Earlier this summer, former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was criticized for deploying hyperbole in her opposition of health-care-reform proposals on the table in Washington, D.C. She warned of end-of-life "death panels." By doing so, she got some pols to back down from proposed "end-of-life counseling" boards that would parcel out advice in a government-controlled health-care system.
Perhaps Palin could have been more sober. But these are alarming times of radical change. And with her attention-grabbing language, she managed to highlight some of the life-and-death possibilities being batted around by legislators in the Capitol, as well as lethal influences in the air. Considering that, ultimately, vital health-care decisions will very possibly be made in a closed-door conference committee, perhaps the more people hear, the better.
After all, here in the United States, we don't have a good track record for fending off a creeping culture of death. Let's just put aside abortion — the killing of the most vulnerable, who've never had a say in their own preservation — for a moment. Consider that one of our president's regrets is that, while in the Senate, he helped legislators to attempt to save the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain-injured Floridian who was ultimately taken off food and hydration in 2005, dying a short time later.
It was a mess of a case, certainly, involving warring family members, courts and a media feeding frenzy, but Obama's statement was a bold one, erring as it did on the side that's not life.
Consider that voters in Oregon and Washington have legalized assisted suicide. Montana, by court order, has followed suit. Assisted suicide, in fact, is a mainstream thing here in America. Charlotte Shultz, wife of former secretary of state George Shultz, recently agreed to be co-chair at a luncheon for a group called Compassion & Choices of Northern California. She joins a sitting U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein, as co-chair.
Here we seem to be following the lead of our former ruler, which is on a path to destruction. Not too long after Palin's comments, the United Kingdom loosened its restrictions on assisted suicide. The ruling came in response to Debbie Purdy, a woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Purdy wants to ensure that, should she desire to kill herself, her husband will not be punished for giving her a hand.
In response to the court order, the United Kingdom's top prosecutor has now listed 13 types of cases in which assisted suicide should not be prosecuted. Among them are the following: "The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide"; "The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide"; "The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect"; And "The victim had: a terminal illness; or a severe and incurable physical disability; or a severe degenerative physical condition; from which there was no possibility of recovery."
Wesley J. Smith, an associate director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, calls the new guidelines "an astonishing abandonment of the most weak and vulnerable in society."
Before the court order, U.K. residents had been making use of liberal laws in Switzerland, where those seeking what they call a "dignified" end have resorted to a Zurich-based suicide clinic by the name of Dignitas. According to reports, about 115 U.K. citizens have obtained aid in killing themselves there. This summer, that number included a renowned orchestra conductor and his wife; she had terminal cancer and he was blind.
In the coming weeks, U.K. physician Michael Irwin may face court proceedings for providing money for a man with pancreatic cancer to travel to the clinic. As the law stands, Irwin could be prosecuted for "encouraging" the suicide by helping pay for it. Irwin is hoping for a legal fight. Commenting on the loosened guidelines, he expressed his desire to battle for more: "The ideal form of assisted suicide is doctor-assisted, but who is going to give out the medication in the U.K.? This means people will still want to go to Switzerland. I want Parliament to change the law so that doctors can openly help people."
Considering the direction of the guidelines, Dignitas London (or something closer to home) may not be too far away. What's stopping it, once it's been determined that those who suffer — a remarkably broad category — are not really worthy of protection — even from themselves?
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.