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Letters to the Editor: Death with Dignity

Dear editor:

The term “death with dignity” sounds so appealing, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to die with dignity. We know that we have dignity as human beings, but often feel we lose it or may jeopardize it if certain things happen at the end of our lives or during a serious illness.

But I have looked into this term, and it is really a terrible phrase. Let me explain. What was once described as “mercy killing” has become something of an offense to those who hear it, particularly when they begin to think about the fact that it takes one person to kill another one. And most of us would agree that there is nothing merciful about murdering your mother, or your spouse – or anyone, for that matter.

So those who once used that term had to soften it up for the ears of sensitive Americans. And that is when “death with dignity” came on the scene as a term designed to gloss over a very hideous philosophy. After all, you must admit that “death with dignity” has a positive image.

But the goal is a bit different than what you might expect. For example, when a pro-death referendum was proposed in the state of Washington, the proposal said, “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to condone, authorize, or approve mercy killing, or to permit any affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life other than to permit the natural process of dying and to permit death with dignity through the provision of aid-in-dying.”

In other words, if someone comes along and gives you “aid-in-dying,” which really means takes your life, that is not the same as “mercy killing.” But clearly, that is precisely what it is.

Those who favor euthanasia and assisted-suicide work hard to develop phrases that sound soothing and full of compassion. And as Rita Marker and Wesley J. Smith wrote in a recent article about “death with dignity,” terms like killing and suicide which have precise definitions but negative connotations have become outcasts, replaced by subjective, feel-good, meaningless phrases such as gentle landing, deliverance, chosen death, or the ubiquitous death with dignity.

So when I see that term in the newspaper, I have to let you know that whether you realize it or not, you are contributing to the advocacy of acts which take life, not acts which provide loving care to the ill and the dying.


To verify the quotes in this sample letter, please see “Words, Words, Words.”