The Public Relations of Death
By Richard M. Doerflinger
January 16, 2015
A campaign to legalize assisted suicide
is moving forward in New Jersey, with similar proposals to be introduced in
California, Maryland and other states.The former Hemlock Society (now under the more appealing name
"Compassion & Choices") hopes to pass such bills in a dozen states this
year, although its efforts produced new laws in only three states (Oregon, Washington
and Vermont) in the past 25 years.
What makes C&C so optimistic?After all, its agenda is the same as always: Protecting
doctors who want to prescribe a barbiturate overdose so their patients can kill
The change is in the public relations
of the issue, due to an attractive 29-year-old cancer patient named Brittany
Maynard.Ms. Maynard, a California
resident, announced last fall that she was unwilling to face the expected
suffering of her illness, and would move to Oregon so she could take her life
on November 1 using its assisted suicide law.She appeared on the cover of People
magazine and became a spokesperson for C&C, her interviews and video
appearances carefully vetted by its media relations staff.Just before the announced date she said she
didn't feel too bad and may live longer – then went through with her suicide
anyway.What encouragement she received
from C&C to "get with the program" we may never know.
Ms. Maynard's "reality TV" show provided
an appealing human face for C&C's agenda.The voices of others – including patients with similar conditions, who
urged her to see meaning in her life and promote hope rather than despair –
were drowned out.Now C&C wants to save
others the inconvenience of traveling to another state to obtain a lethal
overdose from a doctor.
This raises basic questions.Is it the government's job to make suicide
"convenient" for some people?Shouldn't
it value everyone's life and prevent suicide without discrimination, not select
which people receive a helping hand to jump off the ledge?
Moreover, the grim reality of legalized
assisted suicide has little to do with self-assured young women facing
intractable pain who demand control over their last days.
In Oregon, the state health department tells
a different story. Of the 752 people
taking their lives under its law from 1998 through 2013, only 6 were under 35
years old; the median age is 71.In 2013,
less than 3% had any evaluation to check for treatable depression. Most had no health insurance, or had it only
from the government -- which has told cancer patients it will fund assisted
suicide but not some treatments the patients want so they can live longer.Most took their lives not because of untreated
pain or even fear of pain, but because they felt they were losing their
autonomy or dignity and becoming a "burden" – a feeling no doubt encouraged by
others, including the government itself.Many had chronic conditions, not imminently fatal diseases like
late-stage cancer.All reporting on the
circumstances of their deaths was done by the doctor prescribing the lethal dose;
state officials have said the doctor's account could be "a cock and bull story"
for all they know.
In short, this campaign uses a ploy known to marketers as the "bait and
switch."People are moved by
unscrupulous ads to visit a store promising a bargain on a popular item, only
to find something far less attractive when they arrive.Rip the mask off this campaign, and we find
grandma and grandpa being nudged toward death by individuals and governments
who don't want to be bothered with "burdensome" people.Will lawmakers see through the mask?
Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities,
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.For
more on the bishops' pro-life efforts see www.usccb.org/prolife.
tens of thousands praying the "9 Days for Life" novena! Visit www.9daysforlife.com
– or text 9DAYS (or 9DIAS) to 55000.