Last month, I sat through a presentation on the ethics of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) in a local hospital. I attended the presentation, not because I am unfamiliar with the arguments on the subject and ambivalent about my feelings on it, but because I wanted to observe how it was presented, what the reaction of the audience was to the presentation, and how it might affect my work as a hospital chaplain.
For some context, the state where I reside, Florida, does not have a PAS law on the books, nor, according to the “Death with Dignity” website, is it even considering one.
I found the presentation to be disappointing, in part because the participants talked past each other as if they were on a cable news program, repeating the typical talking points that have become so common over the years. It was also disappointing because it used the classic example of a sad, horrible death story to advocate the use of PAS with the highly manipulative question, “You wouldn’t want your loved one to experience this, would you?” No one ever seems to respond that we cannot build a law out of such experiences because hard cases make bad law, nor does anyone ever take the time to wonder what else could have been done to make the suffering patient more comfortable. It simply is an elevation of human autonomy to a staggering height.
At the end of the presentation, the PAS advocate asked for a show of hands on people’s support/non-support of PAS. I didn’t have the heart to count the hands, but the speakers said it was about 65%-35% in favor of PAS. My worst fears had been confirmed. After what I witnessed in that presentation, I have no doubt that we are headed full-speed ahead towards a civilization that will in some way systematically encourage its elderly, its weak, its sick, and its disabled citizens to make a “compassionate choice” and choose “death with dignity.” Those of us who think otherwise are firmly entrenched in the minority.
I understand that I am not the first person to have had this experience, and in some ways I have anticipated this day for some time, but because I saw it so close to home, it still was somewhat shocking to me. When filling out the seminar evaluation, I found the question, “How will apply what you have learned today to your current practice?” I’m not sure what the reviewers thought, but my response was simple: “I will continue to advocate strongly against PAS, affirming God’s gift of life whenever and wherever I can.”