Arguments for self-administered euthanasia quickly turn gruesome under close scrutiny.

Earlier this year, Dr. Jack Kevorkian used his “suicide machine” to help 54-year-old Janet Adkins, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, take her own life. Many criticized the doctor, but few condemned the Oregon schoolteacher for her desperate act.

Could it be we have mistaken confusion for compassion?

The most common arguments for approving assisted suicide center on the notion of a person’s right to avoid suffering, and his or her right to make a rational decision to seek “aid in dying.” Research, however, reveals that nearly all suicide is aided or quietly approved by someone close to the desperate individual. Without subtle messages of approval, few would take their lives.

And among the terminally ill, suicide can be prevented if people are treated for depression. Even among the debilitated, the will to live is robust and will help the body to fight disease and prolong life.

If depression and subtle messages are key factors in suicide, how can we talk so blithely about the individual autonomy and rational choice of people like Janet Adkins, especially when we learn from a televised interview that her husband, Ron, had great difficulty handling his wife’s illness? In light of this, Rita Marker, director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, has raised some serious questions: Did Janet Adkins find herself “in the untenable position of handling both her illness and her husband’s emotional needs”? asks Marker. Once experimental treatments proved worthless, no one in her family questioned her interest in assisted suicide. “Instead,” writes Marker, “there was a rush to help carry out the decision.… What must have gone through the ...

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