Washington Times 3 May 2015
Spring may be here, but death is in the air. At last count, more than 20 states have introduced bills to legalize assisted suicide this year. For comparison, at this time last year, only seven states had done so. That’s a jump of three times the number. What explains the increase?
No doubt some of the increase is connected to the case of Brittany Maynard, whose tragic situation received a great deal of media attention throughout the fall. Brittany was a young woman diagnosed with brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon for the express purpose of taking advantage of Oregon law permitting assisted suicide — she went to Oregon to have assistance in killing herself. Before ending her life, though, she engaged in a social media campaign advocating for the right to assisted suicide throughout the United States and to record her journey toward death.
It’s important first to note that no federal or statewide right to assisted suicide exists in the United States. In fact, the Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings in 1997 that established that our Constitution does not provide such a right, even as “implied” from the “liberty” right in the 14th Amendment.
Most Western courts have refused to imply such rights, until Canada became a recent outlier in February. Courts have understood that recognizing such a right has widespread consequences for society, such as undermining the healing role of the medical profession and giving credence to the notion that some people are “better off dead.” It has been understood that undue pressures may be brought to bear on the sick and elderly if life was not held out as the goal of treatment.
The second thing to notice about the large number of bills seeking to legalize assisted suicide is that this is a move in the opposite direction from our previous choices as a society. Assisted suicide is usually criminalized. In other words, in the overwhelming majority of times and places, most citizens have recognized that making legal the killing of one person by another, even at that person’s request, is a bad idea.