An Infomercial for Assisted Suicide

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Talk about timeless stories! This editorial written for the September 2000 issue of National Right to Life News could just as easily be composed today, so regularly does the “mainstream media” air propaganda for assisted suicide. This is Friday’s entry in our year-long “Roe at 40” series where we reprint some of the best and/or most enduring stories.

Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers

By the time you read this edition of National Right to Life News, alas, Bill Moyers’s September PBS special “On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying” will have already aired. While it is unfortunate that we could not have pondered this before it ran, this is such high-grade pro-assisted suicide propaganda that it is well worth our while to reflect on what Moyers’s agenda was and is.

I first learned of the four-part six-hour-long series when I was at the hospital waiting for the doctor to take a look at my daughter’s ailing knee. I spied the September/October issue of “Modern Maturity,” the house publication of the powerful American Association for Retired Persons (AARP). There I found “The Last Taboo—Straight Talk from Bill and Judith Moyers.” The topic? Death and dying.

When the AARP talks, people—and not just members—listen. Let me offer the lead paragraph from the article written by Mark Matousek:

“In September, PBS will air ‘On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying,’ a four-part series that focuses on the controversial issue of how our society cares–and does not care–for people at the end of life. Produced by veteran broadcast journalists Bill Moyers and Judith Davidson Moyers, the landmark program–culled from nearly 300 hours of raw footage shot over a three-year period–documents the last months, days, and hours of more than a dozen men and women and their struggle to balance medical intervention with comfort and dignity at this final threshold.

Let me present one key, but by no means isolated, pearl of wisdom from Bill Moyers:

MM: Where do you stand on the issue of physician-assisted suicide?

Bill: I am not pleased with how television has treated the issue. We’ve allowed Dr. Kevorkian to frame the debate in the most simplistic way: Are you for or against? In fact, the question is not that simple. In Oregon, where residents have access to physician-assisted suicide, the dying are not necessarily eager to leave; they don’t want to hurry out the door prematurely. The deeper issue is, How do we care for people at the end of their lives so that they don’t fear being abandoned or taken advantage of? My own position is that a compassionate society would have a deep bias in favor of allowing patients to determine where, when, and how they die. But we have to provide safeguards, to make sure that they’re not exploited in a vulnerable moment by avaricious relatives or indifferent doctors.

Get it? This is all so complicated but we do know (supposedly) that those in Oregon who’ve been “assisted” in dying have done so responsibly and woe be to those who don’t have this “choice.” Also, compassion means having a “deep bias” in favor of letting people “determine where, when, and how they die” [wink, wink].

In other words, provided there are those ever-wonderful “safeguards” (the all-purpose solvent that is intended to dissolve all doubts and take away all guilt), go for it. This is a take on assisted suicide that is essentially indistinguishable from the Hemlock Society’s.

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Thus it came as no surprise when someone who is a position to know informed me ahead of time that Part Three of the series is a real disaster, an in-kind contribution to the campaign to legalized assisted suicide.

That was borne out by a review of the series that appeared before the series ran. Writing for the Catholic News Service, Ann Navarro offered this reading of the pivotal third episode.

“The position that human beings have a transcendent value even in the presence of physical suffering which makes it wrong to deliberately end a human life—even in these emotional circumstances—is never presented. Nor are concerns about physician-assisted suicide leading to situations in which the dying are manipulated or emotionally coerced into asking that their lives be ended.”

In the hyperbole that inevitably surrounds a Bill Moyers’ media extravaganza, we’re told that Moyers and his wife Judith “demystify the time of life that we fear the most”: the approach of death. Well, would you expect less from a man described thusly terms by Matousek:”When I interviewed Bill, I said there’s a perception that he’s ‘the keeper of the American soul.’ ”

Oh, my goodness, are in for it, or what? And in the infuriating “Who? Little old me?” pseudo-modesty which is his trademark, Moyers told Matousek, “If there’s an afterlife, I will track down who said that and clobber him—I’m just a reporter.” If Moyers is a nothing-but-the-facts reporter, the New York Times editorial page (which never met an abortion it wouldn’t condone) is a non-partisan in the battle over unborn human life.

But the question is, how does assisted suicide further this objective? It doesn’t, especially when we know from piles of studies that most people who ponder/ask for “assistance” do so because they are clinically depressed, or fear facing death alone, and/or would do anything not to be a “burden”?

Adding insult to injury, “Modern Maturity” adds a puff piece from Dr. Timothy Quill, a notorious promoter of assisted suicide. Its “Special Pull-Out Section” has some helpful information, including a nice summary about “How to Be with a Dying person,” but offers nothing whatsoever that demonstrates even the mildest skepticism about either living wills or advance directives. (Naturally, there is no word on about NRLC’s “Will to Live” whose guiding principle is to makes sure you receive the care you want should you not be able to convey your wishes.)

This pull-out section also tells the reader that it’s okay to withdraw food and fluids; indeed, it goes on to argue that providing these deeply symbolic bare necessities is counterproductive! There’s not a syllable that even hints that the patient may suffer in the week to two weeks before he or she dies.

Deeply worrisome as well is that both the PBS web site and “Modern Maturity” provide links to the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society and to “Death with Dignity. The PSB site also talks about and links up with “media partners” and “promotional partners,” such as Barnes and Noble.

To be sure, there is plenty to be found to which most people would nod their heads in agreement. “How do we build a system,” Bill Moyers asks, “That will help us tackle the social, financial, spiritual, and physical challenges of dying so that we can confidence that our experience of it will be on our terms and will reflect the values we hold most dear?”

Many of the books for sale at the Barnes & Noble web site I know nothing about. Several I do and some of them are not promising. In addition, in reading the description of episode three found at the Barnes & Noble web site, you come across some of weasel words pro-assisted suicide forces are using to try to accomplish their objective but without formally violating laws against assisted suicide.

I would just end with this observation about this infomercial for assisted suicide. It is one thing to “demystify” death, if what is meant by this is that we must face up to the fact that no one gets out of this life alive and that when we are dying it is crucial that there be people nearby to sustain us with love and affection. That connectedness, that assurance that we will never be abandoned is crucial to ensuring that people do not become despondent and contemplate suicide.

Too often that kind of “enthusiasm” leads to an eagerness to help the patient pack and depart early.

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