The Hidden Debate: Privacy and the End of Life

by Matthew Raley

For the second time this year, California legislators are
trying to legalize
assisted suicide
. After the bill failed in June, Susan Eggman (D-Stockton)
reintroduced it in a special session devoted to healthcare financing.

The bill was originally framed as a response to the suicide
of Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon after her terminal cancer diagnosis
because assisted suicide is illegal in California. An individual, supporters
say, has the right to determine when his or her life ends as a purely private

A debate is hidden behind this issue. What is privacy? Is
there really a zone where your actions affect no one but yourself, and where no
one has a right to “interfere?”

Advocates for the elderly and the disabled argue that
assisted suicide is not a private matter. Legalizing it would create an incentive
to promote suicide for the weakest patients, whose care is most expensive. They
point to the sinister track record of Belgium, where the law first recognized a
suicide right for adults under narrow circumstances, but now allows
doctors to euthanize children
. Not assist in their suicide. Euthanize. With
their “consent,” of course.

What starts as an adult’s right to make “private” decisions morphs
into something horrific.

The reason is that this supposed zone of privacy doesn’t exist.
First, if I take my own life, I am not the only person affected. Suicide
affects families, friends, colleagues, entire communities.

Second, this fraudulent privacy merely creates a space
around the end of life in which probing questions are silenced. The elderly
patient “requested” suicide. Done. Prescribe the pills. We will not question
the role of a financially interested adult son, or a callous social worker, or an
activist nurse pushing an agenda. We won’t consider those factors even though we
know that medical decisions involve many participants, that patients can and do
get manipulated, and that healthcare financing plays an increasingly powerful
role in care.

Draw the curtain of “privacy” over that discussion, and you
have euthanasia in Belgium. The same curtain hides families and boyfriends who bully
pregnant women into having abortions. Until recently, it shielded Planned
Parenthood’s sale of body parts.

Eggman’s bill will likely stall again. Resistance to fake privacy
in California signals that we may still have the courage to defy the culture of


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