Assisted Suicide Is Never a Compassionate Choice
This week, the Alzheimer’s Association issued a public statement recognizing the end of its brief partnership with the assisted suicide organization Compassion & Choices, citing a failure to “do appropriate due diligence” before entering into the partnership in November 2022. “We deeply regret our mistake, have begun the termination of the relationship, and apologize to all of the families we support who were hurt or disappointed,” the statement reads. “Research supports a palliative care approach as the highest quality of end-of-life care for individuals with advanced dementia.” At a time in American history when human dignity is increasingly in the political crosshairs, it is more essential than ever to affirm that assisted suicide is never a compassionate choice, no matter the diagnosis.
The Alzheimer’s Association “leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support.” Notably, the organization exists to seek an end the condition itself — not to exterminate individuals living with the condition.
Meanwhile, the ironically named Compassion & Choices includes a specific section on its website for individuals to “document [their] wishes in the event of a dementia diagnosis” — thus entering potential dementia patients into a course of action based on their past self’s subjective judgment call about a future desire to live. The “Dementia Values and Priorities Tool” uses the offensive language of being a “burden” when manipulatively advising vulnerable individuals to “provide clear care instructions to your loved ones and take the burden off of them when you can no longer make those decisions yourself.”
The lens through which Compassion & Choices views Alzheimer’s, a terminal disease because the patient will experience life with multiple disabilities, is indicative of how the organization views all people with disabilities —after all, it is the disability, not the disease, that creates a so-called “burden” on others. Unfortunately, discrimination against individuals with disabilities is an all-too-common theme among the ranks of assisted suicide supporters and in the real-life consequences of assisted suicide legislation when put into action.
According to the most recent data from Oregon, the top five reasons people choose assisted suicide are consistently:
loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (92%), loss of dignity (68%), feeling like a burden on family, friends/caregivers (54%), and loss of control of bodily functions (47%).
These are challenges that many people with disabilities face every day.
People do not end their lives because of their terminal illnesses. They end their lives because of the disabilities caused by their terminal illnesses.
Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized assisted suicide, and so far this state legislative session, legislation to legalize this perverted form of compassion were introduced in Virginia (where it was defeated), Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Indiana — with efforts to expand the practice in Oregon to remove the residency requirement.
The push for assisted suicide across the country should cause each of us to pause and consider our own view of what gives human beings dignity and incalculable worth. Do we believe, as Compassion & Choices does, that our worth is measured based on our level of autonomy or how much we are able to help others without needing their help in return? Or do we recognize that our immeasurable value is solely because we are made in the image and likeness of God and that our ability to “do” is nothing compared to that fact that He saw fit for us to “be”?
We can ask ourselves, if an NBA star publicly declared he wished to kill himself, wouldn’t we expect his teammates, friends, and family to offer him mental health assistance and find ways to affirm his existence? Why, then, would it be acceptable that, if a woman who has diabetes or ALS makes the same announcement in a state where assisted suicide is legal, her friends and family could “understand” and “support her” by throwing a goodbye party before she consumes physician prescribed medication to kill herself?
The more intense the suffering, the greater the temptation to think assisted suicide would be justified; the more celebrated the person, the greater the temptation to think their life has more value. At the root of both issues is a rejection of God and His love being the defining measure of our lives rather than any arbitrary human standard.
Assisted suicide is a misguided compassion — one that so strongly desires to remove the suffering that it is willing to eliminate the sufferer herself. Certainly, none of us wishes to see our loved ones struggle through Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart failure, or ALS, but true compassion requires each of us to recognize each person’s value, to surrender our control, and to suffer along with those we care for until the day the Author of Life calls them home.
Mary Szoch is the Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council.