The physician-assisted-suicide referendum floated in Massachusetts this fall serves to remind us of the ever-looming prospect of legalized euthanasia. The U.S. bishops’ 2011 policy statement To Live Each Day With Dignity summarizes the history of physician-assisted suicide in the U.S. from Oregon’s 1994 initiative up to the present:
The claim of a constitutional right to assisted suicide was firmly rejected in 1997 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld state laws against the practice as legitimate safeguards for innocent human life and the ethical integrity of medicine. But after fourteen years of defeats, the assisted suicide campaign advanced its agenda when Washington state passed a law like Oregon’s in 2008. The following year, Montana’s highest court suggested that physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is not always against public policy.
The campaign for Massachusetts’s “Question 2,” which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for those diagnosed with a terminal illness and six months or less to live, marked a fourth state’s entrance into the dark world that begins with misplaced compassion and ends with thinly veiled murder. As debate was heating up over the issue, Boston’s Sean Cardinal O’Malley stepped up to defend Church teaching as well as basic ethics and common sense. O’Malley wrote a succinct but forceful article (posted on “Cardinal Sean’s Blog,” Oct. 12) on the slippery slope of assisted suicide.
As is the case with abortion, proponents of physician-assisted suicide dismiss the danger of a slippery slope, but increasingly available evidence works against them. Cardinal O’Malley takes care to describe the nature of the phenomenon: “Slippery slope arguments involve small decisions that lead to undesirable outcomes that never would have been supported at the outset. Often, it is impossible to prove that one small step will have significant negative effects, but common sense allows reasonable people to judge the likelihood that a sequence of events that [has] happened in one place [is] likely to happen in another place in a similar way.”
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