The Better-Off-Dead Mentality

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Vermont is pushing to become the U.S.’ second destination state for ‘death tourism’ as legislators seek to legalize assisted suicide for nonresidents.

True compassion is manifested through comforting the terminally ill and others who are at risk of opting for suicide, caring for their needs, and communicating by these actions of love that their lives remain invaluable despite the difficulties they are enduring.
True compassion is manifested through comforting the terminally ill and others who are at risk of opting for suicide, caring for their needs, and communicating by these actions of love that their lives remain invaluable despite the difficulties they are enduring. (photo: Ground Picture / Shutterstock)

Legislators in Vermont are pushing for their state to join Oregon as the nation’s second “sanctuary” state for assisted suicide. The proposed legislation would allow people from states where this life-ending practice remains illegal to travel to Vermont to kill themselves with the assistance of local medical personnel.

The premises underlying the bid to make Vermont the second destination state for “death tourism” are profoundly disturbing. For one thing, the idea that a state can be a “sanctuary” for assisted suicide implies that some measure of “holiness” is attached to killing people off medically — a belief that is becoming prevalent among euthanasia and assisted-suicide proponents, as New York Times Catholic commentator Ross Douthat recently noted.

For another, it transforms doctors and nurses who participate in these legalized killings from healers into death-dealers, in direct violation of the “do no harm” principle of the Hippocratic Oath that has underpinned medical ethics in Western societies for more than 2,000 years. Even more fundamentally, assisted suicide is in total contradiction to the foundational moral teaching communicated by God to Moses in the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Instead the message that’s now being communicated is: “You’re better off dead.”

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope St. John Paul II prophetically described these contemporary moral dynamics as the culture of death. Americans who want to understand where this deadly mentality leads, in the area of assisted suicide and the related moral crime of euthanasia, need look no further than our northern neighbor of Canada.

Canada’s national legal framework of so-called “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAID) encompasses both assisted suicide, by which individuals kill themselves with medication prescribed by doctors, and euthanasia, by which doctors or other medical personnel directly administer the lethal medications themselves. As elsewhere, the arguments in favor of Canada’s legalization of MAID in 2016 were predicated on compassion, with the practice initially authorized to apply only to adults deemed to be suffering unacceptably in the final stages of a terminal illness.

But, instead, Canada — which in recent decades has become something of a canary in the culture-of-death coal mine — soon became the international jurisdiction where assisted suicide and euthanasia are most readily available, and with the fewest checks in place.

Virtually from its inception, reports surfaced of MAID being offered to patients who weren’t terminally ill, and the stipulation that it should apply only in such cases was formally removed in 2021. Currently, any adult with a disability or serious chronic illness qualifies, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government planned to extend MAID even further this year to include people with mental illnesses as well. While that move has been delayed until 2024, due to a strong public pushback, the Trudeau regime clearly intends to press it forward as soon as that resistance has been overcome.

In this ever more permissive context, accounts are proliferating of doctors and other medical officials pressuring patients who didn’t request MAID to agree to being killed and pressuring relatives to agree when patients are too incapacitated to make their own decisions. In one case the B.C. Catholic newspaper recently reported about, the husband of a 71-year-old woman who was hospitalized because of injuries caused by a fall from her wheelchair was browbeaten for days to authorize her euthanization. He objected vociferously, explaining that he is a faithful Catholic whose opposition is grounded in his pro-life moral beliefs and that his wife’s life remained very worthwhile and that he remained committed to caring for her even though she had experienced dementia for several years.

Finally, in a moment of exhaustion after eight days of pressure to reverse his position, he told a nurse he would agree to a do-not-resuscitate order — only to discover from the nurse that, without his permission, a doctor had already given instructions that his wife’s life should be ended.

Other accounts that have come to light include cases where non-terminal patients have been counseled to accept euthanization in light of their impoverished economic circumstances. And it appears that in some places — including at the hospital that the B.C. Catholic reported about — local health authorities have institutionalized system-wide policies aggressively promoting MAID to patients, despite strong ethical objections from some of their own medical staff.

The situation in Canada has gotten so out of hand that Pope Francis was compelled, during his papal visit there last summer, to publicly decry “patients who, in place of affection, are administered death.” His concerns are being echoed even by parties that are sometimes aligned with other culture-of-death agendas, such as the former head of Canada’s own Human Rights Commission, who warned in 2022 that euthanasia “cannot be a default for Canada’s failure to fulfill its human-rights obligations” to people with disabilities and other disadvantaged individuals. Despite this collective outcry, the Canadian government has remained unmoved in its conviction that the targets of its MAID regime are collectively better off dead.

It should go without saying that this deplorable model isn’t something that U.S. states like Vermont should be inclined to emulate. Unfortunately, progressive-minded state governments are instead following the lead of the Trudeau regime, in terms of failing to acknowledge the accelerating spiral of abuses that are always associated with legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

True compassion is manifested through comforting the terminally ill and others who are at risk of opting for suicide, caring for their needs, and communicating by these actions of love that their lives remain invaluable despite the difficulties they are enduring.

“The request which arises from the human heart in the supreme confrontation with suffering and death, especially when faced with the temptation to give up in utter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy and support in the time of trial,” St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae. “It is a plea for help to keep on hoping when all human hopes fail.”

To meaningfully combat the evil of medically assisted suicide, Catholics must play our own part whenever and wherever an opportunity arises. Alongside of our prayers, there are a variety of ways we can help out — including taking time to personally accompany persons suffering from terminal diseases and other serious illnesses; financially supporting pro-life hospices that provide authentically compassionate care to those in their final days; and actively supporting government policies to assist those who are physically or mentally ill and those who are economically and socially marginalized in other ways, while strongly opposing policies that would advance the culture of death.

Above all, we must strive always to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those who are suffering, appealing to us to provide them with the solace and love that they deserve. Only in this way can we hope to rebuild a more life-affirming culture in our nation.

God bless you!