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Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

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The Best Argument for Outlawing Assisted Suicide

In this episode Trent reports on a worrisome uptick in assisted suicides in Canada and lays out a blueprint for arguing against this offense to innocent human life.


Welcome to The Council of Trent Podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.

Trent Horn:

Every now and then, I’ll give interviews to news stations on different issues. Life issues come up a lot. I remember the time I was most nervous to give an interview. It wasn’t on the issue of abortion; it was on the issue of assisted suicide. So welcome to The Council of Trent Podcast. I’m your host, Catholic Answers apologist and speaker Trent Horn. And that’s what I want to talk about today, is how do we talk about this issue? Because it’s going to come up more and more.

Trent Horn:

And I remember I got a call from a news station, because I wrote an article on assisted suicide several years ago, when Brittany Maynard from California went and traveled to Oregon to take her own life. She was a young, 29-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And so she traveled to Oregon, but her story was used to change the laws in California to allow for assisted suicide there, though they don’t want to call it suicide. Those who defend assisted suicide, they hate the word suicide. They hate the word killing. They’ll usually call it Medical Aid In Dying, or MAID, MAID: Medical Aid In Dying, Choices in Dying. And that really obscures the issue.

Trent Horn:

So I wrote an article, and I got a call from a local news station and they said, “Hey, we called eight different pastors, Protestants and Catholics, and nobody wanted to come down to defend why assisted suicide is wrong. Will you do it?” And I said, “You know what? Yeah, I will.” And it’s harder, because a lot of people … Take the issue of abortion. Abortion gets pretty easy. You say, “Look, here is a human being, a little baby, and abortion kills them. It dismembers them. It’s graphic. It’s violent. No child should be treated this way.”

Trent Horn:

But with assisted suicide, it’s a lot harder, because when we talk about abortion, people will say, “My body, my choice.” What’s the first response to that with abortion? “It’s not your body; it’s the baby’s body. So you don’t have a choice over that child’s body.” But with assisted suicide, they can say, “Hey, it is now only my body that I’m harming. Why shouldn’t I have the right to do that?”

Trent Horn:

So how should we respond to that? That’s what I want to talk about here today. A little bit later, I’ll share what I said in that news interview. I tried to find the original footage, but I think the news station … It was several …I want to say it was like six years ago, and that news channel now has actually gone out of business. It was acquired by another station, so they don’t have the old episodes online. But I’ll share what I said there, and I also want to share with you an article I saw on The National Catholic Register, about assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. That’s very concerning, because what we see there, we’ll see more of here.

Trent Horn:

Right now, in the US, there are about 10 states where assisted suicide is legal. The Supreme Court ruled, in Washington versus Glucksberg, in a nine-zero decision … This was back, I think, in 1990. The Court said there was no right to assisted suicide. So assisted suicide advocates, they sued in the State of Washington. Went all the way to The Supreme Court and said, “We have a right to die.” Court said, “No, you don’t. Right to life does not include the right to die. Constitution doesn’t include this.” So the Court prevented people from having a Roe v. Wade on assisted suicide, because Glucksberg could have … What they were hoping was the court would say that basically, no state can outlaw assisted suicide. That’s what they were hoping for.

Trent Horn:

But in Glucksberg, the Court (nine to zero, by the way) said, “No states can outlaw assisted suicide, but they don’t have to.” So the Court said, “There’s no right to assisted suicide, but the Constitution does not prohibit states from allowing this.” And so what assisted suicide advocates do in the US is they go state-by-state, in a war of attrition. It’s very hard to dial it back. I’m not aware of it ever being done, where assisted suicide is legal and then it becomes illegal. It’s very hard to turn the dial back. So it’s a war of attrition for them trying to get all these new states.

Trent Horn:

And when we look abroad, overseas in the Benelux countries, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, you see where assisted suicide legislation has just gone off the rails. In what was originally meant just for someone who is terminally ill, has six months left to live, and people want to say, “Oh, well, they’re not really committing suicide. They’re just choosing how they want to die. They’re about to die anyways. They’re in pain.” It eventually erodes away, so that you have a case where, “Oh, well, even if someone’s not terminally ill, they should be allowed to end their lives. Even if it’s not a physical illness, it’s just a mental illness, they should be allowed to end their lives.” And so the slippery slope is very real, and Canada is another example of this.

Trent Horn:

So here’s an article from The National Catholic Register. I think it was published June 10th, 2021. Says deaths by euthanasia soared last year in Canada. So it says, “The number of Canadians who ended their lives by euthanasia and assisted suicide increased by 17% in 2020, the country’s health department announced on Monday.” I don’t know if this was related to COVID, the lockdown, the pandemic. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was people who were just locked away in their homes, feel like they didn’t want to live any more, with the government … Just this isolation people were put under is just maddening, how inhumane it was. According to Abby Hoffman, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Canada, 7,595 people received medically-assisted deaths last year, a figure which amounts to 2.5% of all deaths in Canada for the year.

Trent Horn:

Control the language. Always remember: When we talk about these issues, control the language. In a modern developed country like the United States or Canada, every death is medically-assisted, right? I mean, if you are ill and you’re in the hospital, and it’s clear you’re going to die, you go. You have IVs. You have painkillers. There is nothing wrong with medically assisting the dying process. What’s wrong is using medicine to give poison to people, so that they can kill themselves. That’s the problem.

Trent Horn:

In 2019, 5,631 people died by physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. So the register uses physician-assisted suicide. The Deputy Minister of Canada calls it medically-assisted death, but it’s 2.5%, 2% of all deaths in the country. So to put that into perspective, in the US, suicide is, I think, the 10th leading cause of death. About 1.7% of all deaths in the US can be attributed to suicide. So when you look at Canada, if 2.5% are physician-assisted suicide, if you add in the suicides where physicians are not present, then that could be a very high number. It could be 4 or 5%, and that is something that is extremely concerning about human wellbeing and whether human life is being treated with dignity there.

Trent Horn:

And so allowing more people to legally kill themselves makes the problem worse. It doesn’t help as much as advocates for assisted suicide claim that it does. Bill C7, which eliminated the requirement that a patient’s death be reasonably foreseeable in order for lethal drugs to be prescribed to them, became law in March of 2021. So now, it would be interesting to see the statistics for what is going to happen, now that the parameters for allowing assisted suicide grow. It says, “Bill C7 allows for any patient who is suffering, regardless if their condition is terminal or not, to request and receive an assisted death.” An assisted death, to help them kill themselves. “Under the new law, depression and other mental illnesses are grounds for euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

Trent Horn:

Because here’s the thing. Most people … When we think of assisted suicide, most people think, “Oh, well, this is for someone who’s just in so much pain. They have bone cancer. They’re in tremendous pain, physical pain that cannot be treated, and we don’t want to be miserable.” That’s not the leading reason why people ask for assisted suicide. And the number-one reasons are loss of autonomy, because they don’t want to be a burden on others, and they don’t like that they have lost autonomy. They need help going to the bathroom. They need help having mobility. They feel like their lives are not as valuable, because they do not have their autonomy any more. In fact, it says here, “The reasons most frequently cited for requesting euthanasia in Canada were the inability to engage in meaningful activities or perform activities of daily living.” This is not about uncontrollable pain. We have the resources to control pain for people. Rather, this is about people feeling like their lives are not worth living any more, or they’re concerned that they are a social, emotional, or a financial burden on their families.

Trent Horn:

In fact, I remember a few years ago, an elderly biologist from Australia, David Goodall, went to Switzerland for the purpose of ending his own life. They have a suicide tourism industry in Switzerland, and it’s just so sad and macabre to see this man put out in a wheelchair. Everyone’s getting him to sign the forms and wish him well, and I bet that man got more attention in the days leading up to his suicide, from people who wanted to facilitate his suicide, than he had received in years, the previous years he had had at the end of his life. And that’s what’s really sad.

Trent Horn:

So when I did this news interview, actually, when I did the interview on assisted suicide, the anchor asked me, “Well, why shouldn’t people be allowed to end their own lives?” And I said, “We already agree that some people who try to end their own lives, we forcibly stop them.” And I brought up: We live in San Diego. When someone tries to jump off the Coronado Bay Bridge, they stop the traffic on both sides of the bridge. They send the police, and they forcibly stop that person. And I said, “Well, why do we do that? Because we value that person.” And it’s discrimination to say, “Well, if you’re …”

Trent Horn:

So you have someone who wants to kill themselves, but if they’re healthy, “Oh, we can’t let you do that, because your life matters.” But if someone is sick, either physically or now, even in Canada, mentally, where are you going to draw a line? People say, “Well, no, it’s only for really serious mental illnesses.” But what about chronic depression from the loss of a spouse or the death of a child? There’s nowhere where you can draw the line.

Trent Horn:

So the main argument against assisted suicide is this: keeping it legal. Whenever you make assisted suicide legal, you try to draw a line to say, “Here is a group of people whose lives are worth living, and so we will help them out of their decision. If other people talk to them and try to get them to kill themselves, and they do, they can be held criminally responsible for that.” We see that there’s been court cases recently, where people have gone to jail, just for helping someone to commit suicide, because they’re not a physician and the person was healthy. But if the person has a physical or mental illness or disability, suddenly it becomes, “Oh, well, never mind. Their lives aren’t worth living.”

Trent Horn:

So I told the news anchor, “I believe we, as a society, should say every human life matters. Every human life has the right to life, and what that means is every human being matters. So any human being who is considering destroying that valuable life, throwing their life away, we will intervene and help them out of that destructive decision. We will not help them further into it.” Now, that does not mean we’re going to keep someone alive forever or subject them to any treatment necessary to keep them alive. There are treatments that are proportionate, that benefit the patient, and other treatments that are disproportionate.

Trent Horn:

So you might have someone who is 97 years old, is experiencing kidney failure, and a kidney transplant would be disproportionate. It’s not assisted suicide if they decline a transplant. That’s extraordinary disproportionate care for someone who is in the process of dying. But withholding things like food and water from someone, and especially giving them poison with the purpose of killing them. If someone is dying, you can give them pain medication, and if it indirectly shortens their life, that’s acceptable. But if you’re giving them the medication because your goal is for them to die from an overdose of morphine or from some other kind of poison, that’s where you get euthanasia. That’s where you get assisted suicide, and that would be wrong.

Trent Horn:

So what I want to do now is I want to just share with you a clip of Dr. Mark Komrad. He is a psychiatrist at John Hopkins, and he released a video recently, where he was talking about Canada allowing assisted suicide for the mentally ill, people with mental illnesses or with psychiatric conditions that are deemed incurable and incompatible with life. And he offers his take, saying that many psychiatrists do not support this as a treatment to their patients’ problems.

Dr. Mark Komrad:

The Canadian Psychiatric Association, in contrast to the American Psychiatric Association, supports the notion that psychiatric patients should be able to access this newly-expanded medical procedure, in the interest of parity. But many psychiatrists there disagree. To offer suicide through euthanasia as a potential treatment plan for their patients is anathema to many. It’ll be controversial indeed for Canadians to develop criteria that can parse those people with psychiatric disorders, for whom suicide should be prevented, from those for whom it should be provided, because it upends the core ethos of psychiatry.

Dr. Mark Komrad:

As a psychiatrist ethicist, I believe that psychiatrists are experts in helping those who are demoralized, hopeless, and suicidal. It is our core, even definitional ethos, to accompany them, and even suffer with them to find a path to a better future. All mental health professionals shouldn’t just refrain from approving, enabling, and providing suicide to any of our patients. But also, we need to raise objections to society in the face of these slippery slopes. As a famous physician once said, “Our venerable mission, over millennia, has been to cure sometimes, relieve often, comfort always, and kill never.”

Trent Horn:

I love that testimony, and it’s always great to find people in the medical field who are willing to stand up and say: Even if medical associations endorse evil things, they will not. Those people are very courageous, and we should support them.

Trent Horn:

So I hope this is helpful for you. I’ll leave a link to the description of Dr. Komrad and other resources I used in this episode in the description below. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. If you’re listening on podcasts, check us out on YouTube. If you’re watching on YouTube, leave a review. Download on the podcast. You can always enjoy listening to us there.

Trent Horn:

One last resource I’ll recommend for all of you. There is a new book out from my friend, Stephanie Gray Connors. Stephanie is one of the best when it comes to talking about abortion, and now, I’ll say she’s one of the best when it comes to talking about assisted suicide. And so Stephanie put out a book recently called Start with What: 10 Principles for Thinking About Assisted Suicide. So I recommend that as a great book to read and then to learn how to communicate on this issue and how to show people every single human life matters. No matter its disability, no matter its functional ability, every human life matters. That means we don’t directly kill these human beings, and we also don’t cooperate with someone to help kill them. If a human being with dignity is thinking of committing suicide, we always help that person out of that destructive decision, not into it, because they matter.

Trent Horn:

And as Catholics, we know they ultimately matter because they’re made in the image and likeness of God, and so we should value them. But even secular people can see human life is worthwhile, and we ought to treat it with equality for all people and not divide people and base our treatments on whether their lives are “worth living.” So I hope this is helpful for you all. Thank you guys so much, and I hope you have a very blessed day.

 

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