80-year-old George Will has won a succession of awards for his op-ed, beginning with a 1977 Pulitzer Prize. He is generally regarded as one of America’s most influential conservatives. But on the increasingly fractious issue of euthanasia – or as he calls it, “medical aid in dying” – he is a libertarian conservative.
In two columns in The Washington Post this month (here and here), Will argued forcefully for the legalisation of euthanasia. He focused each column on the plight of a person with a terminal illness. One was a Connecticut woman in a same-sex relationship whose cancer has metastasised throughout her body. Will comments:
“Increased life expectancy, increased medical competence, increased secularism, and increased insistence on privacy and autonomy are producing increased support for legal regimes that respect the right of mentally capable and terminally ill individuals to protect themselves from lingering intense pain and mental decrepitude.”
The other column focused on 29-year-old man dying in agony of bladder cancer which had spread throughout his body. His wife had taken brilliant black-and-white photographs of his last days. Will comments that such unfortunate people should be able to escape their terrible pain:
“Crucially, MAID is for those who are already dying and want help — for preventing a hideous death, not for truncating an unhappy life. MAID — the medical management of a natural process — should be considered a supplement to hospice (palliative) care.”
And, anticipating ripostes about slippery slopes, Will writes:
Life is lived on a slippery slope: Taxation can become confiscation, police can become instruments of tyranny, laws can metastasize suffocatingly. However, taxation, police and laws are indispensable. The challenge is to minimize dangers that cannot be entirely eliminated from society.
The two columns were characteristically crisp and vigorous – but, as Wesley J. Smith argued in the National Review, they ignored many important issues and exaggerated others. They were eloquent sophistry, in his view.
Once suicide via euthanasia becomes an acceptable answer to human suffering — which is the fundamental principle underlying the right-to-die movement — there is virtually no limiting principle. Over time, as people get used to the death agenda, “protective guidelines” are redefined as “obstacles” to “death on your own terms.” And the laws loosen. Indeed, Will celebrates the ongoing relaxing of eligibility standards in states that have already legalized assisted suicide.