In one of my first letters of the year I wrote that the push for Assisted Suicide would become harder and fiercer as the year progresses. Right on cue the Gallup Organization published the results of a poll that showed a 20% increase in support for assisted suicide but with one caveat: support increases when assisted suicide is described euphemistically rather than accurately. Support increases to 70% when people are asked if they support "aid in dying" or as the poll asked: "allow physicians to end a patient's life by some painless means". However support decreases to 51% when the process is described as "allowing physicians to help patients commit suicide". (As we head into another election cycle be very careful to read how polls phrase questions because the phrasing of the question and not the actual issue determines how people respond.)
You can see why the pushers of Assisted Suicide press hard to change words and use propaganda to sell death on demand. Even the Euthanasia Society has changed its name twice since 1976 first to the Society for the Right to Die and now know as Choice in Dying. It all sounds very lovely and democratic but though the words changed the underlying reality did not but they count on your ability to be easily fooled. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" well in this case words can actually kill you.
As we have seen with recent high profile assisted suicide cases the media almost always serves as their cheerleader. The standard most media stories use when reporting on most social and moral issues is whether or not each side "oozes compassion". From the media's point of view most people of faith along with maggots and vultures fail to ooze compassion since we stand against murder in any form. How insensitive of us! Hence I suggest that they are biased towards assisted suicide and euthanasia simply because we are against it. They just can't bring themselves to side with the facts. But let me be more specific.
The right-to-die movement has long since moved beyond, as they say advocating death for the "terminally" ill. Now they advocate for the "hopelessly ill", the incurably ill, chronically ill and my favorite the "existentially ill". Yet the media will always in their reporting call victims of euthanasia and assisted suicide "terminally ill". The majority of people who are euthanized or commit legal suicide are not terminally ill nor at the end stages of dying. They may be chronically ill, like arthritis or HIV, or incurably ill from Parkinson's or mentally ill but not terminal. Yet by using the term "terminally ill" we are lead to believe we are talking about those in the last days or weeks of dying. The lack of specificity in media reporting is either sloppy or willfully biased. It persuades the reader that euthanasia/assisted suicide is only about the actively, imminently dying.
Reading the media stories also reveals their willingness to leave out big details and to describe the proponents of euthanasia/assisted suicide in rather glowing terms. They are always "so convicted", "deeply resolved", "convinced to the core of their being" and of course "oozing compassion" etc. while the opponents are "religious zealots", "right wing", "moral majority", "deeply religious" or evangelical or Catholic. Then there are those who actually kill themselves and are described as "heroic", "persistent in the face of great odds", "firmly resolved" and "deeply committed" (well I guess so). They never seem to find a Muslim or agnostic who opposes these issues. Once again the Ministry of Disinformation chooses the sides: the superstitious Christian barbarians vs. the modern rational science based proponent who want to free us from our religious constraints.
The media fail to point out that there are other options. They seem stuck in presenting the issue in either/or terms: EITHER you selfishly sentence someone to intolerable levels of suffering OR you quickly and "mercifully" end their suffering. When the issue is reported in either/or terms we need to throw the catholic "BUT" around. That means to offer another way. BUT there is the way of loving and providing care, including effective pain management until the dying give up their spirit.
Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne said it best when he wrote, "A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life can not comprehend why it should be endured."
Love, Fr. John B.