Common Killing Contradicts Common Law, Common Sense And Human Decency

In the state of Washington, where the law now protects assisted suicide, a woman suffering from pancreatic cancer recently used the law to take her own life. She was 66 years of age, her cancer was stage four and she had been advised that she was “actively dying.” 

As Compassion and Choices, a pro-death organization, reports

After working with her physician and C&C’s Client Support volunteers to carefully consider her choices and make her end-of-life decisions, Linda took her prescribed medication on Thursday evening at home with her family, her dog and her physician at her bedside. “The pain became unbearable, and it was only going to get worse,” said Linda in explaining her decision to use the Death with Dignity law. Linda died peacefully knowing that she had a choice in controlling her suffering and time of death from pancreatic cancer. “I am a very spiritual person, and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death. And I knew I would have to increase them. I am grateful that the Death with Dignity law provides me the choice of a death that fits my own personal beliefs.”

“When a cure is no longer possible, the Death With Dignity Act adds another option for patients dying from a terminal illness. The prescribed medication gives patients peace of mind that they can use to take control of their dying if suffering becomes intolerable,” said Dr. Tom Preston, MD, a cardiologist and C&C’s medical director, “Most dying patients experience suffering. The Death With Dignity Act allows a physician to help his patients maintain as much control and dignity as they can at the end of life. Last night, the Death With Dignity Act provided a way to honor this patient’s final decision.”

Note the clever use of language.  Apparently, the public is supposed to buy into the argument that it is better to know you are going to take your own life so that your “peace of mind” is restored.  While I am not sure how that equates with one’s eternal happiness, it is obvious that the twisted logic of these proponents of death knows no bounds.

According to Mark Pickup’s blog, another advocate of assisted suicide, Marianne Meed Ward, “tried to defend assisted suicide with the outdated argument of dying people living in a drug induced stupor from pain medications. Obviously she had not done adequate research or she did the research and did not like what she found. It doesn't play well for euthanasia supporters.”

Clearly, as Pickup reports, when “pain medications are properly administered by medical professionals with current and up-to-date understanding of pain management medications and techniques – complete pain relief can be achieved without the loss of lucidity or confusion to the patient.”

But of course even if this were not so, the state should never be in the unconscionable position of facilitating direct or indirect killing because it is the antithesis of all Anglo-American historical legal traditions, usually referred to as the common law. 

From a historical perspective, the Anglo-American common law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and assisting suicide for over 700 years.  Over time, the “punishment” aspect of the law went away because it became clear that suicidal individuals needed therapeutic treatment for their disorder rather than severe legal punishment.  However, that did not translate into permitting assisted suicide under law until recently.

As a matter of fact, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, who delivered the Supreme Court opinion in the 1997 Washington v. Glucksberg case wrote:

That suicide remained a grievous, though nonfelonious, wrong is confirmed by the fact that colonial and early state legislatures and courts did not retreat from prohibiting assisting suicide. Swift, in his early 19th century treatise on the laws of Connecticut, stated that "[i]f one counsels another to commit suicide, and the other by reason of the advice kills himself, the advisor is guilty of murder as principal." … ("`The right to life and to personal security is not only sacred in the estimation of the common law, but it is inalienable'"). And the prohibitions against assisting suicide never contained exceptions for those who were near death. Rather, "[t]he life of those to whom life ha[d] become a burden-of those who [were] hopelessly diseased or fatally wounded-nay, even the lives of criminals condemned to death, [were] under the protection of law, equally as the lives of those who [were] in the full tide of life's enjoyment, and anxious to continue to live."

Things have certainly changed in the intervening twelve years, and not for the better.  Now the United States has two states that have legitimized the act in law. Washington state voters approved it in 2008, and Oregon was the first in 1994.   A third, Montana, approved assisted suicide by court decision late last year. It is perhaps no surprise that other states are being softened up for the onslaught of requested death by the very same people who defended Linda Fleming’s right to make sure she was in charge of her own time of death.

In fact, the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force’s most recent update is quite telling:

On 4/17/09, an assisted-suicide bill (S.144) was introduced in Vermont. Patterned on Oregon's assisted-suicide law, the Vermont measure is deceptively titled the "Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life" Act. On April 23, 2009, H 455 was introduced. It is an assisted-suicide proposal that is identical to S.144.

Oregon-style assisted-suicide bills are still pending in Massachusetts (HB 1468) and in Pennsylvania (SB 404).  New Hampshire's bill (HB 304)  has been retained in committee. It will be studied and revised over the summer and is unlikely to come up for a vote in the full house until January 2010. Similar bills have now failed in Connecticut, Hawaii and New Mexico. The appeal in the Montana assisted-suicide ruling is still pending.

There are still states like Georgia where people are arrested for assisting in the suicide of individuals who claim to want to die, but the trend is not moving in the right direction.  Of that there is no doubt.

The struggle between good and evil takes on special significance when discussing the fearsome reality that death will come to everyone, and that as the Bible tells us, we know not the day or the hour. But for those who have no faith, no ability to surrender their sufferings to God, or go to God with that which is nearly unbearable to even contemplate, there is only darkness, the choice of death and the selection of the means.  Though one may claim, as Fleming did, that she is a spiritual person, something is absent from that person’s faith when the ability to wait on God disappears in one’s desire to be in “control.”

As Pope Benedict told the pilgrims at Lourdes, this past September, “the ill should pray to find ‘the grace to accept, without fear or bitterness, to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.’"

And further, he uttered words of love and consolation, a salve of kindness in a world that rejects inconvenience and pain. These words should not go unheeded, but rather should be repeated with ever-greater frequency to our fellow human beings, particularly those who perhaps need to hear them the most but refuse to agree:

Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation.

Without the Lord’s help, the yoke of sickness and suffering weighs down on us cruelly.

Common killing will only be rejected, rescinded in law and rebuked in a culture that comprehends Christ’s love and shares that love with everyone at all times and in every situation.