February 8, 2024
By Jim Towey
I was in Miami last week and saw a man lying on the pavement, motionless. He wasn’t dead. But he didn’t move. He rested directly next to the entrance to the Missionaries of Charity convent and across the street from the soup kitchen and shelter they operate.
The Sisters told me that many who came with high hopes to America had been snared in the alluring lure of drug addiction to escape the realities they faced. The nuns of Mother Teresa care for these newcomers and feed 200 people a day and house 19 women and their children. They have been doing this work on that street for over 40 years.
City of Miami officials have attempted in vain to stop the “tent cities” in neighborhoods like Overton where the Sisters operate. No sooner are settlers evicted from the sidewalks than a new cohort replaces them (or returns). Camillus House, the huge homeless shelter nearby, is packed to capacity. When that happens, all that is left for people like that man is the pavement. And the Sisters.
The new default solution?
I share this experience with no intention of getting into the immigration, border security, and other debates that are front and center in the upcoming presidential election. My purpose is to expose how the legalization of assisted suicide inevitably will be the default solution to intractable problems like the one this man faces.
Social services budgets are strained. The compassion fatigue of taxpayers has set in. It is easier and cheaper to say to that man, “You have a drug problem, no money, no family, no job, nowhere to live. We do not have mental health, job training, and housing services that will help you become self-sufficient and capable of functioning independently. We are sorry that you are miserable and have no path out of your predicament. What we can do to help end your misery is to assist you in ending your life. That way your pain will be over and you will be at peace.”
More suicide, less respect for life
One usually thinks of assisted suicide as an end-of-life option for the terminally ill. States like Oregon that first legalized it initially did so with great caution and a myriad of protections to avoid abuse, carefully limiting government-sanctioned killing of others by their doctors to situations when death was imminent and no recovery possible.
But of course, that fire wall long ago crumbled. I recently read of a 28-year-old Dutch woman living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, who also had autism, anxiety, and ADHD. She was euthanized last month, at her own request, under her country’s laws.
Canada goes even further. Not only is “medical aid in dying” available to the disabled and other non-terminally ill applicants, but it will be available to the mentally ill, too. The government had to pause its headlong rush to abet suicide last week because the country didn’t have enough trained mental health professionals necessary to facilitate it. As with the city of Miami and the man on the pavement, Canada has no plan to help the mentally ill, disabled, and others who need our compassion, supportive services and caring to live. Only a quick, final exit.
The Huffington Post recently had an opinion piece entitled, “How We Die Is No One’s Business But Our Own.” The author, Bruce Maiman, argues that it is a “private decision about a personal matter that is absolutely nobody else’s business…(it) will affect you in no way whatsoever.”
Is that so? Once a legal system is in place that accommodates his desire for autonomy through a government-sanctioned assisted death, it will be in place for others who don’t have money, friends, caregivers, or the freedom Maiman enjoys. Government and private health insurers will steer the vulnerable to it as a “humane” way to end suffering and oh, by the way, to cut costs and shed responsibility for the care of residents who live at our mercy and whose care is costly and exhausting. So, yes, Maiman’s demand for autonomy does affect others.
The poet John Donne makes this point best:
The question Cain’s guilty conscience led him to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, also remains relevant as proponents for assisted suicide press their agenda. The man on the pavement is glad that some women in Miami have a different one.
(The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Aging with Dignity and/or its Board of Directors.)