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April 11, 2006

Dear Concerned Citizen,

by Wesley J. Smith

side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar The assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) doesn't want you to believe that assisted suicide by the terminally ill is really suicide.  The organization's "language kit," designed to help assisted suicide advocates promote their agenda in the media, complains that using the accurate and descriptive word "suicide" to describe self-killing by the dying is a pejorative term that paints "terminally-ill patients in the same negative light as terrorist bombers."

This is a ridiculous assertion.  First, to state that a terminally ill person who dies after intentionally swallowing a drug overdose has "committed suicide" is not to equate him with Osama bin Laden; it is to describe accurately the cause of death.  But more importantly, to claim that the dying, unlike other suicidal persons, don't really commit suicide when they kill themselves, is to imply strongly that the terminally ill are as good as dead anyway.

This may be the crucial point in the whole assisted suicide debate.  What these advocates don't understand is that dying isn't dead: It is living.  Indeed, as hospice workers and pastors can attest, the time of dying can be one of the most important and worthwhile stages of life that people ever experience.

My friend Bob proves the point.  When I met Bob as a hospice volunteer about eight years ago, he was in his mid-40s and completely disabled from ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease.  As we became good friends, he explained to me that he had become suicidal after receiving his devastating diagnosis. At that time, he told me, "If I could have gone to Jack Kevorkian, I would have."

I asked whether his suicidal despair had been caused by becoming progressively disabled.  Bob had always been athletic and he found it very hard to lose his physical capacities, he said.  But he became suicidal because he felt abandoned by his community.  As he put it: "First, my friends stopped visiting me.  Then, my friends stopped calling me.  Then, they stopped calling my wife, and I felt like a token presence in the world."

After two years of utter despair, Bob told me that he "came out of the fog" and was very glad to be alive.  He resented the notion that because he had a terrible illness some people advocated that his death be facilitated, whereas other suicidal people were to receive suicide prevention.  Indeed, he was so offended by the assisted suicide movement that he authored an opinion column for the February 19, 1997 San Francisco Chronicle, in which he wrote: [Accessible here by scrolling down: ]

Euthanasia advocates believe they are doing people like me a favor. They are not. The negative emotions toward the terminally ill and disabled generated by their advocacy is actually at the expense of the "dying" and their families and friends…What we, the terminally ill, need is exactly the opposite—to realize how important our lives are. And our loved ones, friends, and, indeed, society need to help us feel that we are loved and appreciated unconditionally.

Bob received this kind of inclusion from his family and eventually from the members of a new church he joined when some missionaries came to his door.  He spent the last months of his life enjoying his wife and three daughters, making money for his family with on-line investing, and collecting art.  He died peacefully in his sleep, having achieved a truly "good death" in a state of transcendence and calm acceptance.

Bob's experience was not unusual.  Dr. Ira Byock, the former president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and author of the splendid, Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life, put it this way when I interviewed him a few years ago: "Dying is a very scary, extraordinary time of life that requires adjustments and changes in expectations.  But so do other times of change, such as marriage, having a child, or losing a spouse.  What I have seen and know to be true is that people can exert a sense of mastery over this stage of life."

As Bob did.  And his story reminds us vividly that there is a vast difference between "wanting" to die out of fear of losing dignity and worries about being a burden—reasons usually cited by people wanting assisted suicide in Oregon—and being "ready" to die at peace, with calm acceptance when one comes to the natural end of life's journey.

Or, as Bob so beautifully summarized the point in his article: "In my view, the pro-euthanasia followers' posture is a great threat to the foundation upon which all life is based, and that is hope. I exhort everyone: Life is worth living, and life is worth receiving. I know. I live it every day."

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Responses to Big Love's Big Agenda:

The thing that irritates me most about this proposed series, is the fact that those who wrote it didn't bother to get their facts straight. I am a convert to the LDS church of over 30 years. This is where God let me and I am grateful He did. As I studied the church in detail before joining it, I learned some important things about the polygamy that was, at one time practiced. There was a good reason for it. The early Mormons were persecuted, brutalized and some even murdered to the point that there were hundreds of women and children left without someone to call upon for help when they needed it. At that time women were not considered by society as much more than chattel. This effort was instituted to help take care of these widows and fatherless children. In fact, when the United States government outlawed polygamy, immediately the church began to excommunicate individuals who chose to practice polygamy, a practice which is still in effect today. One of our very basic beliefs has been to be obedient to the law of the land. Yet, this program fails to mention the fact that if a family is living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a polygamous family..., they are not members of the Church. Contrary to what many believe, we are Christian. I was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. I am close to Him now than I have ever been in my life. He is my Savior. I have always enjoyed "to the source". It is my hope that you will continue to find out the truth of things before your espouse one thing over another. Big Love is an atrocious proposed program. I must admit tht I have always admired Tom Hanks, but in his association with this, he had dropped in my esteem. - Lorna Morton Hibbs

This was an excellent article, particularly helpful in that it didn’t just quote scripture and religious teachings. Too often in these days as soon as religion is mentioned people disregard the rest of the message, forgetting that there may be some generally accepted moral values that even secular people can affirm. The only problem with the article was the title. My spam filter immediately rejected it – too much spam uses the term “big” and “love” - William H. Lockhart, Ph.D

In your April 6th article about Big Love, you comment that “in the renegade Mormon community called Bountiful, reports periodically surface of child brides, child abuse and abandoned teen-age boys.” Before you make these accusations please double check your sources. Although there are polygamist groups where this type of behavior occurs, they are not “Mormon” communities and should not be associated with the Mormon church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints (i.e. the “Mormon” church) outlawed the practice of polygamy in 1890 and remains opposed to polygamy to this day, immediately excommunicating any member who are discovered to be practicing polygamy. There are several ultra-orthodox offshoots of the Mormon Church (i.e. the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), which quietly practices polygamy today. Perhaps the most famous polygamist communities are Colorado City, Arizona, just south of the Utah border, and its neighboring town of Hildale, Utah. I have never heard of a Mormon community called “Bountiful” that practices polygamy. There is a city in Northern Utah called Bountiful and a majority of residents do belong to the Mormon Church which outlaws polygamy! I know of no existing polygamist families in Bountiful, Utah and I lived there for over 20 years. Please be careful when making accusations about specific religious groups when there is no validation to back it up. You will note that the creators of Big Love try to make the connection between the Mormon church and polygamy by blasphemizing Mormon religious teachings in the film. As disrespectful and misleading as their actions are, they believe they have addressed the issue by placing a disclaimer at the beginning of the film giving audiences the same information I have given you here. I know that nothing like this would happen if it were any other religious group (i.e. Catholics, Jews, or especially Muslims). It is funny how tolerance is so biased in the way it is practiced. - Shaunna K. Burbidge

We believe that God knew what He was doing when He performd the first wedding between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Our only safety as a nation, as families, and as idividuals is to follow God's way for life-------One family unit of a man and a woman for the rearing and caring for children plus the other aspects in the marriage relationship. Remember that Rome was destroyed by the rampant violation of the use of sex. God made sex to be a beautiful source of love, not passion. Our country has wandered away from so many of the principles that bring God's blessing that unless we come back to obedience of His Ten Commandments,we will suffer more of His withdrawal of His Holy Spirit which is a very dangerous happenng. Why can't we accept Christ as our personal Saviour, study His Word and obey Him. Life would be so much simpler and happier for everyone. He will have to come in the clouds of glory to clean up this sin ridden earth if We do not obey Him. - C. K.

Responses to other tothesource articles:

Thanks for the great series you are doing on creation. God bless. - Pastor Donnie Plemons

Hi, I usually enjoy the discussions. In Dr. Schroeder's case, I had a problem with the ease of acceptance of the universe of billions of years--unless you were just trying to accurately report his view while still possibly retaining a view of a "young universe". I find the Intelligent Design arguments extremely compelling and useful in dialoguing with evolutionists while at the same time continuing, personally, to hold to a 6-day creation with "apparent age" to the earth and universe. Then...I find plenty of MYSTERY to it all and do reserve final judgment. I just marvel at the complexity of the single cell and the vast universe. Only God....! And the gospel is a deeper layer of frosting on top of all that! - Gordon Larson

Friends I am unhappy with the 'day age' theory in your articles. The biblical day is 24 hours. In Christ - Rev. M. J. Daly

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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wesley smith   Wesley J. Smith
Smith is an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. His book Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (1997), a broad-based criticism of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement was published in 1997. His book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, a warning about the dangers of the modern bioethics movement, was named One of the Ten Outstanding Books of the Year and Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 (Independent Publisher Book Awards). Smith is an international lecturer and public speaker, appearing frequently at political, university, medical, legal, disability rights, bioethics, and community gatherings across the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.
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