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(LifeSiteNews) — This past weekend I was in the Netherlands, giving a series of lectures. One of them was on assisted suicide, and I was speaking on the various arguments and insights that my colleague Blaise Alleyne and I laid out in our small book A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide. One of the observations we made at the time is that during the debate on assisted suicide in Canada (as well as elsewhere), suicide activists and their media enablers constantly changed their preferred terminology as they sought to identify which terms played best with their audience and which framing would most effectively persuade people that assisted suicide and euthanasia were good things.

One of the things I had noticed was a distinct shift in media coverage. First, we were having a collective discussion about assisted suicide; then it shifted to physician assisted suicide; then, abruptly to “medical aid in dying,” which is now ubiquitously shortened to “MAiD.” I remember when the shift in terminology happened in the media coverage, and it was jarring. It wasn’t difficult to figure out why this shift had occurred (although I’d still love to see the directives sent out by editors to their writers telling them the framing had changed again). No matter how hard they tried, suicide activists could not persuade people to see suicide as a positive thing. Too many people have lost loved ones to suicide; all of us know someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation. To sell suicide as a good thing, they would have to call it something else.

In my lecture, I laid this out and noted that during such debates we need to identify what our ideological opponents do not want to discuss and center the debate around those aspects. In the abortion debate, it is abortion—which is why abortion activists want to talk about choice, or hard cases—anything but what an abortion is and who abortion kills. In the assisted suicide debate, they do not want to discuss suicide, which is why they have found language to mask that reality and present their case to the public as a benign, merciful, medical aid rather than a tragic suicide by doctor-administered lethal injection. As it turns out, suicide activists are now willing to admit this.

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The day after my lecture, I came across a new article in The Conversation by an anthropologist not only confirms my theory about why activists moved away from the term suicide, but lays it out explicitly:

Several states around the U.S. are currently considering whether to legalize medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients. More than 20% of Americans already live in a state with access to a medically assisted death. Despite this rapidly changing legal climate, the language for describing this new way to die remains surprisingly antiquated. The term that continues to dominate media coverage on the issue is “assisted suicide.” The American Medical Association uses the term “physician-assisted suicide.”

A quick look at Google Trends reveals that nine times as many people search for “assisted suicide” as opposed to “assisted dying.”

As a cultural anthropologist, I know that how we name something determines how we think about it. Until just recently, the primary term in the English language for the purposeful, voluntary death of oneself was “suicide.” Besides martyrdom or sacrifice, there was no other way to refer to an intentional self-death. But times have changed. For the past 25 years, since Oregon enacted the country’s first assisted dying law, a medically assisted death has occupied a new legal and moral category. An assisted death is a medical response to the devastating reality of terminal illness.

Equating assisted dying with suicide isn’t only antiquated or misleading – it’s actually harmful.

Essentially, he is saying that new language is needed for a new morality: “Calling assisted dying ‘suicide’ taps into the social taboos and moral outrage that surround the act of taking one’s life.” Just as abortion activists insist that feticide is “healthcare” and a simple medical procedure, the same argument is being made for assisted suicide:

The participation of medicine and a patient’s social network, write psychiatrists John Michael Bostwick and Lewis Cohen, are what differentiate assisted dying from suicide. An assisted death is collaborative and sanctioned by a patient’s support system – not unilateral and covert. “When they acquiesce to requests to facilitate dying, [physicians] are not abetting suicide or committing homicide,” Bostwick and Cohen write. “The distinction between clinical suicide and other types of end-of-life decisions demands a new formulation.”

Notice what is going on there. Physician-assisted suicide is, by definition, suicide. So those who believe it should be legal and available are changing the definitions to make the terminology fit their morality. If suicide is bad, this isn’t suicide, because we have decided this is good. It’s a neat trick, and it has been tremendously effective. They also claim that those “who seek assisted death aren’t suicidal” because absent whichever medical condition they suffer from, they wouldn’t feel suicidal. Which is incredibly disingenuous. Canada is preparing to allow same-day euthanasia for those with mental illness. This means suicidal ideation will be a qualification for assisted suicide. So will depression. This is an incredibly wicked way to deal with the sick and the vulnerable.

But the pro-suicide anthropologist, of course, disagrees. He concludes:

As more states are inching closer to legalizing assisted dying, it’s time that we revise and refine our cultural lexicon around this emergent end-of-life practice. A medically assisted death definitively warrants a linguistic and conceptual category of its own.

New values, new words. That’s how it works. But at the end of the day, you still have the corpse of someone who killed himself—but this time, we helped him do it. As the Scripture says: “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.