Laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide send the message to both the disabled and to those around them that being dead is preferable to being disabled and that we shouldn’t respect those who choose to live.
Zachary Schmoll is disabled and writes a great essay in Public Discourse about this phenomenon. He contrasts the effect of laws banning assisted suicide with those that legalize it.
Laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide encourage a worldview that says there is value to life and it ought not to be thrown away based on an individual’s subjective perception of his or her situation. Such laws teach us that our lives are objectively valuable, even if we do not recognize our own value. And they teach everyone else to help us in finding value and enjoyment in our lives.
But by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, we make a different statement. Such laws communicate the idea that suicide can be a reasonable, moral, and socially acceptable choice, because some lives are no longer valuable. Suicide is prohibited in all other circumstances, sending the message that most lives have value that ought to be protected by law, even when the person in question does not see that value. In certain circumstances, however—specifically, when an individual is losing his or her own independence—such protections need not apply. Society is affirming, by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, that it is better to be dead than disabled. It is better to be in the grave than to live with reduced independence. This message is sent both to people with disabilities like me and everyone else who interacts with us.
This is what is meant by “creating a culture of death.” When we fail to affirm the value of every life in our laws, then we create a condition and a context where some lives are not only less valuable, but that are expendable. And the expectation is created that such lives should be ended.
We’re already seeing this in practice. In the Netherlands and Belgium, they’ve already extended assisted suicide for the terminally ill to now include those who are mentally ill or merely tired of living. Rather than extend treatment and help, such people are killed.
Even worse, the killing is now sometimes involuntary, i.e. doctors are taking it upon themselves to kill the elderly, the infirm, the mentally ill, the disabled without being asked for it, but because in the doctors’ estimation, those lives aren’t worth living.
We already see it starting in this country. In Oregon, patients seeking coverage for cancer treatment are being refused chemotherapy, but are told that assisted suicide would be covered by insurance. We know where this story ends: in furnaces and gas chambers. Does that seem hyperbolic? People are already dying.