By Frank Louis Monozlai

Wesley SmithTORONTO, December 6, 2007 ( – The American author of several highly acclaimed books on the life issues, Wesley J. Smith, spoke to the issue of “Future Concerns” at the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s international symposium in Toronto, Canada on December 1st, 2007. 

Speaking near the conference’s conclusion, Smith brought together the themes of the various speakers in his presentation, highlighting several key developments in the strategy of the pro-euthanasia, assisted suicide lobby, and pointing out changes in medical practices touted in some of the leading medical journals and being implemented in a growing number of hospitals. 

Smith noted that a vast majority of the attempts by the right to die movement to pass legislation have failed to garner popular support in plebiscites or in national and state legislatures, even when they had far outspent their opponents. As a consequence, they have been effectively changing their tactics to promote their agenda elsewhere. 

Gone are the many cruder elements of the movement such as the antics of Dr. Kevorkian or the promotion of “exit bags” that on a number of occasions garnered strong public reactions against pro-euthanasia proposals just prior to key plebiscites or votes by legislators.  Instead, the movement has shifted focus away from trying to change public opinion towards that of influencing political leadership in the areas of law, politics and professional medical associations.

The key players in the movement today are professional, upper middle class people who are very influential in changing the opinions of important players who in the words of Smith “happen to look, think and act like them.”  They are particularly adept at modifying the language surrounding physician assisted suicide to make it more palatable and change the framework within which it is debated.

Smith highlighted two concurrent and mutually supporting developments in the drive towards physician assisted suicide that have been successfully changing the attitudes and practices of our health care professionals, largely invisible to the broader public.

Firstly, the writings of the key medical journals are increasingly supportive of “Personhood Theory,” namely a new species-neutral approach to medical ethics which denies any intrinsic value to human life.  Instead, human lives are increasingly being measured by a combination of factors such as the quality of life (as determined by others), the costs of treatment and their value to society. 

This naturally leads to the development of “Futile Care Theory” which moves the argument from the right of people to choose death to that of promoting the death of people who fail to meet the standards of the “Personhood Theory” approach to measuring the quality of life.

Smith summarized it with the line, “we want to put other people out of our misery.”

Though still politically controversial, Smith likened the current situation of Futile Care Theory to that of a few enemy scouts who have crossed the borders of a nation in preparation for a larger attack by their entire army. 

During the past ten to fifteen years, hospital ethics committees that were usually intended as mediating bodies between the health care providers and patients or their families have increasingly engaged in the process of drawing up guidelines to determine when to withdraw treatment from ill patients. In some hospitals they are taking on the role of judicial committees that are all too willing to rule against the patient’s or family’s wishes.  Many of their actions are taking place without proper public scrutiny and are increasingly making life and death decisions about vulnerable people who have little if any recourse against their decisions. 

Whether operating from within a profit-driven health care system like that of the United States or the publicly funded Canadian system in which there is increasing demand to ration scarce resources, there is increasing danger that the attitudes promoted by the pro-assisted suicide lobby will eventually result in the undermining of patients’ rights, and a decline in the quality of health care to those who do not fit into the priorities of the medical system. 

Rather than simply satisfying the “choice” of a few suffering people to die peacefully, the thinking of those behind euthanasia and physician assisted suicide threatens to limit the choices available to vulnerable people who would prefer life enhancing options.

Wesley Smith’s troublesome observations about the future prospects of the assisted suicide debate seemed to follow from the experiences of the other presenters in combating the trend and their scrupulous observations of those lobbying for it.  Both offering new insights while building off the earlier presentations, his talk was well received by the participants who left the event with an even greater appreciation for the dangers that lie ahead.

Wesley Smith is a prolific author, and regular contributor to National Review and The Weekly Standard. He wrote frequently on the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005. He is actively involved in the struggle against assisted suicide and euthanasia and is also a prominent critic of mainstream views on bioethics. His book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America was named Best Health Book of the Year at the 2001 Independent Publishers Book Awards.

Smith is frequently invited to appear on radio and television talk shows and has testified as an expert witness to federal and state legislative committees. He is a frequent speaker at events in many countries concerning end of life issues. His blog Secondhand Smoke publishes daily commentary on the issues he advocates. Wesley Smith also contributes a biweekly podcast called Brave New Bioethics, produced by the Discovery Institute.