Assisted Suicides for Debt Reduction?

Editor’s note. This appeared on the blog of “Dignity Vermont,”  a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont.

New York Times columnist David Brooks

Like many others engaged in the assisted suicide fight I read David Brooks’s op-ed titled Death and Budgets in the opinion pages of the July 14th New York Times with shocked repulse.  His op-ed suggests that end-of-life care is a primary cause of our current financial crisis, and assisted suicide should be promoted for the sick, disabled and elderly to reduce medical costs and improve our financial standing.

David Brooks [apparently] believes that people should commit suicide for the monetary benefit of others.   “We think the budget mess is a squabble between partisans in Washington. But in large measure it’s about our inability to face death…” he writes.

In his op-ed he discusses an article by a man named Dudley Clendinen who is living with ALS.  He applauds Clendinen who had written of his own shallow view of life.  Clendinen wrote of life and dying, “When I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over. It’s time to be gone.”

Brooks applauds Clendinen on the basis of fiscal responsibility, “It is hard to see us reducing health care inflation seriously unless people and their families are willing to do what Clendinen is doing — confront death and their obligations to the living.”

His article is disturbing on many levels.  It is absurd and highly insulting to suggest that because you cannot tie your bow tie any more, it is your fiscal obligation to society to kill yourself.  End-of-life care is not the reason for the current financial crisis.  Such a suggestion does nothing but degrade the lives of others who need care and reduce the value of life to a financial calculation.

But what strikes me most is the shamelessness with which David Brooks practically proposes people killing themselves based on the law of diminishing returns.  It is a faulty and twisted economic notion that fails to consider human emotion and basic human decency.  In the period of life that Brooks considers financially burdensome, therefore deemed by him to be worthless, many people have meaningful and fulfilling experiences that cannot possibly be formulated into his warped calculations.

David Brooks’s article angered many, even some assisted suicide advocates were repulsed by his assertions.  Wesley Smith, writer of First Things, blogged an excellent response to Brooks, specifically regarding Brook’s loathsome characterization of the disabled as a “self-enclosed skin bag.”  Smith’s article is worth a read.

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