Dr. Jack's Strange World
by Charles E. Irvin
Assisted suicide and "mercy killing" are much in the news, and Dr.
Jack Kevorkian and his flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger seem to
be doing their best to keep it so. Along with the showmanship
produced by the Kevorkian & Fieger troupe, a great deal of fuzzy
thinking has developed, much to their advantage. Emotions and
sentimental feelings are necessarily added to the brew, given our
panic when faced with human pain and suffering.
What are we to think? We do, after all, need to ! Feelings
are wonderful. But feelings are also fickle, tyrannical and
destabilizing. Moral convictions are needed, particularly in hard
and painful cases such as those presented on center stage by the
two protagonists mentioned above. Messrs. Kevorkian and Fieger
keep telling us that those who are against the "right" to assisted
suicide are religious fanatics, insensitive beasts who worship
suffering (Catholics and their crucifixes), right-wing religious
zealots who seek to inflict pain upon others.
Fieger is even on record stating that Michigan's statute against
assisted suicide is just so much "papal bull." What he wants us to
ignore is the fact that more than 30 other states in our nation
have statutes against assisted suicide. I didn't realize the Pope
had such power in our country.
Euthanasia is killing-killing in the name of compassion and mercy.
Euthanasia extends the license of state-permitted killing; when
permitted, it allows one human being to kill another. Euthanasia
is presented by its advocates as a caring, merciful, humane act.
Its advocates employ a two-pronged strategy claiming (1) that it
should be "legalized" by the legislature and (2) that it is a
fundamental constitutional right.
Assisted suicide differs from euthanasia only in degree, not in
kind. It, too, is a social contract: it enlists the support of
another person to take part in the killing of the one wishing to
There is an agreement, a contract, if you will. There is nothing
private about it; it is quite social. The distinction between
assisted suicide and euthanasia appears to be more one of
methodology than one of strategy or intentionality. Precisely to
what extent the assisting person takes direct action in placing
the immediate and proximate cause of death remains open to
question; techniques appear to be yet developing in their
Kevorkian's attorneys employ basically the same two-pronged
strategy as that used by the proponents of euthanasia but, in
their constitutional argument, take it one step beyond. Fieger has
on a number of occasions used the news-conference platform to
declare that the "right" to assisted suicide is more fundamental
than the other rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
However, no court of law has declared that.
Evidently, he wants to build his argument on extra-legal grounds,
just in case the courts can't find the claimed "right" in
constitutional jurisprudence and court decisions. If it is "more
fundamental" than the Constitution, then no matter what the
Supreme Court decides, Fieger can still find the right to be
He'll tell us that the "right to die" is an "absolute right,"
without mentioning that in the opposite matter-namely, the right
to life-he has decreed that there is no such thing as an absolute
sanctity of life. When it comes to the right to life, it is
tenuous; but when it comes to the "right to die," it is absolute.
Or stated another way: If Geoffrey Fieger is in favor of a
"right," it is absolute; if he is not in favor of it, it is not.
And he holds the view (certainly!) that free human choice is
sacred. One can assume that Fieger has never claimed
consistency in his dogmas.
The coolness of considered thought leads us to reason along other
lines. Upon examination of the existing jurisprudence, we would
find that the and cases specifically
distinguish between the withdrawal of artificial life support
systems and the direct killing of a human being, an activity in
which all governments have an immediate interest. The criminal
laws of all states prohibit the direct and intentional killing of
another human being, regardless of the consent of the one
committing suicide or the intentions of the merciful killer acting
as his or her agent.
Well, all right, suppose Fieger and Kevorkian ultimately win their
case. Then what? You then can expect logical developments to
follow. Why should we limit the "right to die" exclusively to the
terminally ill? Why not bring Jack Kevorkian in to minister to the
"seriously" ill? And why not extend the privilege to those who are
miserable for nonmedical reasons?
It is useful to recall that when Kevorkian entered upon his
mission (before his medical license was revoked), he "assisted"
just such emotionally depressed people to commit suicide. It has
only been lately that he has elected to assist suffering people
with extremely pitiable cases in order that he might, perhaps upon
his attorney's advice, build up public sympathy for his inevitable
trial. If Kevorkian finally succeeds, some troubling questions
will arise. What about the mentally handicapped? Deformed persons?
Those who suffer from Alzheimer's? Lou Gehrig's Disease? Homeless
street people? Blacks? Jews? Catholics? Right wing
fundamentalists? Those who fail their SAT tests?
The courts have had to deal with a number of rights that are
related to euthanasia:
1. The right to reject unwanted medical procedures.
2. The right to commit suicide solely by one's own acts.
3. The right to commit suicide with the assistance of another's
4. The right to authorize another to directly and intentionally
kill the one seeking death.
The only "right" thus far recognized fully by the courts is that
decreed in the Karen Quinlan case decided back in the 1' 70s. In
that case, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized her right to
die a natural death after all unwanted medical treatments had been
withdrawn. It was a passive act, not a direct act of killing that
was allowed. (The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, let this
decision stand. The participation by one human being in the direct
act of killing another in the name of mercy has never been
constitutionally legitimated by the high court.)
We need to be very clear about the result of three Michigan court
decisions. They are often skewed by Kevorkian's attorneys who,
using staged theatrics along with emotional and jingoistic
language, seek to excite our passions and thereby obfuscate our
thinking on the issue. These decisions, they allege, struck down
Michigan's statute against assisted suicide on the merits of the
main question. The reality is that these three Michigan courts
ruled that Michigan's statute forbidding assisted suicide was
defective in that it declares assisted suicide to be a crime while
at the same time (in the same piece of legislation) it seeks to
establish a commission to determine the legality of assisted
suicide. In other words, how can Michigan declare an act to be
illegal while at the same time trying to find out whether it is
legal or not?
But that is far from what Kevorkian's attorneys will tell you.
They claim that the decisions determined the constitutionality of
activity based on the "right" to privacy, a right that these
attorneys allege to be "more fundamental" than any of the other
fundamental constitutional rights that we enjoy. We must keep in
mind, however, that the only "right" so far recognized by the
courts is the one in the Karen Quinlan case-namely, the right to
die a natural death after all unwanted medical treatments have
been withdrawn. To date, the direct and immediate killing of
innocent human life-namely, the killing of someone not convicted
of a crime- has not been found to be less destructive. Nor has it
been found to be legally permissible simply because it is done in
a medical manner.
Transcendent values and moral norms were once thought to exist in
the objective order. My seminary training was grounded upon those
givers. Western liberalism has succeeded in relativizing them,
declaring them to be subjective matters of personal taste not to
be imposed upon the thinking of others. They have been privatized,
the followers of John Stuart Mill's philosophy being the chief
architects of "privatizing" all human activity, even human life
itself. Getting government off our backs is a slogan that appeals
to the proponents of "privatized" killing.
Question: Is it "socialism" to recognize that we find our
uniqueness, our individuality, our own personal identity, by
belonging to a community, to a family? It seems to me that it
takes a community to help an individual come into his or her own
identity, specificity and individuality.
Personality is constituted and authenticated in the existential
interdependency, in commonly shared love and care found in family
and community social orders. And it takes individuals thus formed
to constitute a community. How far, then, does "privatization"
properly extend? Wherein lies socialism?
Culture, once upon a time, induced an automatic calling up in
one's conscience of what is right and what is wrong, good and
evil-moral norms consensually held in the hearts and minds of
Western culture's folk. Human dignity and human rights were found
and maintained in our interdependent social order. We are not,
after all, merely a collection of individual and private monads
who happen to live together by chance as a collection of persons.
Abraham Lincoln, it seems to me, had some things to say against
Western liberalism has all but succeeded in eliminating these
deeply ingrained and almost instinctive operative moral norms.
Agnostic relativism and secularism are the philosophies of the day
in our nation's schools, colleges and universities. The
controlling imperative in our nation's institutions of learning
may be fairly stated as: No one has the right to apply any
fundamental standards of judgment upon another.
Ironically, that very imperative does just that! The result is
that everyone's own personal whim, constitutionally protected
under the rubric of his or her inviolable "right of privacy," is
declared by liberalism to be morally and ethically good. Anyone's
opinion is just as valid as anyone else's. This is a sort of
"liberalism" unknown to those who identified themselves as
liberals earlier in this century.
But without knowing, professing or demanding that we live lives of
good and not evil, how will we as a nation of people remain
Pope John Paul II is disliked by many, for many different reasons.
I daresay, however, that he is commonly disliked by most because
of his insistence upon the commitment of men and women to a common
good, to a set of operating principles that distinguish between
good and evil, right and wrong-operating principles over which the
Church exercises custodial care, whether or not they were
generated within her bosom.
Because it was intolerable for her Founder, fragmenting
indifferentism is anathema to Holy Mother Church. It is legitimate
to ask why other major world religious bodies are splintering
under Western liberalism's influence. And it is additionally
legitimate to inquire as to their commitments to universal moral
imperatives as well as to whether or not they insist that their
individual members do likewise. The fundamental ground upon which
human society is built is at issue.
Our nation, the leading Western liberal democracy, exists now in a
permissive garden of paradise filled with an array of Venus
flytraps that are swallowing up its citizens. Abortion, drug
addiction, violence, child abuse and a host of other social evils
only attest to the existence of some malevolent underlying malady.
If everything is permitted, anything can be had- and anything can
result. That sounds to me like the very definition of nihilistic
Without a strong public sense of moral norms, our government
cannot possess any other authority than that which derives from
coercive power and force of such a consensus. Without any public
sense of moral norms, our government can wield unrestrained power
over us. Who would judge its actions, and by what norms? Which is
perhaps why today's attitude engineers gravitate to the employment
of governmental power, lacking any other ground upon which they
might build a persuasive case.
The sudden self-annihilation of communism, following as it did
upon the destruction of Nazism, is now being followed by the
implosion of our own Western liberalism. The dynamic that runs
through all three is the nonacceptance of a shared communal
commitment to a set of moral imperatives by which we all operate
from a shared transcendent understanding of what is right and what
is wrong, what is good and what is evil.
History teaches us that when private and social morality are
divorced, the hollow culture that remains collapses. Western
liberals need to examine the ersatz paradise they have constructed
for us in which to live in privacy. Is it any different from that
earlier edifice men and women attempted to construct, the Tower of
Babel? Are we not, today, forced to endure countless talking heads
who are not in any real dialogue with each other while in front of
Babel, we must remember, was destroyed because it was built upon
the principle that man controls the route to God, not on the
Church's principle that God controls the way and the truth and the
life in which man can find salvation. For transcendent principles
come down to us from above, not the other way around, however
humiliating that truth may be to the arrogance of the untrammeled
As we plod through the morass of murky thinking on the question of
what is euphemistically phrased as "assisted suicide" or
"medicide" or other high-sounding phrases that becloud the
essential truth, one and only one question must be held in primary
focus: Who has the right to kill, or who is licensed to take away
a human life?
A Michigan circuit judge, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia
Stephens, provides us with an example of loosey-goosey thinking.
In her decision to strike down the Michigan Legislature's law
against assisted suicide, she newly discovered yet another "right"
to privacy in the United States Constitution, the right to kill
one's self. And having had discovered that, she discovered yet
another one- namely, the "right" to have that "private" decision
reinforced by an assistant.
Her opinion exemplifies the rush of some jurists to unearth newly
found privacy rights flowing from the horrendously illogical
decision in the abortion ruling. Legal scholars
still shudder as they contemplate the floodgates to "privacy"
opened by . The previously existing delicate tension
between private autonomy and the common good has been hopelessly
unbalanced ever since.
In addition, Judge Stephens deliberately obfuscated the
distinction between the choice to refuse treatment and the
decision to take one's life. And by extension, Judge Stephens now
wants to move doctors, and specifically Jack Kevorkian, from
dealing with healing, or the withdrawal thereof, to direct dealing
Self-determination is not an absolute, as Her Honor would have us
believe. We do not allow the right to self-determination and
privacy to permit someone to own a slave, to employ child labor,
or even to smoke a cigarette wherever one might wish. Restraints
are put on human behavior and human autonomy when it comes to
creating monopolies, price-fixing, employing people in
occupational hazards, and so forth. Even traffic lights restricted
Judge Stephen's privacy rights and individual autonomy when she
drove to work the day she handed down her decision.
Once you license someone to kill another person, how will you ever
be sure their request was fully deliberated and made in complete
freedom from emotion or psychic compulsion? And how do you
guarantee that family members, opting to commit euthanasia for one
of their loved ones, make their choice free from selfish motives,
conflicts of interest, or free of any and all mercenary intent?
Until Kevorkian's antics, our society licensed killing only by
judicial magistrates, police officers, military personnel and
private citizens in self-defense against deadly aggression. Each
and every instance was permitted only to protect our common good.
Each and every instance was in the public interest and a part of a
community acting to protect itself. Private killing in the name of
private rights has never been countenanced.
But Judge Stephens couldn't be bothered by such precedents. acidic effects now work to extend the "right" to
privately kill at both ends of the spectrum of human life.
Does this concern you? Does this matter at all? Or do we once
again let the activists have the field while we concern ourselves
with more homely matters? Another moment of truth stands before
The "Friends of Death"-the abortionists and "mercy killers,"
through Jack Kevorkian and Geoffrey Fieger- are promoting a newly
discovered constitutional right, the so-called right to die. Did
you ever read those words in our Declaration of Independence or
Constitution? Nor have I. The "right to die" is a nice-sounding
phrase; it sounds almost like the "right to life."
It also sounds like an absolute. Ironically, moral relativists
will grab on to such absolutist phrases whenever they can, having
no moral structure within themselves or among themselves upon
which to build their brave new laws.
So far, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't discovered the phrase "right
to die" in our Constitution or in the books of legal writ
containing its interpretations. Quite a few of these United
States, however, have enacted laws making assisted suicide a
crime. The Friends of Death would tell us that those legislators
were right-wing, terroristic, religious fanatics bent upon
depriving reasonable citizens of their "right to die." Their
rhetoric is, of course, rubbish.
Back in the 1970s, in the Karen Quinlan case, the New Jersey
Supreme Court distinguished between committing suicide (or
assisting in that act) and the withdrawal of artificial life-
support systems. To withdraw artificial supports and let the
patient be supported solely by nature is enormously different,
said the court, from deliberately acting to kill innocent life.
Each of the states, asserted the court, has an undeniable interest
in the protection and preservation of all human life. And each
state has the constitutional authority to proscribe as a crime the
intentional killing of innocent human life, regardless of the
motives of either the assisting killer or the person wishing to
There is no "right to die" that the U.S. Supreme Court has found
to be constitutional. We remain endowed by our Creator with
something unalienable-namely, life. And that which is unalienable
can't be taken away or, even by one's own act, given away. Suicide
is not simply the removal of life-support systems. Suicide remains
what it is, the intentional killing of a human life, no matter how
many parties are participating in the act.
Once we start down the slippery slope, where will we stop? Does an
emotionally depressed person have a "right to die"? Does a
diagnosed schizophrenic have a "right to die"? A manic depressive?
Does someone facing bankruptcy have a "right to die"? And if they
do, and can't bring themselves to pull a lever or a trigger, can
they hire a surrogate to do it for them?
There are ultimately no boundaries to such a runaway path. The
only control we have is to never step over the threshold of that
door into the abyss.
There is no absolute right to privacy when it comes to what one
does with one's own body. Take, for instance, prostitution. It is
prohibited everywhere (except for Nevada). So far as I know, no
judge has yet declared laws proscribing prostitution to be
unconstitutional invasions of privacy; no judge has carried the
myth that far. No court has yet allowed
"consensual" sexual relations with members of one's own family, or
between adults and minors. The selling of one's own body parts has
not been recognized as a logical constitutional descendent of the
myth. No court decision has ever acknowledged that
we have an "absolute right" to do whatever we want with our
did not employ absolutist and dogmatic reasoning;
it did not declare that a woman has an "absolute right" to do with
her body what she wishes (contrary to popular feminist rhetoric).
did declare that a state can have a compelling
interest in preserving fetal life. Justice Harry Blackmun, in
writing the majority opinion, specifically balked at the notion
that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one
Just because a state refuses to punish a suicide (all such
punishment really succeeds only in punishing the surviving family
of a suicide), it does not therefore automatically mean, as some
would have us believe, that such a state is "declaring that
assisted suicide is a right."
In all of this emotional fluff that is being thrown up to cover
over logic, where can one point to a history or tradition, in any
legal jurisdiction, allowing assisted suicide? If it is such a
fundamental "right," where does one find it enacted in any body of
The right to choose is not an absolute right, even though it is
traditional dogma within the American Civil Liberties Union and
the liberal community. Laws, after all, are designed to prevent
certain choices, laws being enacted to preserve values and protect
them from human choices.
And we must remember in all of the rhetoric that the purpose of
any law, the purpose of any moral norm, the purpose of all such
principles that regulate human behavior, is precisely that: to
preserve certain values. And in order to preserve them, the human
will, our freedom of choice, and "prochoice" libertines, must be
We are not a libertarian anarchy. We are an ordered democracy, a
federal republic of citizens who exist and interrelate under the
law. We live together in peace and security under the rule of law.
Only unrestrained tyrants want laws thrown off, particularly
tyrants who are interested in being merchants of death.
William Shakespeare, the one who wrote the line, "The first thing
we do, let's kill all the lawyers'" placed those words in the
mouth of a would-be tyrant. We should remember these things
whenever we hear Jack Kevorkian spewing out his spurious ideas
about what is legal and what is not, what is constitutional and
what is not.
Earlier in this century, popes and Catholic moralists were telling
us that the issues of abortion and "mercy killing" were
intrinsically connected. You get one, you get the other. But back
then, Jack Kevorkian's sociopathy was, as yet, unthinkable. I fear
we were not paying close enough attention in those days. And I
certainly didn't see becoming Kevorkian vs. Belief.
In all of the recent media attention to Kevorkian's so-called
medicide rhetoric, people of belief have been depicted as
fanatics, terrorists, zealots, bigots and Nazis. The choices of
words and the coinage of phrases used by the Friends of Death
repeat those employed by "pro-choice" advocates when they were
first advocating abortion-on-demand.
In spite of it all, an occasional light shines in the darkness.
Last year, a letter to the editor was published in one of
Michigan's regional newspapers. In it, Bob Cassey, a gentlemen
from Beverly Hills, Mich., took the paper's columnists to task for
belittling and trivializing Archbishop Adam Maida's statement with
regard to assisted suicide. Cassey's thoughts are so good that
they are worth quoting extensively here:
In a world that measures worth by how much one possesses and how
much one can do, the crucifix makes no sense. Christians follow a
God who abhors suffering, who spent His life in a teaching and
healing ministry, and who calls on His people to rid the world of
Yet He demonstrated in His own life that the height of nobility is
attained when we enter fully into the suffering that life thrusts
on us, for only then do we break through to the glory of the
Jesus didn't have to go to Calvary, Martin Luther King Jr. didn't
have to go to Memphis and Thomas More didn't have to go to the
Tower of London, except to be true to their truest selves. The
same invitation is extended to each of us, because suffering and
pain, while unnecessary and evil, are part of life in this broken
We ultimately will triumph over suffering and pain, not by fleeing
from them or sidestepping them, but by choosing the life option by
embracing life at all costs.
What a tremendous statement! Obviously the Christian Gospel, as
well as the meaning of Easter, has reached him. That such a
statement of faith would be published in the particular newspaper
in question testifies to either one of two things: (1) the paper's
editorial board is guilty of a fortuitous oversight or (2) God
still cloth His wonders make.
During an argument, it is helpful occasionally to pay some
attention to what is not being said. It helps to put in context
what is being said.
In the current public debate over whether or not assisted suicide
should be declared lawful-or indeed a "constitutional right," as
Kevorkian supporters advocate-we should observe that they say
little if anything about what is happening in Holland. Oh, they'll
tell you that the Netherlanders allow assisted suicide, but beyond
that they don't say much.
The Dutch, you see, first allowed assisted suicide when absolutely
horrific cases of human suffering were put into the public's
consciousness. It is the same process that started the movement to
legalize abortion-on-demand. We were treated to disgusting cases
of incest and rape, as well as agonizing instances of dirty, back-
alley abortion dens. With these instances, we were argued into
legalizing "necessary" abortions. The result was a considerable
move away from the previous legal status of abortion. Prior to
, every state in our union had laws against such
The move from "absolutely necessary" abortions to the present
situation of abortion-on-demand was a shift not simply in degree
but in the very nature of our public policy. The so-called right
to privacy was raised to the level wherein it superseded all other
rights; it now has the status of dogma. We now have abortion-on-
demand as a form of birth control, a situation far removed from
the original argument that urged us to allow abortions only in
cases of rape and incest.
At the present time, we are again being subjected to the same
insidious strategy, only this time we are being urged to allow
"humane" and "necessary" assisted suicides, or "medicides" as Jack
Kevorkian is fond of calling them. But what isn't talked about is
the fact that studies conducted by the Dutch government have shown
that hundreds of "patients" each year are killed in Holland
without their own request-they being too old, handicapped or
infirm to make that request. Furthermore, there is great pressure
in Holland to set criteria for the "termination" of handicapped
newborns. One wonders how strenuously and effectively both classes
of people can protest against being "mercifully" terminated.
Clearly, that is a state of things quite beyond the present
advocacy position of Jack Kevorkian, one in which he modestly
argues (now) that the "terminally ill" have a fundamental
constitutional right not only to suicide but also to be assisted
in suicide. What the assisted-suicide proponents are not talking
about are barriers against involuntary "euthanasia" and the
safeguards against it, safe guards which evidently have broken
down in Holland. The reason they aren't talking about these
concerns is because they know full well that there are really no
effective barriers once you involve others, however permissibly,
in the act of killing.
We should be clear about what will develop once assisted suicide
is allowed "only" in extreme and desperate cases. The inexorable
developments will be advanced on the argument that it is unfair to
discriminate solely on the basis of a person's being , and that anyone, even someone who is only
psychologically depressed, ought to have the same "right." Equal
protection under the law will be trotted out, and the "right" will
be expanded. The license to kill will be inexorably broadened.
Finally, let us all be equally clear that once someone other than
the individual who wishes to commit suicide is involved in the
decision, then that decision is no longer 'private." Some sort of
social contract is present. When that is established, it is only a
difference in degree, not in nature, to move to a situation
wherein others can decide that so-and-so's quality of life is so
bad that his life must be mercifully terminated. That is what we
have in Holland. That is what we'll have when we allow Kevorkian's
Friends of Death to change our laws against assisted suicide.
The published pieces on the subject of assisted suicide in the
secular press have been noticeably mute on another one of the most
salient of all points in the debate-namely, that people of non-
belief are imposing their non-values on people of belief. Perhaps
newspaper editorial boards feel that they are being
"professionally journalistic" and "objective" in such omissions.
However, I doubt it.
The newspapers that arrive on my doorstep have long since
abandoned the standards of objective and professional journalism.
They instead print "news accounts," compose headlines and select
photographs that all make editorial statements rather than
objectively presenting the position of all sides as news. You have
only to note that all statements that you've heard about "imposing
private religious values on others" and "imposing their own morals
on others" have been applied by the press only to those upholding
Christian values. Have you ever, even once, read in any newspaper
that non-believers are imposing their values on believers? No, of
course not. We should not, for one moment, think the secular press
is giving us objective reporting.
The unreported position, the one the press chooses to ignore, is
the majority one-namely, that most people see human life as
belonging to God, that we hold it only as God's stewards (along
with the environment and all else in nature). Human life, from its
first moment in existence to its last breath here on earth, is not
ours; we do not own or possess it as free, simple title-holders.
We hold it only in trust. And the equally important news (but not
stated) is that people of non-belief hold that human life is
subject only to the intelligence and will of man, God's
prerogatives being a private matter of individual belief- or
better yet, simply an interesting opinion.
We are presently in a great conflict over who controls our
culture. The fundamental question at issue is: Who gives content
and shape to our culture, people of belief or of non-belief,
people who still hold to the values upon which this country was
founded or those who wish to have a value-free public-education
system, a value-free government and a value-free society?
The founders of our nation recognized that we, as human beings,
are endowed by our Creator. They were theists; they were
believers. In today's struggle to control our culture,
nonbelievers wish to tear us away from our founders' thesis stated
in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. These
documents were written to declare our independence from the
British establishment by appealing to our dependence upon our
common Creator, the source of all values. The paradox is that we
secured our independence by declaring our dependence upon our
Higher Power. Our rights are unalienable only when we acknowledge
that we are endowed with them by our Creator, not when we create
them by our own human will. For, if the latter case is true, then
only those human beings deemed useful will be so "endowed" by the
From whence come our rights? From our laws? From the will of man?
Or from the will of God? To found them in the will of man is to
found them on quicksand, man's will being demonstrably and
notoriously fickle, filled with lust for power and untrammeled
control over others. To find our rights, to discover them, in the
will of God locates them in the Transcendent, thus placing them
out of risk, free from the hands of arbitrary human
People of non-belief locate the value of human life-and,
consequently, when it can be terminated- in the will of man. That
is why the abortion issue and the euthanasia issue are the
subjects of those interested solely in their own struggle for
power. People of belief, however, locate the value of human life
(and its term of life on earth) in the will of God, where it is
safe, secure and unalienable.
We have a constitutional question in front of us, one striking at
the heart of our national purpose, touching as it does on the
values and beliefs of the founders of our nation and its society.
Clearly, it is not a matter of private religious beliefs and
opinions, as the non-believers would have everyone think. It is a
matter of the commonweal, a wealth of communally shared moral
Euthanasia gives permission to kill; it extends the license for
one human being to kill another.
Euthanasia is presented as caring when in fact it eliminates the
need to care; killing removes caring from the scene.
Euthanasia is a grave moral disorder. It violates the faith of
Muslims, Jews and Christians. It does violence to our Western
civilization's political tradition, as well as our nation's
founding values. And it radically misshapes the purpose of the
medical profession, therein corrupting its nature and purpose-
namely, to foster and protect life, not kill it.
Presented as a "humane" act, its consequence is to dehumanize both
its victim and its perpetrators, reducing life itself to a mere
"thing" to be taken away from the other.
Our American political philosophy tells us that all humans are
created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the
unalienable right to life. Euthanasia is reductionist; it makes
Life is not the gift of the state. And so to give consent to the
state to "euthanize" human life is to grant an ultimacy to the
state that it never had before, a license to kill never before
extended to it. It allows the state to exercise a "right" over
that which was not the state's to give in the first place. For
human life belongs to God's dominion, not the government's.
The killings authorized in war and in capital punishment differ in
both nature and degree in that they have to do with the
preservation of communal life against unjust aggression. The
killings proposed via euthanasia find their origins in the Nazis
who first experimented with killing human beings in the name of
"human betterment" -- something that attracted Margaret Sanger,
founder of Planned Parenthood.
Under our civilized forms of political philosophy, the question
must be asked: How can our government authorize the alienation of
a right to life, a right our government did not bestow or own in
the first place? Our constitutional form of government recognizes
the truth that human life is given to us by "Nature and Nature's
God," not by the republic. Euthanasia is a profoundly
unconstitutional and utterly novel idea in our political and
governmental history and tradition.
We must forcefully preserve the distinction between allowing to
die, on the one hand, and killing on the other. No one needs to be
subjected to useless treatments, to prolonged, expensive and
doubtfully useful procedures that end up preserving life at all
costs-and at a fearsome price in terms of human suffering, with
little resulting benefit. To make a judgment about the worth of
useless and never-ending treatments is one thing. To make a
judgment about the worth of a human life itself is quite another
matter. Treatments may be useless and burdensome. But life is
never useless or without purpose.
For Muslims, Jews and Christians, it is impossible to find it
suggested anywhere in our Holy Scriptures that we may solve the
problem of human suffering by eliminating suffering humans.
Killing is never caring; it is flight from caring, it is the
abandonment of caring. Ultimately, it is human rejection of God's
command to us to care for one another, a rejection born of a
hopeless mistrust in the caring of God.
Our human community has, until now, been built on
interdependencies and relationships of caring. We've grown up and
matured on this notion: Always to care, never to kill. We need
never fear being abandoned in our suffering if we keep faith with
this ancient compact that makes for human community: Always to
care, never to kill.
We need no brave new world in which war is peace, coercion is
freedom and killing is caring. We need, now perhaps more than
ever, to keep ourselves distanced from the precipice over which we
shall plunge into the abyss. We need to continue to bar the path
to death through euthanasia.
(Editor's note: As this issue was going to press, the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, on March 6, struck down
Washington state's ban on physician-assisted suicide, declaring
that the U.S. Constitution protects an individual's "right" to a
"dignified and humane death." On March 8, a jury in Michigan
acquitted Dr. Jack Kevorkian of two charges of assisting at
FATHER IRVIN, who holds a law degree, is the pastor of St. Francis
of Assisi Parish, Ann Arbor, Mich.
This article was taken from the January, 1996 issue of "The
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