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War on Humans: Assisted Suicide Isn’t "Death with Dignity"

Wesley J. Smith


As the media and assisted suicide advocates continue to exploit the Brittany Maynard tragedy to push for legalization, I have been pondering how very harmful such advocacy is to people struggling with serious and terminal health conditions. 

It also isn’t about "dignity." Rather, many who want assisted suicide are deeply worried about what could be called aesthetics. I ponder this question over at my First Things column.

From "Death with Aesthetics":

When we look more deeply at arguments in favor of legalizing assisted suicide, we see that the assisted suicide discussion is really more about what I will call the aesthetics of dying than it is about potential pain. This is no small matter. Nor is it in the least a frivolous concern. Worries about lost looks or, perhaps, how the sick room might smell can be devastating to those approaching the end of life.

Indeed, our self-esteem — and perhaps more important, how we perceive that others view us — can materially impact our mental and emotional states as we approach the end of life. (For example, I used to be a hospice volunteer. One of my patients became so distraught by his changed appearance that he covered all the mirrors in his home.)

I quote Maynard on why she eschewed hospice for assisted suicide. She describes exactly the phenomenon I am referring to:

Not only do I want to save myself from that fate [of suffering and decline], but I love my family too much to make them carry the memories of my deterioration for the rest of their lives.

Assisted suicide activists scream PAIN AND AGONY to sell the death agenda. In practice, statistics show few kill themselves because of pain. Existential fear and despair often drive those who commit assisted suicide to an early grave.


This is how the assisted-suicide movement hurts the very people it claims to champion. During my years working with hospice, I was struck by how my patients would focus intently on my face when we first met. I soon realized they were seeking assurance of acceptance.

Pitching suicide as a remedy for such people is not just harmful to society, it can be cruel to other people struggling each day to keep on keeping on:

For sick, disabled, disfigured, and dying people, our faces can be like mirrors: If they sense that we think they are less than "we" are, it can crush the spirit. Yet, isn’t this the very message conveyed when we validate suicide as the "dignified" way to die?

I quote my hospice patient, Robert Salamanca, who died of ALS and was furious that people like him were used as euthanasia’s bloody battle flag. He despised the assisted suicide movement because they made his life more difficult to bear. And argued vehemently that we should care and love the dying, not support their hastened deaths.

I conclude:

There is no question that Maynard’s perspective is integral to the assisted-suicide debate. But Salamanca’s should be, too. Ultimately, his view accords more with the true meaning of human dignity and the intrinsic value of all our lives.

The death pushers are causing more harm than they will ever know.

Image source: tanakawho/Flickr.

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.



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