We don’t speak plainly in public discourse anymore. Rather, we equivocate and deploy euphemisms to sanitize our debates. Take the passing of Brittany Maynard by her own hand, which the media has repeatedly characterized as an act of “dignity.” To be sure, Maynard died with human dignity—but not because she committed suicide. Human dignity is intrinsic. Indeed, to accept the premise of suicide as death with dignity says—or at least strongly implies—that patients who expire naturally die with indignity.
When we look more deeply at arguments in favor of legalizing assisted suicide, we see that the assisted suicide discussion is really more about what I will call the aesthetics of dying than it is about potential pain. This is no small matter. Nor is it in the least a frivolous concern. Worries about lost looks or, perhaps, how the sick room might smell can be devastating to those approaching the end of life.
Indeed, our self-esteem—and perhaps more important, how we perceive that others view us—can materially impact our mental and emotional states as we approach the end of life. (For example, I used to be a hospice volunteer. One of my patients became so distraught by his changed appearance that he covered all the mirrors in his home.)
[This article was originally published by First Things (Nov. 11, 2014) and is here reprinted with permission.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant for the Patients Rights Council.]
Originally published in Lifeline Vol. XXIV, No. 1 (Winter 2015)