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Rationalization Of Assisted Suicide And Euthanasia

March 7, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By MIKE MANNO

In the last few weeks I’ve devoted my column to the subject of physician-assisted suicide (doctor-prescribed death), the slippery slope to euthanasia, and the dangers of the right-to-die movement.
We’ve all seen and read the warnings, but below that, how is it that those proponents of death are able to rationalize to themselves, and to society at large, that killing, or assisting in the killing of a fellow human being, is a moral thing.
I’m not wise enough — even with a Jesuit education! — to figure all that out. However, there is a Swedish researcher, Fabian Stahle, who penned a peer-reviewed article for The Journal of Ethics in Mental Health that does answer that question.
Relying on a bevy of prior research, Stahle paints a picture that could easily fit the psychopaths of today and the Nazis of yesteryear (along with their followers today).
The article, “Moral Disengagement — Mechanisms Propelling the Euthanasia/PAS Movement” explains, based on social cognitive theory, how participants and society can find social justification for these inhumane acts. He lists three acts of moral disengagement: moral justification, in which worthy ends are used as justification; euphemistic language, which camouflages the reality of the act committed, and exonerative comparison, in which the immoral act is elevated above a straw-man-like alternative.
He also then lists the methods used to achieve this disengagement from morality, displacement of responsibility, minimization of harmful consequences, and dehumanization of the patient and the shifting of blame. Finally he lists the results: dehumanization of physicians and society.
His first disengagement is moral justification in which the proponents of suicide and euthanasia argue that their purpose is good; it is to eliminate pain during the final days of a patient dying of an incurable disease. The fallacy here, according to Stahle, is that it is premised on the patient’s situation being hopeless. Thus the killing of the patient is a merciful act. But, of course, like most arguments in favor of death, it is built on a foundation of quicksand.
Public opinion is thus skewered by the propaganda that assisted suicide or euthanasia is only used on individuals dying in pain from incurable diseases. That, of course, is not the case as my earlier columns have shown. But that fake justification of pain and incurable illness opens the door to societal acceptance of what is an inhumane act.
His second point is exonerative comparison, the seductive lie that the only alternative to assisted suicide or euthanasia is “a dying process filled with torment and anguish” and, without an easy means to death, desperate patients will take their lives using methods that may inflict greater suffering. This, he posits, actually increases the number of suicides when patients, with the help of doctors, can terminate themselves. And it fails to recognize that most individuals wanting to die suffer from depression that can be treated without resort to suicide. But, the patient, so the argument goes, is better off getting a lethal prescription so he doesn’t suffer from anxiety.
We’re all familiar with Stahle’s third point, euphemistic language: the corrupt use of words to cover what is really being done or proposed. Activities, as the author points out, can look very different depending on what they are called. “[T]his is all about abominable deeds that have to be sanitized with the use of euphemisms. Through linguistic creativity, fatal deeds are made to appear as beneficial, curative treatment,” he writes.
“It begins with a moral justification; the patient should not have to suffer. It continues with some euphemisms; it is a dignified death, it is aid-in-dying and absolutely not suicide. Finally, there is the exonerative comparison; it is much better than that the patient should take his/her own life independently. . . . Hesitations are dismissed and any objections are effectively silenced by the mechanisms that are becoming self-propelled. Deadly deeds are swept in the aura of compassion.”
So we are still taking a human life, or not? Well, since the patient receiving the death-dealing drugs is making his own decision, the act of suicide is the patient’s and no one else is responsible. That is argued even though the individual may have been pressured into the decision. This is Stahle’s first method of justification, displacement and diffusing responsibilities. Thus the act is more palatable because the doctor only prescribes the drug and the patient finishes himself off — diffused responsibility; everybody involved is off the hook, so to speak.
This is followed by the minimizing or disregarding of the harmful consequences. “The consequences are minimized by referring to the mortal deed as a comfortable way of falling asleep.” It is further minimized by claiming that strict regulations contained in the enabling legislation prevents anyone from dying by mistake. As we’ve found out, this claim is a terrifying hoax.
Then come claims dehumanizing or degrading the patient. The patient’s “quality of life” is so low that death is a better alternative. It is then the “degradation of a human being to a subhuman object with a lower protection value, in order to make it easier to participate in the person’s death.”
In recent years it is becoming rare for a doctor to be present when the patient takes the death drug, thus the physician is spared the “unpleasantness” of being at the patient’s bedside, viewing the death process close up, which operates to dull the doctor’s emotions of compassion and empathy; thus the physician is also dehumanized.
Finally, Stahle mentions the dehumanization of society as a result of legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia. This “culture of death” presumes that the individual has the right to “death on demand” at any time for any reason.
This leads to what he calls the “medicalization” of killing which gives the impression of care and compassion. “It conjures up a picture of a beneficent medical procedure, which minimizes the consequences of the killing. For the proponents, a very important aspect of the medicalization is that the person is killed in such a way that the dead body lacks any signs of external violence, or other attributes such as plastic bags or anything else giving the rise to distress.”
Thus, through gradual disengagement of society, what was once an abhorrent act comes to enjoy general acceptance.
If you have followed the issue of doctor-prescribed death and the slippery slope to euthanasia, as I have, you will recognize these themes. They occur every place where right-to-die legislation or lawsuit is pending. They form a check list of things the proponents will argue.
Be on the lookout; don’t be fooled, and don’t let your legislator be fooled either.

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