Wesley Smith: Why we cannot reach compromise

This article was published by First Things on December 11, 2015.

By Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith

The other day, I read a column in the National Post that made my stomach turn. It wasn’t the quality of the writing, which was quite good, but the content. The writer celebrated a recent Canadian Supreme Court ruling that determined lethal-injection termination is a charter right. As a result, euthanasia will soon be bureaucratized and normalized—made banal—in Canada:

Sooner or later, death will become a civil servant. He will operate in the open, during business hours, with a budget and a boss. His work will be humanized and bureaucratized. Death will be licensed, regulated and empowered by law to solve a public policy problem—the unacceptability to certain people of certain types of dying.This marks a major shift in the meaning of death, from ineffable human destiny to legislated human right....

This argument elevates absolute personal autonomy and the prevention of suffering to the highest purposes of human society. That such a value system includes eliminating the sufferer is seen not as a vice, but as a virtue.

This positive view of euthanasia is antithetical to everything I believe. I first described my views about medicalized killing in a 1993 Newsweek column, in reaction to the suicide of my friend Frances under the influence of the Hemlock Society’s pro–assisted suicide literature:

It is a cause I now deeply despise. Not only did it take Frances, but it rejects all that I hold sacred and true: that the preservation of human life is our highest moral ideal; that a principal purpose of government is as a protector of life; that those who fight to stay alive in the face of terminal disease are powerful uplifters of the human experience.

My purpose in today’s column isn’t to convince readers to adopt my opinion. Rather, I intend to illustrate why the West is increasingly incapable of engaging in true debate, achieving broad consensus, and reaching compromises about our most important controversies.

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