Suicide As Prime-Time Entertainment

June 30, 2010 09:00 AM

When Craig Ewert, an American living in Britain, contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), his condition quickly deteriorated into total paralysis. As the disease worsened, Ewert decided he could live with it no longer. He and his wife decided to travel to Switzerland to get the help he desired in order to die. The Ewerts paid $4,500 to Dignitas, a Swiss assisted-suicide organization. In 2008, Britain's Sky Television chose to air the actual video of Ewert taking his own life, which showed Ewert’s wife by his side as he took a lethal sip of pain medications through a straw. 

In March of this year, the PBS series Frontline ran a program entitled “The Suicide Tourist” that chronicled the story of Craig Ewert. At the time, PBS invited viewers to submit online comments expressing their views on what Ewert had done. The comments expose the way some Americans feel about disease and the ravages of a particularly dreadful disease, as well as their belief that patients not only have a right to end their own lives but  also to expect others to help them do so.

It was thus no coincidence that the HBO film You Don’t Know Jack, starring Al Pacino as the infamous Jack Kevorkian, made its debut in April. What is it about folks who help other people end their lives that captivates the public? It’s almost as if euthanasia is so appealing that even Hollywood wants to romanticize ending a loved one’s life as one of the most loving acts on earth.

It’s clear that the push is on to create a buzz about alleviating suffering through direct killing. Pro-life icon Joseph Stanton, M.D., who was no stranger to pain himself (having survived polio and having struggled with it for years) wrote, “The basic error in the euthanasia movement in America today is that it erroneously elevates a negative right, the right to not have something done to one’s body without one’s consent, to positive and super-right status. Then it endows that super-right with a purported ‘right’ to suicide and even a ‘right’ to obligate the doctor to kill his patient.” Was Stanton a prophet? It would appear that indeed he was.

In England, general practitioner Howard Martin was found not guilty of taking the lives of three of his patients. Five years later, however, Martin admitted publicly that he did indeed give lethal doses of medicine to elderly and terminal patients, and claimed that he acted out of “Christian compassion.”
In the Netherlands, the rate of euthanasia cases has increased 13 percent in a single year. While some suggest that this is too high and an investigation should be conducted, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Into this tragic scenario steps Portland, Oregon, psychiatrist Stuart Weisberg, who planned to open a house where terminally ill people could come to take their own lives. But apparently the Oregon Medical Board has watched Weisberg and, based on his sketchy record, recently suspended his license. Whether or not this little setback stops him remains to be seen.

Amidst the many stories about assisted suicide advocates, there is the story of a caring Australian man who attempts to stop people from committing suicide. Don Ritchie lives near an infamous cliff where numerous people have jumped, or have attempted to jump, to their deaths. Not afraid to put himself in harm’s way, Ritchie approaches these people and offers solace. Though he hasn't been able to save them all, he is thankful for the many people he has saved. While euthanasia advocates the world over are doing all they can to glamorize it and involve others, Ritchie’s noble actions demonstrate that life is sacred.

Tragically, the morbid appeal of killing the ill and the elderly seems to be growing. Not only that, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a public outcry about it, and maybe that’s the most ominous news of all.

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