March 4, 2009
In his new book, The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents with Their Suicides, lawyer and author John West publicly tells a story that most people would have kept silent. He does it so that one day others may be able to kill openly and without fear. That’s not how West puts it, of course, but I’m afraid that’s what it boils down to.
West’s parents were prestigious psychiatrists. As West wrote, “Neither was at all religious, but both had deep insight into the human condition. . . . And they knew what they wanted.”
What they wanted was to die “on [their] own terms.” When West’s father was diagnosed with cancer, he asked his son for help in taking his own life. In West’s mother’s case, “advancing cognitive decline” led her to fear that she would “turn into a bowl of Jell-O in her head.” A couple of weeks after West assisted his father’s suicide, his mother made the same request.
It’s hard to listen to West talk about his parents’ deaths, as he recently did on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. As he describes it, when talking about their impending deaths, his parents kept resorting to euphemisms like “do the trick” and “achieve the goal.”
No euphemism, however, can do away with the stark reality of death and what West had to do to kill them. For instance, he had to wake his father, who was groggy from pain pills given to him by a hospice worker, in order to take the extra pills that would kill him. West admitted that his father might not have finished taking the pills had he, the son, not fed them to him.
In California, these acts were against the law, but as West proclaimed on Rehm’s show, “Everyone in the medical world knows that it happens all the time.” (As it happens, both a doctor and a hospice worker contacted Rehm to disagree.) At any rate, West considered this a case where “it was more important to do the right thing than to follow the letter of the law.”
So, according to West, murder of an innocent is the right thing?
West is publicizing how he helped kill his parents to promote assisted suicide, which he wants to see legalized.
But as West’s story itself shows, our culture and our legal system have already begun to acquiesce to murder, to the point where more and more of these assisted suicide cases are allowed to slip by. Diane Rehm asked West whether he might face any legal repercussions for his actions. His response was that he had heard nothing from the authorities so far.
No good can come of allowing people to kill others—even if they claim they were acting out of the most purely humanitarian motives. The authorities need to uphold the law.
Make no mistake: Legalizing assisted suicide is a big step on a dangerous and slippery slope, especially in a world where human life is growing cheaper by the minute. We’ve already seen that legalizing assisted suicide has led to non-voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. And we’ve talked recently on BreakPoint about how increasing health-care costs have spurred Britain to deny certain citizens life-prolonging treatment.
I will say it over and over, until I am blue in the face: Every human life, from conception through natural death, is sacred. And to take that life unjustly is simply murder—the kind of thing the state has a sworn duty to stop.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.