The Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
‘Culture of Death’ sounds the alarm on pending medical bioethics legislation and other troubling trends.
My country’s parliament recently passed the first national assisted-suicide legislation in our history. Prompted by the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision last year to strike down the previous law as unconstitutionally restricting individual rights to life, liberty, and security, Parliament is now arguing over how widely or narrowly to involve Canadian citizens—both patients and health care providers—in assisted suicide.
In Culture of Death, first published in 2000, American lawyer and activist Wesley J. Smith warned that this debate was upon us. A new, updated revision of the book sharpens this warning, drawing on a wide range of cases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and the bellwether states of Oregon and Washington.
Smith is not an elegant writer—his discussion of truly awful subjects is sometimes interrupted by jarringly flip remarks: “Nobody ever said Terri [Schiavo] would one day get out of bed and tap dance.” And in a discussion that too easily falls prey to amateurish fear-mongering, he sometimes fails to provide citations—and, weirdly, quotes Dutch documents in stilted English translated by Google.
Nonetheless, Smith is generally a clear writer, he has immersed himself in these issues for years, and the portrait he paints is, on the whole, convincing and therefore ghastly. People really are suffering grim and painful deaths over several days by having food and water tubes removed against their will. Depressed and debilitated people really are being pressured into suicide by family members and physicians wanting them out of the way. Comatose or otherwise unresponsive patients really are being treated as vegetables: useful for what can be harvested from them …