Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

The other pro-life movement

Death | Opponents work to stop the progress of assisted suicide in the United States
by Leah Hickman
Posted 11/16/20, 04:26 pm

This year, as a seventh country legalized euthanasia, 16 U.S. states considered bills that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication for terminally ill patients, according to the pro-euthanasia group Death with Dignity. In 2013, only eight state legislatures were looking at euthanasia proposals. But then in 2014, the story of Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill 29-year-old who committed suicide with a doctor’s help, caught the nation’s attention.

Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life (MCCL), said Maynard’s story changed how his organization operates. When he first started volunteering with the group in 1978, protecting babies from abortion received the organization’s full attention. “Now I’d say it’s almost 50-50” split between abortion and euthanasia, he said.

The increasing push for legal assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States has led some groups that once focused solely on protecting the unborn to diversify their efforts. But end-of-life concerns attract a different crowd than the anti-abortion movement, and pro-life groups have struggled to build as much excitement and momentum for fighting euthanasia as fighting for babies.

Nine states and the District of Columbia already allow assisted suicide. Maine became the latest to legalize it in June 2019, joining California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington. Montana allows the practice due to a state Supreme Court decision in 2009.

Minnesota is one of the 16 states where legislators introduced an assisted suicide bill in the past year. It and other past attempts to legalize euthanasia failed—so far.

In Wisconsin, another state that considered assisted suicide legislation this year, the first “death with dignity” bill appeared in the 1995-1996 legislative session. Of the 12 legislative sessions since then, nine have seen similar proposals. None has passed, but that push in the mid-1990s led the National Right to Life’s Wisconsin affiliate to begin actively fighting against physician-assisted suicide. Kristen Nupson, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life, said her organization probably spends 25 percent of its time promoting a pro-life approach to the end of life. She said protecting life at its end poses different challenges than safeguarding it at its beginning.

“Physician-assisted suicide is more difficult to raise awareness and educate on because it is more nuanced than the abortion issue,” Nupson said. “For example, what qualifies as ‘aid-in-dying’? Is it when physicians remove feeding tubes? Or turn off oxygen support? Can withholding these things be considered physician-assisted suicide, or is it just ‘letting nature take its course’?”

The Supreme Court took up the assisted suicide question in a 1997 case but ultimately ruled that there was no constitutional right to euthanasia and allowed states to decide for themselves. That’s a good thing, but the momentum of the pro-life, anti-euthanasia movement suffers from not having a defining, flashbulb event such as Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t think there was sort of one galvanizing moment here,” said Jennifer Popik, director of federal legislation at the National Right to Life Committee.

While abortion attracts the attention of the faith community and individuals interested in mother and infant care, Fischbach said end-of-life concerns draw a different coalition that includes disability rights advocates and those vested in hospice and palliative care—groups that often have no interest in the rights of the unborn. Popik noted beliefs about abortion often fall along party lines, while those about the end of life don’t.

But Fischbach sees the perks of this distinct coalition: “It’s an opportunity to share the pro-life movement philosophy and ideology of respect for all individuals with a new audience.”

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Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.

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  • Narissara
    Posted: Wed, 11/18/2020 06:27 pm

    The other thing complicating this issue which doesn't come up very often in the case of abortion is a greater likelihood of state involvement.  The state typically doesn't involve itself in abortion cases, unless the mother is already a ward of the state.  Minors either have to obtain parental consent or they don't, depending on what state they live in, and ironically, abortion is the one instance where the state is not going to interfere with (the pregnant mother's) parental rights.

    If a person has dementia or is an adult with some sort of developmental disability that prevents him/her from taking care of his own needs and managing his own affairs, there's a good chance he could become a ward of the state.  The court may appoint a close relative as guardian, but the guardian serves at the discretion and convenience of the state, and the state technically has the final say.  I have concerns that guardianship laws could be crafted to give them the authority to have the ward euthenized.  Or if the guardian is fundamentally opposed, I can easily see another family member attempting to convince the court that it would be in the ward's best interest and ask it to transfer guardianship to someone who would be willing to follow through.  A proposed law that would significantly expand the definition of a "vulnerable adult" would be a huge red flag.