb requires care from their primary guardian.
Encouraging death at one end of life is nearly always followed by promoting death near the other end. Once you dispense with the idea that all human life is precious, you’ve gone most of the distance toward a culture that is ableist, suicidal, and eventually utilitarian to the point of purposefully seeking the elimination of the “burdens on society.”
Beyond that, it will promote death for anyone who “feels” that life is no longer satisfactory. These lethal brackets on life lengthen inward to encompass more and more people, even the young and healthy, until the culture of death forms a destructive noose around society.
This is the death loop. There is no safe harbor from its stranglehold—not “consent,” not oversight, not carefully worded laws—except unconditionally valuing human life.