Today, America is at imminent risk of falling down a very slippery slope into a dark, dangerous abyss from which we won’t be able to recover. The consequences for us and for our society are so repugnant and so far-reaching as to be absolutely unacceptable in every sense—humanly, morally, socially. I speak here of the murder, the so-called euthanasia or mercy killing, of disabled persons.
Our slippery slope is developing quickly and quietly over time. Several different levels can be easily discerned:
“They are a real burden.” First, the concept of burden—financial, social, personal—becomes part of a calculus in which burden is perceived to outweigh the value of continued life. This calculus then provides justification for falling to the next level.
“They really wouldn’t want to live that way.” This rationalization is used to impute the desire to die onto the disabled person. This second level absolves the person making the observation of any guilt, while appearing to make the disabled person complicit in the action.
“Doctors will make the right decisions for them.” The third level makes the death seem routine, even, dare I say, trivial. Clearly, doctors have expertise. Hence, they make appropriate decisions.
This seductive but irrational logic is precisely that used by Hitler’s Third Reich to murder disabled persons, particularly those with mental illnesses and those with so-called “hereditary illnesses”, such as intellectual and developmental disabilities. Between 1939 and 1945, the antiseptically named “T4” Program murdered more than 200,000 child, adult, and elderly patients, with doctors making and carrying out the decisions.
Why raise this issue now? Two recent examples are cause for great alarm.
On April 13, the Dr. Phil Show aired a segment which presented the idea that parents should be able to euthanize (murder) their children who have intellectual disabilities. The show focused on Annette Corriveau, mother of two adult children who have a progressive genetic condition, Sanfilippo Syndrome. The show describes the progression of the disease in both children as they developed into adulthood. Now, Ms. Corriveau wants to euthanize (murder) them. Dr. Phil indicated that he “would not want to live like that.” He was supported by Geoffrey Fieger, Dr. Kevorkian’s lawyer, who argued that what Ms. Corriveau wants is “perfectly reasonable and merciful”. How absolutely abhorrent!
Another more subtle illustration is a May 22 Letter to the Editor in the New York Times. Cary Riker of Happy Valley, OR, describes her grandmother’s slow death from Alzheimer’s disease, and the burden that she perceived it caused her family over the past ten years. She concludes by saying, “Having witnessed the disease firsthand, I can truly say there is something worse than death.” This letter is a clear example of the logic employed in first step on the slippery slope.
We do have a choice that we must make. Unless we want to end up taking the same abhorrent actions as the Third Reich in the name of eugenics, we must vigorously oppose decisions to murder made by relatives, friends, doctors, or the government, at whatever level. We must vigorously support end of life decisions made in living wills and advance directives. Our actions must be direct and unequivocal.