On Assisted Suicide

In a previous post on physician-assisted suicide, I had the following exchange with a commenter named Van:


I take it you are are against assisted-suicide?

Let me ask you this – how can we say we live in a free nation if we cannot do what we wish to our own bodies, as long as we do not impact the life, liberty and safety of others?

I have mixed feelings on the subject, but I really have a hard time with others telling me what to do with my body.

Dr. Bob:

Yes, very much against it.

You are, of course, perfectly free to end your own life, with or without such legislation. A handgun and a single bullet will do the job very nicely — along with a hundred other ways.

The problem with this public policy is that you are asking your physician to kill you — and therefore it is no longer just about “what you do with your body”, but very much involves other people — the doctor, the families, and society as a whole.

The problem with this sort of “it \'s my body” radical self-autonomy is that it focuses solely on the self, while conveniently ignoring the enormous consequences of such legalization on others and society as a whole.


So your key issue is the doctor assisting in the suicide, thereby involving others?

Let \'s say you have a 90 year old individual with no family, suffering from cancer, who has no meaningful impact on others… If they take their own life, you are OK with it?

Just trying to understand where you are coming from.

Van’s question is a valid one, to be addressed shortly, but in digression one should note what often passes for arguing from principles in our current culture: the argument from the exceptional. When promoting or defending some contentious social or moral issue, we seem always to find the most extreme example imaginable and argue from this specific, then applying our conclusions to the general. Hence, for example, when arguing for government prescription health coverage, we must first find some old woman who has to eat cat food in order to pay for her prescriptions; when discussing gay adoption, we must find the idyllic gay couple, lifelong partners (or so we are told), ecstatically happy with nary a relational dispute, as parents; when arguing for assisted suicide, we must find the patient in unbearable pain with a loving husband passionate about ending her life “in dignity” by slipping her a deadly cocktail — or one who is dying utterly alone, with nary a friend or family member to share their suffering. That such argumentation almost invariably presents a false dichotomy is never considered; that far better alternatives might exist to solve the problem never pondered; that applying the suggestive solution based on emotion without consideration for its broad implications or ramifications might prove disastrous, is never seen as a possibility. We press for great social and policy changes with profound effects on culture and society using pop emotionalism and pulp fiction.

But I digress. So, to answer the question: I would not find suicide of such a sadly-abandoned individual justified, simply because no physician was involved. Suicide is the ultimate repudiation of life, of relationships, of hope, the product of the deep hopelessness and self-absorbed insanity of depression. My point was simply this: we all have free will. Each of us may choose, if we decide to do so, to end our own lives. There is a pernicious distortion of the idea of freedom which is a product of our radical individualism, to wit: I live in a free society, therefore by necessity I must be free to do whatsoever I please, and others must not only allow me to do so, but must bear the consequences of my actions, and must be actively engaged in enabling my behavior, because it is my right. Hence, I must be free to say anything I wish, without consequence, including criticism of my speech; I must be free to terminate my pregnancy, without guilt or restriction, though my unborn child pays the ultimate price; I must be free to end my life when I wish, and my physician must be required to deliver the lethal potion — or at least must be coerced into finding another doctor who will, if his “values” (defined as mere subjective opinions) don’t agree with mine.

Many of the “rights” which are being promulgated and promoted by today’s secular culture are in reality straw men, fine-sounding proxies for demands and desires far less salutary than they sound. Thus, gay marriage is not about gays getting married (hence the lack of enthusiasm among gay rights advocates for civil unions which provide all the legal benefits of marriage), but is instead an effort to destroy traditional heterosexual marriage as normative in culture, thereby removing not merely legal but cultural restraints on all forms of sexual and relational deviancy. The high standard — heterosexual marriage, with its enormous advantages in the raising of children and establishment of societal self-restraint, morality, and relational stability — must be brought down to the lowest common denominator of any two (or more) people getting “married” — with the sole purpose of muting societal condemnation for self-gratifying, dysfunctional and heterodox partnerships. Unrestricted abortion, a.k.a. “freedom of choice”, is about the uncompromising (albeit delusional) demand for unconstrained sexual license without consequences — especially for women, but also for their sperm donors who want no responsibility for their casual hookups: dispose of the unplanned pregnancy, move on to your next “partner”, and you have achieved the perfect “zipless fuck.”

Likewise, physician-assisted suicide is not at all about “death with dignity”, but rather about actively enlisting the culture in support of radical individual autonomy. Not only must we exert full control over the time and manner of our death — which we have always been able to do, by simply killing ourselves — but we demand that society support, honor, and praise this decision, without the faintest whiff of criticism or condemnation. It is not sufficient that we be able to kill ourselves. Rather, it is necessary that we actively kill those societal sensibilities and strictures which condemn such a choice as morally misguided and potentially destructive to our human dignity and our social fabric.

Were some silver-suited alien from Alpha Centuri to visit our noble globe, he would find our passion for self-extinction puzzling, to say the least. What manner of sentient being seeks to facilitate its own demise, only to perpetuate the illusion that they control their own lives? Has their existence no purpose but to be ended at their own direction? Are their relationships so shallow that they choose death over life, has their suffering no meaning, will their precious time with life partners, friends, and offspring be traded for the dark comfort of a deadly cocktail? Who are these intelligent fools who hand over the power of death to their doctors, oblivious to the evil which dwells in the hearts of men, waiting to be empowered by cold rationalism, scientific professionalism, self-justification, and sterile repetition?

Yet were our starship sojourner to study the society which breeds such nihilism, he would, by turns, find his answer: we are, for all our technological advances and unbounded prosperity, a culture without meaning, a people without purpose. We have embraced unquestioningly the mantra of materialism: we have come from nothing, and to nothing shall return. Our relationships mean naught but what we may gain from them; our suffering gains us nothing but rage and resentment; our deaths are like our lives — without hope, without a future, joyless and empty. We desperately push the buttons and mix the potions which promise to make us happy and whole, yet find they only echo forlornly through our hollow souls, singing that siren song:

“I am my own master.”

Tuesday Links

Is there a spell-checker for tattoo artists?

 ♦ John Robb: The Coming Urban Terror. Written in 2007. Prescient — think Mumbai.

 ♦ More John Robb: An essay looking back at the privatization of America from the year 2025. Written in 2007, and disturbingly accurate about the economic developments.

 ♦ Keeping you abreast of the news: Tempest in a C-cup – 130,000 boobs lost at sea

 ♦ The security sieve at NASA: Network Security Breaches Plague NASA

 ♦ Wondering what our northern neighbors are up to with their government crisis? A Guide for the perplexed – Canada’s Constitutional Crisis

 ♦ Newsweak looks at the scriptural basis for marriage — and ends up making a fool of themselves (no surprise there): Sola scriptura minus the scriptura. Does the media go out of its way to hire idiots, or do they become stoopid working in that environment?

Remember, the Big Media (or B.M., as I prefer to call them) are far superior to New Media because, you know, they have editors — so what does Newsweak’s editor — who let this piece of drivel be published — think of the criticism it’s getting? “The worst kind of fundamenatalism”: What \'s the standard?. Jeez.

Update: Newsweek’s article, Our Mutual Joy, and Francis Beckwith’s response (with other references) is here. See also Rob Bowman’s excellent fisking: Fallacies in Biblical Interpretation: Newsweek \'s Defense of Gay Marriage.

 ♦ I smell defeat: Those of us in the Puget Sound area have been following a rather strange series of occurrences with our northern neighbors: feet, with shoes still on, have been washing ashore in British Columbia. Investigators have been stumped, but some clues are turning up: B.C. coroner matches pair of mysterious feet

Now, the copy-editor-wannabe in me is wondering why the AP has such a lame headline for this story. Here’s a few which come to mind:

  * “Six feet under in British Columbia”
  * “Friends say missing dancer had two left feet”
  * “Critics say New Balance ‘Rise to the Top’ ad is insensitive”
  * “Foot-weary Investigators Get a Clue”
  * “Proof that the Sole Survives Death”

 ♦ Wonder what the postage was? Inmate escapes German jail in box

 ♦ On the futility and shallowness of secular conservatism: Life, License, and the Pursuit of Pleasure:

Boethius would say that because we are ignorant of the end for which things exist, we think that stupid and wicked people are prosperous and happy. Boethius was a Christian, but that statement could have come from Marcus or Epictetus or Plato. The corollary is just as potent. We can never find happiness, or enjoy liberty, if we are stupid and wicked. It isn’t simply that a wicked and stupid people will lose their political freedoms. They will; but only because they have already lost their last shreds of liberty within. What good is the franchise, when we are slaves all the same?

 ♦ In a similar vein, there’s been a rather nasty spat going on between secular and religious conservatives; in short, the secular folks (e.g., Heather MacDonald & Kathleen Parker) want the religious folks thrown under the bus, because religion is just so “irrational” and without empirical evidence, etc., etc. — and furthermore, it’s keeping “real” conservatives from winning elections. Edward Feser’s response (author of The Last Superstition) should be read as an example of a gracious, yet entirely devastating, rebuttal to this “no empirical evidence for religion” foolishness: An open letter to Heather MacDonald

That’s all for now, back soon.

Assisted Suicide: Coming to a State Near You

I hope to have more to say on the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the near future. In the meantime, I highly recommend this article by Herbert Hendin, M.D. Dr. Hendin’s book, Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients, and Assisted Suicide, is an excellent resource on the topic, the result of extensive research and multiple interviews taken while studying euthanasia practices in the Netherlands. This article provides a nice summary of his research and experience, which builds a solid case against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Washington has recently become the second state to pass an assisted suicide initiative, and, legislating from the bench, a Montana judge has ruled that man has right to assisted suicide.

This movement is on a roll, and you will want to be informed about why this is such a ghastly public policy trend.

A few highlights from the article:

Concern over charges of abuse led the Dutch government to undertake studies of the practice in 1990, 1995 and in 2001 in which physicians’ anonymity was protected and they were given immunity for anything they revealed. Violations of the guidelines then became evident. Half of Dutch doctors feel free to suggest euthanasia to their patients, which compromises the voluntariness of the process. Fifty percent of cases were not reported, which made regulation impossible. The most alarming concern has been the documentation of several thousand cases a year in which patients who have not given their consent have their lives ended by physicians. A quarter of physicians stated that they “terminated the lives of patients without an explicit request” from the patient. Another third of the physicians could conceive of doing so.

An illustration of a case presented to me as requiring euthanasia without consent involved a Dutch nun who was dying painfully of cancer. Her physician felt her religion prevented her from agreeing to euthanasia so he felt both justified and compassionate in ending her life without telling her he was doing so. Practicing assisted suicide and euthanasia appears to encourage physicians to think they know best who should live and who should die, an attitude that leads them to make such decisions without consulting patients–a practice that has no legal sanction in the Netherlands or anywhere else.

Assisted-suicide laws are always framed as being “compassionate” — appealing to the universal fear of dying a prolonged and painful death. Yet the unintended consequences of giving physicians the unrestricted power of life and death are often anything but:

Compassion is not always involved. In one documented case, a patient with disseminated breast cancer who had rejected the possibility of euthanasia had her life ended because, in the physician’s words: “It could have taken another week before she died. I just needed this bed.”

He also extensively studied Oregon’s experience with assisted suicide — the legislation which served as the model for Washington’s law — and found plenty of problems here as well:

Oregon physicians have been given authority without being in a position to exercise it responsibly. They are expected to inform patients that alternatives are possible without being required to be knowledgeable enough to present those alternatives in a meaningful way, or to consult with someone who is. They are expected to evaluate patient decision-making capacity and judgment without a requirement for psychiatric expertise or consultation. They are expected to make decisions about voluntariness without having to see those close to the patient who may be exerting a variety of pressures, from subtle to coercive. They are expected to do all of this without necessarily knowing the patient for longer than 15 days. Since physicians cannot be held responsible for wrongful deaths if they have acted in good faith, substandard medical practice is encouraged, physicians are protected from the con-sequences, and patients are left unprotected while believing they have acquired a new right.

The idea of assisted suicide has enormous allure in a culture of self-gratification and increasingly-shallow moral and ethical principles. Don’t be surprised when it comes your way — be prepared.


In the timeframe of history, and most surely of eternity, our lives are but a brief instant, a flicker of light in a boundless universe. Yet a divine spark dwells within us — the very essence of the God who transcends and redeems time — and thus our brief passage through life becomes eternally significant, made incalculable in value by Him who sanctifies time and transforms our passing journey into a priceless jewel.

We are, at our outset, but uncut stones, to be shaped and chiseled by Him, through the joys and hardships of life, and by those who on our pilgrimage touch us, guiding and shaping our lives, be it by parents, siblings, friends or foes, church and culture. Each of our lives is a story, and that story is written large by those who inhabit our lives and share our journey.

Today we mourn the death, and celebrate the life, of Joan Shepard. We are gathered in this house of worship as a testimony, not only to her life, but to our sure hope that this life from which she has passed is is not all there is, but rather a grand preparation for a far better, fuller life, where we no longer live by faith but at last by sight, in the presence of God. Our great loss is Joan’s gain — and we who share the hope of all who live and die in Christ know that our mourning is but for a time, as we will join in her joy and share her victory in the presence of God when our time of departure comes.

Yet we who are left behind, grieving our loss, will pause to remember her life as well, and the countless ways in which she touched us and left a great legacy in her wake. Joan was one of the Greatest Generation, born at the beginning of a century of great hardship and strife, who were scarred and hardened by its sufferings and horrors. Yet through that crucible there shone through a character and courage which emblemized a generation and inspired those who inherited the peace and prosperity they purchased for those who followed.

Such character and dignity was on full display in Joan’s life, shaped by her life’s journey. I recall the story of her father’s death — a time much like ours here today — a time of great mourning, as he passed from this life at a young age. He owned a shoe store in Burlington Iowa, their home town, and struggled as so many did through the painful years of the Great Depression. At his funeral, unbeknownst to his friends and family — and to their great surprise and joy — there came forward many who were there to honor him because of his great generosity, having supplied shoes at no cost to struggling farmers. and having paid for scholarships to college for many.

This spirit of generosity was present in full in Joan’s life as well. She was gracious and generous to a fault, giving freely of her time and money to whomsoever was in need. She was deeply involved in service, bringing food and hope to needy families through the FISH ministry up until the final days of her life. Late in life she entered intensive training for ministry in healing prayer, touching profoundly the lives of those deeply wounded by life’s cruelty or enslaved by the harsh darkness of Satan’s hand. She was never a consumer Christian, always deeply involved in life here at St. Mary’s, living her faith with her hands and feet, not merely in pious words and reverent detachment. We will never know, this side of Paradise, how many lives were touched and healed by the extraordinary generosity of her spirit and her faith.

We who were her children and grandchildren know well of this generosity of spirit, the joy of her smile, and the testimony of her faith. How well we remember her smiling face and wonderful sense of humor; how well we remember the warm, inviting graciousness and hospitality of her home, always bedecked with flowers and an abundance of wonderful food; how well we remember how she could engage a total stranger and in minutes put that person at ease as if they had been lifelong friends.

We remember too her zest for life; her feistiness; the adventuresome spirit with which she launched out on overseas travel with friends and family even well into her 80s; her sharp mind; her fierce independence and unwillingness to be a burden on anyone. God forbid you should try to pick up the tab at a restaurant: Joan was set to do battle to grab the check, and would be furious if you, by various forms of trickery, slipped it away from her.

But most of all we are grateful in remembering her deep faith — a faith now rewarded in the presence of the Lord she served faithfully so many years. She stands now before Him, in joy, in the company of her husband George who preceded her, in glory, without pain or sorrow. I suspect even now she is arguing with Jesus about who will pick up the tab — although I suspect it’s an argument she won’t win this time.

We will miss you, Joan, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the blessing you have been to each of us in this life. May God give you peace and eternal rest, and draw you to Himself in His presence and glory. We long for the day when we shall see you again.

Doin’ da’ Bird

This post was published first several years ago, just after Turkey Day. But before T-day makes more sense — so here it is.
OK, just when you thought it was safe to forget about the overindulgence and caloric excesses of Thanksgiving day, here comes another blog post on Thanksgiving recipes. This one sticks to the basics: roasting the turkey itself and making gravy. It is my traditional holiday task to make the dim-witted bird into a delectable feast (and yes, I know wild turkeys are very smart), so this recipe has matured with age–unlike me. So grab your blunderbuss, put on your Pilgrims hat, and let’s get to it.
Continue reading “Doin’ da’ Bird”

A Life Well-Lived

On November 22nd, at 2 pm, at the age of 90, my wife’s mother passed from this life to the next.

She died peacefully, in no pain, with her family at her side, with true dignity.

Hers was an extraordinary life, an extraordinary spirit, an extraordinary faith.

She will be greatly missed.

Friday Links

 ♦ Richard John Neuhaus at First Things has posted his Friday essay, well worth reading. It speaks to many of the same issues I addressed, albeit far less eloquently, in my previous post:

Obama’s public remarks on the freedom of religion and constitutional law demonstrate little awareness of the significance of the first freedom of the First Amendment in America’s law and lived experience. Moreover, after more than three decades of the most passionate public debate of these matters, Obama declared during the election that the moral and legal status of the unborn child are questions “above my pay grade.”

The truly ominous possibility, indeed likelihood, is that Obama does not see his extreme positions on abortion as being extreme at all. They are the entrenched orthodoxies of the parties that got him to where he is. Those in opposition are viewed as a recalcitrant minority guilty of perpetuating divisiveness, and the time has come to break their back once and for all. I hope I am wrong, but this strikes me as the more plausible understanding of the Freedom of Choice Act and other measures aimed at “bringing us together again.”

The response of Christian leaders to the imminent aggressions will require determined legal talent, especially in First Amendment law, a sharpening of public arguments, reaching out to those who do not understand what is at stake, and careful strategizing by pro-life activists and politicians. In the first place and in the long term, however, the need is for the courage to recover a biblical and historical understanding of what it means to say “Let the Church be the Church.” The Church is not an association of individuals sharing the experience of religion as what they do with the solitude. The Church is not in the consumption business, peddling the products that satisfy one’s self-defined spiritual needs. The Church is a unique society among the societies of the world; a community of obligation standing in solidarity with the truth who is Christ.

That is how the Church understood herself in the apostolic period, as witness St. Paul’s opening hymn in the letter to the Ephesians, his depiction of cosmic transformation in Romans 8, and his anticipation in Philippians 2 of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. That is how the Church understood herself in the patristic era when Justin Martyr proposed Christianity not as a more satisfying religion among other religions but as “the true philosophy.” It was the understanding of Saint Augustine, who proposed in City of God that the story of the gospel is nothing less than the story of the world. Were Christianity what a man does with his solitude, there would be no martyrs. In every vibrant period of the Church’s life, it has been understood that her message and mission are based on public events, are advanced by public argument, and invite public response.

Well worth your time, and highly recommended. Also worthwhile is his previous essay: Obama and the Bishops.

There are deeper problems. In the last four decades, following the pattern of American Protestantism, many, perhaps most, Catholics view the Church in terms of consumption rather than obligation. The Church is there to supply their spiritual needs as they define those needs, not to tell them what to believe or do. This runs very deep both sociologically and psychologically. It is part of the “success” of American Catholics in becoming just like everybody else. Bishops and all of us need to catch the vision of John Paul II that the Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. But what she proposes she believes is the truth, and because human beings are hard-wired for the truth, the truth imposes. And truth obliges.

 ♦ Duplicate keys from photos: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Locksmiths

 ♦ Best Rube Goldberg idea ever (don’t shoot pool with these guys for money!):

 ♦ John Robb looks at the coming Depression — and how it’s not like the last one: Setting the Stage

 ♦  The implications of Washington’s Initiative 1000: Coming to a state near you, very soon: Assisted Suicide: The Wind in Their Sails

 ♦ WWII spooks messed with German radio transmissions: Aspidistra

 ♦ Sippi talks economics. Makes sense to me.

 ♦ Mushroom soup, anyone? Front seat for the A-bomb:

That’s all for now — enjoy your weekend, God bless.