New York Times columnist David Brooks has written a truly brilliant essay in the June issue of The Atlantic on how deeply problematic the liberal idea of physician assisted suicide has become in Canada. He does so by explaining how neo-liberalism and its ideals created this problem.
Good for David Brooks. Really.
He contends liberals “savor individual choice, but our individual choices take place within the framework of the gifts we have received, and the responsibility to others that those gifts entail.” He is right. Life requires that we have responsibilities, not just to ourselves, but to others. No human is an island, completely unto him or herself. This is a critical sanctity of life verity.
But for some reason, in explaining why inconvenient life is always worth preserving, even in the most troubling instances, he felt the need to go out of his way to say this ethic does not apply to the pre-born. It is a remarkably curious exception that he makes in a piece that argues so strongly and eloquently for caring about our responsibility to care for all life – even life which some claim is burdensome or irrelevant.
Brooks wrote that the committed pro-lifer is a problematic violation of his ideal because he or she “ignores individual circumstances and pays no heed to a social consensus.” This, while he argues so persuasively and resolutely against the individual circumstances that are regularly offered by Canadian officials for their ever-growing effort to end life that seems hopeless and while he contends the growing social consensus behind it are flat wrong.
This duplicity on Brooks’ part is worth noting because his case against medically-assisted suicide is so strong and he is surgically precise in applying it.
The fact that he can’t see that the same case applies to preborn infants is truly troubling for a writer who is such a keen observer and thinker.
Brooks correctly notes that when the Canadian government legalized medical assistant in dying – a program referred to by the acronym MAID – in 2016, “critics worried that before long, people who were depressed, stressed, or just poor and overwhelmed would also be provided assistance to die.” Brooks reports authorities were convincing anyone with concern that this would never happen.
Well, guess what?
Brooks explains, “the program worked out rather differently.” “Before long,” he adds, “the range of who qualifies for assisted suicide was expanded.” And doctors taking the lives of people who no longer wanted to live absolutely soared, as demonstrated in official Canadian government statistics.
Here are just a few of the examples Brooks offers.
Alan Nichols has become a famous case in Canada as he listed hearing loss as his primary reason for wanting to be put to death. The MAID system honored his request, and his life was taken by medical professionals by lethal injection.
A woman, Rosina Kamis, admitted it was not her physical suffering that caused her to want to die, but her mental suffering. She wrote a personal note to her legal guardian explaining, “I think if more people cared about me, I might be able to handle the suffering caused by my physical illness alone.” She was put to death legally by physicians in September 2021 by lethal injection for essentially feeling lonely.
A 23-year-old man was euthanized in 2022 because he was depressed, unemployed and lost vision in one eye due to diabetes. The Canadian doctor who killed this young man with the blessing of Canadian law explained the only criteria one needs to be put to death is:
1) Be over 18 years of age
2) Possess an insurance card
3) Declare experiencing “suffering that cannot be remediated or treated in some way that’s acceptable to you.”
If there is a bar lower than that for determining legal access to medically-assisted death, it is hard to imagine.
Brooks rightly thinks all of this is very troubling because it fails to call us to sacrifice and care for those who need us most. He explains, “Sometimes the old and the infirm, those who have been wounded by life and whose choices have been constrained reveal what is most important in life.”
Their existence calls us to the difficult challenge to offer care and protection, not the easy road of disposal.
Brooks also notes at the end of his long essay that “Doctors are there for healing, at all times and under all pressures,” adding “Patients can trust the doctor because they know the doctor serves life.”
Of course, he is right.
And Brooks sees so clearly here, but that clear vision is sadly selectively limited. He offers no similar word of defense for the life in the womb, that which is fully human and the most vulnerable. In fact, he goes out of his way to say it is indeed not a virtue to defend that preborn life, but extremism. He is to be praised for defending some life but judged strongly as well for being conveniently selective about which life to defend. Brooks is too smart a man to leave this to simple oversight.
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