Assisted suicide is poor policy

Outside of ethical issues, legalizing euthanasia brings a host of secondary evils.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear President George W. Bush’s administration’s challenge to Oregon’s assisted suicide law last week. The arguments in case will speak more of esoteric legal concepts, such as federal pre-emption of state law and states’ rights.

The court already decided there is no constitutional “right to die,” but that decision, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, indicated that if states wanted to allow assisted suicide, it would be in their power. Thus, it stands to reason the court will not now strike down Oregon’s law.

While this is legally sound, the law’s effect is unfortunate. Assisted suicide is ethically problematic at best and dangerous as a matter of public policy.

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has allowed 171 individuals to take their own lives. Some recover from debilitating ailments, even after a doctor determines they are terminal. Suicide, assisted or otherwise, obviously forgoes that recovery. Furthermore, we think going “gentle into that good night” holds life far too cheaply.

It would be terribly pious and self-righteous, however, not to recognize that this decision is intrinsically personal. We would not spend time condemning suicide in this space, were it not for Oregon’s law, which institutionalizes and destigmatizes suicide.

Making killing one’s self a visit to the doctor brings with it a host of secondary evils.

Most health-care costs come late in life, a fact insurance companies are well aware of. While they will not tell doctors to advise suicide, we fear the fine print of health-insurance policies will be written to encourage euthanasia in many subtle ways.

For the same basic reason, people facing a “terminal” illness will have to choose between taxing their family’s resources or simply calling it a life. Even worse, self-interested relatives might encourage it. Suffering individuals will still face the latter set of choices, but if society cleans up suicide, it makes hope all the more difficult to cling to.

If the court does, in fact, uphold the Oregon law, other states will face this question all too soon. They must reject such legislation, for both ethical and practical reasons.

It might be overly romantic to expect suffering people to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But making it easier to take their own lives is not a sound idea.