Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to pass the Death with Dignity Act of 2015, which, barring any unforeseen intervention from Mayor Muriel Bowser, will become law. This will make D.C. the seventh U.S. jurisdiction to legalize doctor-prescribed death for terminally ill patients, in addition to Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, and California.
Euthanasia and doctor-prescribed death supporters claim that such laws are necessary to give people a choice about how and when they want to die. As they tell it, this choice allows people who are suffering to preserve their dignity.
But human dignity is not something that is obtained through public approval or government authorization. It is not dependent on able-bodiedness, lack of pain, a sound mind, age, relationship, or any kind of ability. All of these things are transient and can change in a moment.
The true beauty of human dignity is that it is inherent. People are valuable because they are people—not because they can check a bunch of boxes to prove their worth.
The sad reality is that those spearheading movements like Death with Dignity fail to grasp this truth. Instead, they’ve convinced many in our society that to die with their dignity intact means taking matters into their own hands and ending the one thing on which their humanity depends—their lives.
And why wouldn’t they? This fundamental misunderstanding of human dignity is prevalent in our culture.
Just look at how our society treats unborn children.
Abortion advocates tell pregnant women that the human life nestled within their womb is disposable. They think they can deny the dignity of a child until it is outside of the womb. This is certainly a convenient viewpoint for abortionists who make money off of killing unborn babies, but it is simply not true.
We don’t have the power to control someone else’s dignity. We can try to ignore it, we can try to convince others that their dignity is dependent on our approval, but we can never take it away.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas discussed this in-depth in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges.
In his opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that, “The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life,” and that the petitioners must be granted legalized same-sex marriage because they deserve “equal dignity under the law.”
But as Justice Thomas rightly clarified in his dissent, the Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to grant anyone their inherent dignity. It doesn’t work like that.
“Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate,” wrote Thomas. “When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.”
The truth is that no one gains their dignity simply because they receive certain government benefits. The government doesn’t bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away. Women did not magically gain their dignity when they obtained the right to vote or when coverture laws were removed.
Similarly, having a perfectly healthy body doesn’t grant someone their dignity until they become old, sick, or disabled. So why do movements like Death with Dignity seem so determined to convince others that it does?
The message we are sending by legalizing doctor-prescribed death and euthanasia (in other countries) is this: People are expendable once they don’t live up to the ideal. And that somehow a swift death sanctioned by a medical professional (or two) is a cure-all for whatever ails you. That’s dangerous ground.
We’re already seeing the severe consequences of this mentality in countries like the Netherlands where legalized euthanasia has been extended to those who can make a case for their own suffering. In fact, just this year a man was euthanized because he was an alcoholic and no longer wanted to live as one. A more detailed analysis of the euthanasia situation in the Netherlands and Belgium can be seen in the video below.
People who are suffering, whether it be emotionally, physically, or mentally, need help. They need people who will come alongside them and tell them that their lives have value in spite of their suffering—not people who will play judge, jury, and executioner in one fell swoop.
And if we really want to protect human dignity, like Death with Dignity supporters claim, then we can do so by eliminating this government-authorized culture of death that is currently poisoning our society.