EUGENE, Ore.—Alison Connolly couldn't believe her eyes. She was watching NBC's “Today Show” and they showed clips from video that shows people how to commit suicide.
“I've got this on and my kids are eating breakfast,” Connolly, of North Beaverton, Ore., told the Register.
In the video clips, euthanasia activist Derek Humphry demonstrated how to use a plastic bag for suffocation and how to mix deadly pills in with applesauce, said Connolly. As the mother of two young kids, she called this dangerous.
“You have a tough enough time keeping bags away from them,” she said. “Then they might see this adult with a bag on his head. They don't know it's only supposed to be for ‘terminally ill people.’”
Connolly added, “They gave him a free advertisement. They told you that you can buy this video on the Internet.”
The clips came from a video that was broadcast on a public-access channel in Eugene, Ore., by Humphry on Feb. 2. The ensuing debate over the video has placed Humphry onto national TV programs.
After airing the clips, the “Today Show” invited Humphry and Barbara Coombs Lee to debate the merits of showing the tape on cable television. Coombs Lee is executive director of Compassion in Dying Federation, a Portland, Ore.-based group which is also in favor of assisted suicide.
Connolly objected that both panelists were in favor of assisted suicide. “The American people thought they saw a debate,” she said. “But no one on the show was defending the value of human life.”
The “Today Show” initially invited Gregory Hamilton, a Portland psychiatrist, to debate with Humphry on national TV. Hamilton founded Physicians for Compassionate Care in 1994 to respond to advocates of euthanasia.
“They talked for several days about having a serious voice who was opposed to what Derek Humphry was doing,” Hamilton told the Register.
“They told me they would have me on the show on Thursday. Then they said they had news, and the program would be postponed until Friday,” said Hamilton. “They put on Barbara Coombs Lee on Thursday instead.”
He said that the public should not be fooled by Humphry and Coombs Lee. “They're really disagreeing about tactics,” he noted. “They're playing bad cop/good cop.”
The “Today Show” would not return calls for comment.
Hamilton said that the “Today Show” painted the video in an educational and compassionate manner, which is dangerous.
“What's so dangerous is his program's powerful suggestion that suicide is OK and ‘Here's how you do it,’” Hamilton told the Register. “It's very clear that it will influence depressed adults and teen-agers with an addiction as well as impressionable children.”
The psychiatrist added of Humphry: “He has no training in medicine. He has no training in health and hope. He's an expert in making people dead.”
Humphry did not return repeated calls for comment.
Robert J. Castagna, the executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, hoped that the video would awaken Oregonians to the dangers of assisted suicide.
“I hope it's giving the people pause to think about what the approval of assisted suicide has lead to, and to reconsider the step that Oregon has taken,” Castagna told the Register.
Castagna lambasted Humphry for airing the video on public-access television.
“Does he have a legal right to air this? He may. Does he have a moral right? I don't think so,” he said. “It's highly irresponsible.”
Castagna warns what happens in Oregon could happen elsewhere. Voters in Maine will have the chance to legalize assisted suicide in a November vote.
Last year the U.S. House passed the Pain Relief Promotion Act that would effectively prohibit physician-assisted suicide in Oregon. Castagna hopes that the Senate will take into consideration the tactics employed by Humphry and pass the bill soon.
In his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II criticized attempts to call euthanasia merciful.
“True ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear,” the Holy Father wrote in section No. 66 of the encyclical. “Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.”
Burke Balch, the director of medical ethics at the National Right to Life, said that Humphry thinks Oregon's law doesn't go far enough. “He said on CNN's ‘Talk Back Live,’ ‘Even the Oregon law doesn't help everybody, it has strong limitations and doesn't include everybody,’” said Balch.
Balch is confident, however, that the U.S. Senate will put an end to assisted-suicide in Oregon by passing the Pain Relief Promotion Act by March.
“We've just added three additional co-sponsors for the bill,” he said. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan also signed up with the bill. He has a lot of stature with moderates in both parties.”
“We're pretty confident that there's a good majority to approve,” he added. “But we need 60 votes,” because of a threatened filibuster by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. Balch thinks that the filibuster can be stopped. “I think we have a good shot, but it's not clear yet.”