Dan Savage on Assisted Suicide and Religion

Dan Savage, well-known for his column Savage Love, has written a moving essay, “In Defense of Dignity” on the very recent death of his mother in The Stranger. It is cast, in part, in terms of the upcoming referendum ballot in Washington state on assisted suicide, I-1000. Reading the article, together with the comments in toto is highly recommended, but here’s an excerpt:

People must accept death at “the hour chosen by God,” according to Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Catholic Church, which is pouring money into the campaign against I-1000. The hour chosen by God? What does that even mean? Without the intervention of man—and medical science—my mother would have died years earlier. And at the end, even without assisted suicide as an option, my mother had to make her choices. Two hours with the mask off? Six with the mask on? Another two days hooked up to machines? Once things were hopeless, she chose the quickest, if not the easiest, exit. Mask off, two hours. That was my mother’s choice, not God’s. Did my mother commit suicide? I wonder what the pope might say. I know what my mother would say: The same church leaders who can’t manage to keep priests from raping children aren’t entitled to micromanage the final moments of our lives.

If religious people believe assisted suicide is wrong, they have a right to say so. Same for gay marriage and abortion. They oppose them for religious reasons, but it’s somehow not enough for them to deny those things to themselves. They have to rush into your intimate life and deny them to you, too—deny you control over your own reproductive organs, deny you the spouse of your choosing, condemn you to pain (or the terror of it) at the end of your life. The proper response to religious opposition to choice or love or death can be reduced to a series of bumper stickers: Don’t approve of abortion? Don’t have one. Don’t approve of gay marriage? Don’t have one. Don’t approve of physician-assisted suicide? For Christ’s sake, don’t have one. But don’t tell me I can’t have one—each one—because it offends your God.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide will always be controversial. Getting beyond the strictly religious reasons on both sides is one step to more sensible discussions. In some contexts, a vote not to assist is a vote to extend pain and suffering, as well as a vote to override a person’s informed consent about his or her own future and the wishes of those closest to that person. Who has THAT authority?

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