Euthanasia in 2015

Original Article

The year 2015 will go down in history either as euthanasia’s high water mark before the ebb, or the time when the culture of death reached a tipping point and began an implacable march across Western Civilization.

In October, the worst news came out of Canada, where that country’s Supreme Court trampled democratic deliberation by unanimously conjuring a charter right to “termination of life” for anyone who has an “irremediable medical condition” and wants to die.1 Note the scope of the judicial fiat is not limited to the terminally ill: The ruling grants competent adults a right to die if they have an “illness, disease, or disability that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual,” including “psychological” pain.

Even these broad words inadequately describe the truly radical social policy Canada’s Supreme Court unleashed. For example, a treatable condition can qualify as “irremediable” if the patient chooses not to pursue available remedies. So an “irremediable” condition that permits life-termination may actually be wholly remediable, except that the patient would rather die than receive care.

The Court graciously allowed (he wrote sarcastically) Parliament a year to pass laws consistent with its fiat—to maintain the pretense of respect for democratic deliberation. Meanwhile, the Canadian medical leadership seems to have capitulated completely to the culture of death, with the consensus among medical colleges being that all doctors will have to be complicit in killing legally qualified patients—either by doing the deed or procuring a death-doctor who will. This presents the sickening scenario of doctors being professionally disciplined for refusing to violate the Hippocratic Oath.

We won’t know all the gory details about how Canada’s radical euthanasia regimen will be regulated until 2016. But Quebec has already begun legalized euthanasia based on a provincial law passed separately from the action of the Canadian Supreme Court. Showing which way the wind is blowing, when a palliative care center declared it would not participate in killing patients, Quebec’s Minister of Health ominously said, in effect, “Oh, yes you will!” And soon, the palliative center backed down and agreed to offer euthanasia as part of its services.2

Meanwhile, the media—led by People and CNN3— made brain-cancer patient Brittany Maynard into an international cause célèbre for advocating legalization of, and in late 2014, committing, assisted suicide. The emotionalism and hype around her case—who hasn’t seen the photo of her smiling broadly holding a puppy?—proved irresistible to the leftwing California Legislature. In a special session that was called to deal with Medicaid financing issues, it shoved through a legalization bill, applying to the terminally ill.

Governor Jerry Brown—who once worked with Mother Teresa—betrayed everything she stood for by quickly signing the bill into law. It was all about him. “In the end,” Brown wrote, “I had to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.” Brown explained that he would find “comfort” in knowing that the option of assisted suicide was available to him to prevent a painful death.4 That others will be hurt by this radical change in law and medical ethics didn’t matter a whit.

In 2015, the already radical euthanasia regimes of Belgium and the Netherlands, and the suicide clinics in Switzerland, grew even more radical. In Belgium, a depressed, physically healthy woman was approved for euthanasia,5 but she is still alive because she changed her mind before the deed could be done. In the Netherlands, psychiatrists stepped up their participation in euthanasia, killing about 40 mentally ill people a year (as of 2013). Meanwhile, a poll of Dutch general practitioners found 34 percent would “consider” euthanizing the mentally ill, while a whopping 86 percent would “consider” administering lethal injections, and that six out of ten have put their belief in euthanasia into action by actually killing patients.6 In Switzerland, a suicide clinic helped dispatch a healthy British 75-year-old woman, who killed herself rather than grow old and become a burden on the National Health Service.7

Which brings us to a bit of good news on the euthanasia front. The United Kingdom Parliament, which has been subjected to intense pressure to legalize assisted suicide, forcefully refused to do so in an overwhelming vote.8 Ditto the more than 20 U.S. states that had legalization bills pending, all of which were—California a huge exception to the contrary—rejected.

With the good news eclipsed by the bad, euthanasia and assisted suicide spreading like a stain raises the chilling prospect of social martyrdom. What do I mean? Many stories of assisted suicides and euthanasia deaths these days chirpily report that family and friends gathered for the planned death. With all of Canada now succumbing to the culture of death, along with more than 10 percent of the United States population living in California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, you too may one day be asked to lend your support by attending and witnessing a loved one’s assisted suicide.

Such an invitation would create a terrible conundrum for those who think medicalized killing is morally and medically wrong. If you attend, you are validating your loved one’s suicide and sending the unintentional message that “Yes, you are a burden. Your life is undignified and not worth living. Your family is better off with you dead.”

But refusing—at least in circumstances involving terminal illness or profound disability—could result in the loss of valued friendships, family estrangement, and accusations of cold-hearted moralistic judgmentalism (not to mention the guilt of being absent when a loved one dies).9

If you ever receive such an invitation, I hope you will send your unequivocal refusal and (just as importantly) offer to help the sufferer find a better way forward. That kind of compassionate engagement and noncooperation with the culture of death will come at some risk. But saying no will protect you from moral complicity in a death—and it could be the act that dissuades your loved one from taking a terrible and irrevocable course.


  1. Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5.
  2. Regina Leader Post, “Quebec Palliative Care Centre to Offer Doctor-Assisted Suicide,” November 2, 2015.
  3. Brandon Griggs, “11 Extraordinary People of 2014,” CNN, December 5, 2014.
  4. Jerry Brown, Letter to the California Assembly, October 5, 2015.
  5. Simone Maas, “Laura is 25 Years Old and Physically Healthy: She Gets Euthanasia this Summer,” De Morgan, June 19, 2015 (Google Translation).
  6. Jane Collingwood, “1 in 3 of Dutch MDs Willing to Aid in Assisted Suicide for Mentally Ill,” Psych Central, April 15, 2015.
  7. Mikey Smith, “Health Nurse Chooses to Die Aged 75 at Swiss Suicide Clinic Rather Than Grow Old,”The Mirror, August 2, 2015.
  8. John Bingham, “MPs Reject Assisted Dying Law,” The Telegraph, September 11, 2015.
  9. For more on this topic, see Wesley J. Smith, “RSVP ‘No’ to Suicide Party,” First Things (blog), September 18, 2015.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.