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Sophistry and Illusion regarding Assisted Dying

1 August 2014 12 comments

Wesley J. Smith is a well-known American sophist and “fellow” of the sophistical Discovery Institute. When my wife Elizabeth died in Switzerland — indeed, only a few days after her death — without having ever met her, he made statements that were not only inaccurate, but quite straightforward lies. He lied, because only lies will, in the last analysis, support opposition to assisted dying. I pull no punches on this, because I found his statements then, and find them still, libelous and abusive. The post is entitled “Another Swiss ‘Suicide Tourist’ Proves that the Euthanasia Debate is not about Terminal Illness.” (The link is now corrected, and will take you to the post in question!) It was published on 25th June 2007, two days exactly following the memorial service held for Elizabeth in Middleton, Nova Soctia, where I had been Rector for fourteen years of the Anglican parish, and Elizabeth had had a printing and design business. Mark this carefully: only two days following the memorial service! In that blog post, Smith wrote:

Elizabeth McDonald, age 38, was not terminally ill. She was disabled and depressed. (Depression is caused by MS in some cases.)

Since Smith had never met Elizabeth, and did not know whether or not she was depressed (she wasn’t, although, no doubt, depression is caused by MS in some cases), this is an out and out lie. Not just a misrepresentation, mind, but a lie, for he might have sought the truth and did not bother. Of course, he may believe that no one responsibly seeks death unless they are depressed, but his too is untrue. Then, at the end of his post he writes:

The new attitude seems to be, “If you want to die, go ahead and die. It’s none of my business,” which masks as respect for “choice” but is actually a form of abandonment.

Since his post is about “another ‘suicide tourist’,” namely, my wife Elizabeth, who was offended by the term ‘suicide tourist’, Smith is not only attacking my wife’s good name, he is directly accusing me of abandonment, or what the Anglican Church of Canada calls a “failure of human community.” The suggestion is that I had not only abandoned Elizabeth, but that I had washed my hands of concern for her: “If you want to die, go ahead and die. It’s none of my business.” This is so far from the truth that it is hard to justify this as other than a slanderous and untrue accusation directed to me and my part in Elizabeth’s determination to end her suffering. (I have asked Smith to remove this slanderous post, but to no effect.)

Let’s be very clear about this. No, assisted dying is not (and should not be) only about terminal illness. This is a complete misrepresentation of what assisted dying should concern itself with, and the laws which so limit assisted dying are a standing affront to those, like Tony Nicklinson or Diane Pretty in England, and Sue Rodriguez or Goria Taylor in Canada, and my wife Elizabeth, who were not (or may not have been) terminally ill within the meaning of the law in Oregon, Washington, etc., and would have been left to suffer regardless of the degree of their suffering. I have coined the term “terminal suffering” for those whose suffering is such that only death can bring it to an end. That is why I was opposed to Lord Falconer’s (England and Wales) and Margo Macdonald’s (Scotland) and Francine Lalonde’s (Canada) assisted dying bills. It seems that legislators can’t get it through their heads that years and years of suffering are, if anything, far worse than a few days of intense pain at the end of life. Not only can they not get this through their heads, they set themselves up for the inevitable slippery slope that will arise as soon as people justly point out that assisted dying for the terminally ill is not sufficient to cope with the human suffering caused by the refusal to legalise assisted dying for those whose suffering is terminal (as defined above). This means that the reasonable next step, to allow assisted dying for the terminally suffering, will be construed (as Smith does in the blog post linked here) as a slide down what such people believe is the inevitable slippery slope that will be created by the legalisation of assisted dying.

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