By Kathleen Gilbert
LANSDOWNE, Virginia, June 3, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A culture that seeks to escape suffering and inconvenience at all costs will end by eliminating not only pain, but by ending the lives of those suffering or whose condition burden their families, warned bioethicist Wesley J. Smith this weekend.
Smith spoke at the Second International Euthanasia Symposium held at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne, Virginia. The symposium was hosted by Canada's Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
Reflecting on the euthanasia agenda amid the modern advances of palliative care, Smith asked, “Why now?”
“We live in a time of – even despite the problems we're having – such tremendous prosperity,” said Smith. ”If you had a burst appendix 100 years ago, you died in agony. Today, people don't have to, at least in the developed world, die in agony.”
Smith said he was further baffled after receiving piles of hate mail in 1993 for writing an article warning against euthanasia. ”What happened to my culture, and where was I when it happened?” he mused.
Smith said he found the answer in the reflections of philosopher and bioethicist Yuval Levin, who stated: “Health has become the primary good for society … not only as a beginning, but also as an end, relief and preservation from disease and pain, from misery and necessity, become the defining ends of human action and therefore human societies.”
“The purpose of society had shifted from when I was growing up in my formative years,” said Smith. ”From the concept of justice, from the concept of eqality, mutual caring and mutual support, to – I would say – an obsessional fear and loathing and avoidance of not only suffering, but difficulty. …
“It is distorting our culture … into something that is not as compassionate as we should be, that is not as caring as we should be,” said Smith. “If the point of society is to make sure you don't suffer, that will often be making sure there aren't any sufferers. Which isn't only about making sure the sufferer doesn't suffer, but putting the sufferer out of our misery.”
“If we're going to defeat euthanasia and assisted suicide, we're going to have to recognize that for a lot of people, the principle of right and wrong don't matter anymore,” said Smith. ”What matters is making sure there isn't suffering. And that can lead to some very bad and dark places.”
Smith told the story of a mentally ill, depressed woman who paramedics allowed to die after drinking antifreeze, because she had left a note asking not to be treated. Smith related the sentiments of her attending physician, who said: “It's a horrible thing to have to do, but I thought I had no alternative but to go with her wishes.”
“Think about the kind of mental anguish somebody is going through to drink antifreeze, and to do it more than once,” said Smith. Allowing her to die, he said, was “abandonment of the most profound kind.”
“There are many things today that are better than in my formative years, racism being one of them,” he continued, “but there are a lot of things that are not, and this is one of them: abandoning suffering people, mentally ill, mentally anguished people, to suicide.”
In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com, Smith noted that an avoidance of suffering logically leads to “greater and greater extremes to try to prevent the suffering to the place where you end up preventing the sufferer.” The current culture, he said, tries to prevent “not only the suffering of the patient, but the suffering of the family and the suffering of society who has to put up with these people, and see them or pay for them, and be reminded of our own mortality.”
Smith called the current trend toward euthanasia “a rather desperate and sad attempt to avoid part of the human condition, which is difficulty and suffering.” ”If you took it to the full extreme, we'd all end up totally infantile, because the way people grow and gain wisdom is to go through difficulties,” he said. ”It's not the only way, but it's the essential way.”
Although aware that such anti-humanistic policies as deep ecology and euthanasia are becoming mainstream, Smith said he was optimistic about the possibility of turning back the tide.
“This is not a shift that is a fait accompli, we are in the midst of what I call a 'coup d'culture,' but the coup has not succeeded, the contest is being waged,” he said.
Smith urged those opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide to be proactive in asserting the sanctity and equality of human life.
“Unless people engage that with a clear eye that they're in a 'coup d'culture,' that they need to man the battlements and ramparts to keep the barbarians from getting through the gates, they'll get through the gates,” said Smith. ”And believe me, if these people get through the gates, they're not going to be gentle about 'tolerance' and 'freedom,' because that's not their gig. That's their gig when they're on the outside; when they're on the inside, their gig is power.”
Wesley J. Smith's blog https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition website https://www.epcc.ca
To order DVDs of the Second International Symposium, contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition at: [email protected]
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Experts at International Euthanasia Symposium Stress Unity, Strategy, and the Triumph of Love over Suffering
“The Weekend Cleanup”: The Gruesome Aftermath of Legalized Euthanasia in Belgium