by Gerald Dworkin
In 1998 I was a co-author of a book called Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide: For and Against. I was for; Sissela Bok was against. The point to note here is that the title used the concepts of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia is no longer invoked by proponents of medically-assisted dying (hereafter abbreviated as AD) as all such measures explicitly prohibit the physician from administering the drug which causes death. Assisted-suicide is currently banned from their vocabulary by all groups advocating for AD.
I have been an advocate, and an activist, for passing legislation implementing AD in California (successful) and Illinois (on the political agenda). But I have some problems with the idea that AD should be excluded from the category of suicide. This is my topic today.
Advocates of AD have two reasons for their linguistic avoidance.
The first is a purely tactical matter. We are trying to get a social policy enacted and many people who might be won over have personal and religious objections to the very idea of suicide. They may believe that our lives belong to God. They may believe that there is a social stigma attached to suicide no matter how justified, in some cases, it may be. They may feel that the many cases in which suicide is committed by persons who are clearly psychologically disturbed and not capable of making rational decisions will be , mistakenly, extended to what they think are reasonable cases. They may fear that the idea that all suicides are sinful or irrational or cowardly will be applied to their loved ones if they commit suicide.
Since all these, in my view mistaken, attitudes will make it harder to get political support for legalising AD, I see this linguistic choice as a reasonable tactical proposal. Read more »