Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Evolution Icon Evolution
Medicine Icon Medicine

A Tirade by Jason Rosenhouse at Evolution Blog Doesn’t Justify Assisted Suicide

I am not sure why so many "science" bloggers and writers want to opine on ethics. Perhaps having to be objective and purely evidence based gets boring.

In this context, now comes the Evolution Blog by Jason Rosenhouse, which one would presume would be about the evidence for, and arguments about, evolution.

But Rosenhouse attacks me over my recent First Things article about how the euthanasia movement is pushing suicide by starvation as a means of bludgeoning society into granting permission for lethal injections. (He also went after my Discovery Institute colleague, David Klinghoffer, who can defend himself.)

Rosenhouse badly misleads his audience about my position by basically stating I supported the starvation suicide of Diane Rehm’s husband:

It is hard to imagine anything more devaluing of human life than to force someone to persist in that condition [advanced Parkinson’s]. A life is more than just a heartbeat, and death can come well before that heartbeat stops. What kind of person could think that what happened to John Rehm was the morally correct outcome?

Of course I didn’t think that self-starvation was the morally correct outcome. But neither would it have been right to have the law allow a doctor have given him a lethal injection or a poison prescription. 

Then, Rosenhouse further misleads his readers about what I wrote in First Things:

His abstract musings about hope and meaning amount to nothing in the face of actual terminal illnesses like the one faced by John Rehm. There was no hope in his condition, and there is no meaning to existing in a state where you can do nothing but wait helplessly for your heart to stop, contemplating everything you’ve lost.

But I wasn’t "abstract." Here is the link to my piece in question. Note, that I cited two true life examples of men suffering as badly as Rehm — Mark Pickup from progressive MS, and Bob Salamanca from ALS:

  • Both wanted suicide.
  • Both — and I could have given many other examples — couldn’t get it because it was illegal.  
  • Both were later very happy to still be alive.
  • Both were alive to be happy precisely because they had not been able to access doctor-prescribed death.

That is as concrete as it gets, and should be at least equally compelling as the story of Rehm’s death. Moreover, their stories are highly germane to the question of whether Rehm’s resorting to self-starvation justifies legalizing assisted suicide/euthanasia. 

Besides, how in the hell is it more compassionate to support a policy that allows killing as an answer to suffering, than to support a policy that involves both caring enough to deny facilitated death to people and efforts to help them get past the despair? It’s not: It’s just easier. 

To use Rosenberg’s insulting language — which I wouldn’t normally do — what kind of a person would think that what would have happened to Mark and Bob — hastened death — would have been better than the meaning and joy they eventually found in life precisely because assisted suicide was unavailable?

Rosenberg illustrates why assisted suicide would never be limited to the terminally ill:

And here’s the point: Everyone has to decide for themselves when that point [when life is too painful to go on] is reached. People like Smith and Klinghoffer have no business holding forth on the meaning of anyone’s life but their own.

If that is true, it means that assisted suicide must be available to anyone who wants to die for any reason they think sufficient. Who is Rosenhouse to say no to anyone who wants to die for any reason? That is the argument we should be having, because it illustrates the true stakes in the euthanasia controversy.

Unlike the author of Evolution Blog, I know that we need to apply reason to the question of legalization of facilitated killing, not just emotion. An issue that literally will determine whether people live or die deserves nothing less, which is why I have devoted 23 years to fighting the culture of death.

One may not agree with my conclusions. But far more than Rosenhouse, I know what I am talking about. 

Cross-posted at Human Exceptionalism.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.