We’re two months into the decade, and the race for new technology is zipping along as fast as ever.
New technologies now are able to detect and address birth defects earlier and more precisely, advance the viability of prematurely-born babies, and tend to the health and lives of mothers in new ways. Diseases are caught earlier and treated better. We know more than we used to, and that’s a good thing.
But unfortunately, not all technology is being used to promote life.
In the race to develop technologies and legislation for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, or E‑PAS, America is just steps behind the front of the pack.
Whenever the topic comes up in conversation, I almost always get one of two responses. Either, “It’s not that big a deal — nobody wants to be euthanized.” Or, “what’s the big deal? If someone wants to end their suffering it’s none of your business, anyway.”
Unfortunately, the methods of euthanasia are frequently traumatic and often painful. For one, the patient must administer the life-ending drug to himself for the procedure to be considered an assisted suicide.
The most common method of assisted suicide is a bitter drink made of a lethal overdose of barbiturates dissolved in a glass of water. Hypothetically, the patient will fall asleep within five minutes, and quickly advance from anesthetized to comatose. Cardiac arrest occurs within 30 minutes.
The administration of barbiturates is frighteningly quick and irreversible, but worse is on its way.
Late last year, a file was made public for a 3D-printable suicide machine called Sarco. The machine requires a patient to answer just four cognitive questions before a patient can climb in, close the lid, and be gassed to death.
Because the agent adminstering the euthanasia need not be the patient, it is available in a range of methods, from starvation to lethal injection. Unlike physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia doesn’t even require the consent of the patient. And often, the patient isn’t able to consent anyway.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide prey upon the weak, vulnerable, and seemingly less-useful members of society, capturing them in their moment of despair. Especially when isolated in the shroud of terminal illness, it is devastating for a patient to be told they are a financial and emotional burden of your family — one of the most common reasons the dying will request PAS.
Disguised by terms like dignity, compassion, and medical treatment, euthanasia commits a grave offense against human dignity. Medicine developed to defend the personhood of each patient, hoping to assist them to victory over their illness or injury. E‑PAS, on the other hand, links arms with the illness and injury, stamping out the flicker of hope in each patient until they submit to helplessness and defeat.
As of the new year, Maine joins Washington, D.C. and eight other states in legalizing physician-assisted suicide. In addition to the 10 that have already legalized, there are currently 17 states with active legislative or petition-driven efforts in favor of legalization, according to Death with Dignity, a nonprofit organization that promotes pro-E-PAS legislation. That leaves only 24 states opposed, at least for the time being, to E‑PAS.
Yet even that is a skewed number, upon closer examination. Consider Oklahoma. While counted among those states in which assisted suicide is illegal, many turn a blind eye when it occurs. While PAS remains legally unrecognized in the state, it still happens, and is required to be listed on death certificates when applicable.
Because euthanasia and PAS remain prohibited on the federal level, it is easy to dismiss the issue as something to be dealt with down the road. But it’s time for Americans to realize that we’re already well on our way to legal and widely-accepted use of these procedures.
It seems that the advocates of traditional marriage and social conservatives did not learn their lesson in 2015, when Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage across the country. In 2015, Obergefell was most shocking to the 13 states still defending a traditional definition of marriage. In 2013, 33 states still held that marriage was, by definition, between a man and a woman.
The speed of technological development seems to be dragging time along with it. Centuries-old opinions reverse in a matter of years. Already, more than half of the United States permits physician-assisted suicide.
The undertow is pulling. Stay vigilant.
Reagan Cool is a senior studying philosophy and religion. She is a columnist on faith and culture.