If you are wondering what the next social debate in the United States will be, NPR host Diane Rehm spelled it out recently in a public campaign: assisted suicide.

Those like Rehm who believe terminally ill patients should be to able to end their lives with help from physicians typically avoid the words suicide and mercy killing. The bald truth of those words would not win support for the movement. Still, Rehm declared that Jack Kevorkian, who went to jail for killing terminally ill patients, “was before his time” and that “the country wasn’t ready.”

But it’s apparently ready now. The agenda is set. Death will not be defeated.

Assisted suicide—defined as a physician providing a patient the means to take his or her own life, usually through medicine—is now legal in five states, with several more currently considering end-of-life legislation. California resident Brittany Maynard’s 2014 crusade to take lethal drugs rather than face terminal brain cancer sparked 20 newspapers in 11 states to endorse “death with dignity.” Inspired by Maynard, one woman diagnosed with cancer is suing California for the “right to die.” She is not alone: Some studies identify a “suicide contagion” after media coverage of events such as Maynard’s death. One pro-life nonprofit found that, during the media attention before Maynard’s November 2014 death, the number of lethal prescriptions written in Oregon was 39 percent higher than the state’s monthly average.

To paraphrase Dickens, terminal illness is that “vague, uncertain horror” that threatens us all. Most of us have friends or loved ones who have faced cancer head-on. ...

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