By Stephen Drake
Editor’s note. As was explained Wednesday, “Liz Carr, the incredibly thought-provoking, usually funny, multi-talented disability rights leader from the UK has produced a program for the BBC entitled: ‘When Assisted Death is Legal.’” Yesterday we ran Part One of Mr. Drake’s analysis.
In Part 2 of her Euthanasia Road Trip, Carr visits the Netherlands and then goes to the US states of Oregon and Washington, which both have legalized assisted suicide for a relatively narrow range of people.
In the Netherlands, Carr spends most of her time with NVVE – both with representatives and at a conference they hosted. NVVE is a “right to die” advocacy group in the Netherlands. Carr notes how the practice of euthanasia has expanded over time in the Netherlands and where it seems to be going now:
About 3,000 people died through euthanasia last year. About 3 percent of total deaths, a number which increases each year. They’re mainly cancer patients, but the latest discussion in the Netherlands is about extending the law to another group of people – the over 70s, who may not be ill or dying but are simply tired of life or as NVVE call it, people who have reached a “completed life.” (Quotation marks around term “completed life” added by editor)
After further discussion eligibility of those who have reached a “completed life” with an NVVE member, Carr tells us:
Completed life is going to be the next major debate in relation to assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands.
Once in the US, Carr interviews both proponents and opponents of assisted suicide – they’re informative and revealing. Among others, she interviews Barbara Coombs Lee of Compassion, and Choices, Kenneth Stevens of Physicians for Compassionate Care and disability activist/advocate Marilyn Golden. These are interviews you should listen to, even if you think you’ve heard it all from players in Oregon and Washington state. You’ll definitely hear some different slants and/or new info – I did.
While even opponents can’t point to any kind of hard evidence that the law has applied to a broader range of people than the law allows, the system in both states makes actual practices hard to verify. What will the future look like? Here’s Carr again:
So is it the case that once you introduce assisted suicide and euthanasia for one group that it’s naturally extended to others and that the numbers increase? People talk about a slippery slope in relation to assisted suicide and euthanasia and I’m worried that that’s what it actually means – that once a law’s in, it’s much easier to extend it.
As it turns out, there’s plenty of reason to expect that to happen here in the United States, once the assisted suicide advocates feel that they’ve reached some kind of “critical mass” both in terms of the number of states legalizing assisted suicide and the amount of public support for it.
And that’s where we revisit the concept of “slippery slopes.” Carr has given us a brilliant and useful definition for one aspect – or definition – for the slope. As long-time readers of this blog might remember, “right to die” advocate Margaret Battin and colleagues published an article looking at the same countries Liz Carr did–and declared no evidence of a “slippery slope,” because their definition of the slope didn’t include “expansion of eligibility and practice.”
In the past, I’ve talked about another aspect or definition of the slippery slope–the “slippery slope” can be a political strategy, better known as an incrementalist strategy.
If you listen to Carr’s interviews and commentary, it’s clear that expansion of practices in the European countries didn’t just happen–there were and are groups that laid groundwork for the expansion.
There’s good evidence the same groundwork is being laid here. For example, Compassion and Choices has an active campaign to promote VSED – Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking–for people who aren’t terminally ill but want to die. So far, that means people who are elderly and “tired of living.” They have also gotten hospice professionals on board to facilitate the process for elderly people who choose to end their lives this way.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to predict that–within a few years — Compassion and Choices will switch gears. They’ll point out that more and more doctors are cooperating with nonterminally ill patients who want to die through VSED. They’ll add that—unfortunately–dying through VSED isn’t acceptable to a number of people. The punchline will be this–“If these people who are ‘tired of life’ have the right to starve themselves to death, shouldn’t they have the right to assisted suicide?”
For clarity’s sake, I’m not holding my formulation of slippery slope as better than the one Liz Carr ended up being concerned with. I think they’re both valid and they’re both useful. Carr backs up her definition with instances of how things have worked in other countries – that’s both new and extremely useful for us all.
Having listened to both parts of the “Euthanasia Road Trip” documentary at least 3 time through, I appreciate Carr’s work more than ever. She had barely 50 minutes to work with – 50 minutes in which she covered 3 European countries and 2 American states. All that and she managed to make it engaging and informative – I don’t think there’s a wasted minute. It’s a fantastic piece and can’t recommend it enough.
This first appeared at notdeadyet.org. Mr. Drake is a Research Analyst for “Not Dead Yet,” a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill and disabled people.