On November 6, voters in Massachusetts and California decided – by a close margin in both states – not to legalize assisted suicide. This was a victory for life. But what if Massachusetts and California had followed the states of Washington, Oregon, and Montana, along with a number of countries in Europe, in legalizing assisted suicide?
I have to question the implications of the fact that these bills were even proposed to the voters. Why is our society pushing for the legalization of voluntary death, when there are so many advances in medicine?
For centuries pain was part of life, assumed, accepted, and never questioned; but now we can go to the hospital to prevent infections, cure a sickness, recover from an amputation, have a heart transplant…even eliminate a headache. So why are we concerned about ending life because of suffering when, supposedly, medicine gives us the power to relieve suffering?
The key to this discussion is to acknowledge that when we eliminate religion from a culture, when we deny moral values and human dignity, we’re left with our own self-preservation as our only ethical guiding light.
When justice and human dignity are no longer a priority, we go to every length we can to prevent suffering and to create comfort. As with numerous other areas of life, like education, sexuality, marriage, friendship, and leisure, our culture teaches us that it’s all about our personal satisfaction. When there is no ultimate respect for human dignity, it’s natural for men to elevate health to their highest goal in life.
But how is health related to death? A recent essay from First Things gives an explanation for the relation between the two: “When eliminating suffering becomes the overriding purpose of a society, people can easily come to perceive that it is proper to accomplish the goal by eliminating the sufferer.”
The author continues,
Elevating “health” to the ultimate purpose of society turns it into something other than health. The original definition of the term is elasticized to include a hedonistic sense of entitlement to obtain whatever our hearts desire. Health becomes understood as a prophylactic, if you will, against suffering.
With this mindset, it seems normal to want to end a life because it’s causing pain. But will this legalization turn into an open passage to suicide? What is the difference between someone who wants to die because his physical pain is too much to handle and someone who no longer wishes to live because life is too hard or the sadness of losing a loved one is too painful? Who will determine what level of suffering is necessary in order to apply for legal death?
Let’s take the question further. What if a person has the power to decide for someone else that his or her life is filled with pain or distress, as was the case with Terri Schiavo in Florida in 2005? Or to decide that someone else’s life is causing him or her to suffer, so he or she has the right to eliminate that suffering by eliminating the other person? (This is an argument used to support abortion, when an unborn baby causes financial or personal inconvenience to the mother.) Has our society drifted so far from ethical moorings that we would legalize murder on demand?
The author of the First Things essay describes our moral situation:
In such a milieu, ethics become transitory because we justify our behavior by feelings rather than robust principles of morality—which after all, sometimes require us to eschew what we want and what feels good in order to do what is right.
It is obvious that when there is no religion in a society there is no respect for life. MARRI research in 95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice explains many more consequences of the decline of religion. How long will we allow this decline and its consequences, all in the name of “health” and “freedom from suffering,” to go on?