I think it was Bill Buckley who said you can know a man’s politics based on his opinion of Israel and abortion. It may not have been Buckley, but that’s my recollection. His point was not that you had to agree with him on either of these topics. It was that your reasoning would reveal things about you that were definitive. I’ve always liked that type of litmus test and I have expanded that list for my own tastes.
One on my list is the topic of euthanasia, which George Will writes about in his latest column. I’ll say up front that I oppose government efforts to punish people who commit suicide. I’m also against charging people who try and fail as that’s pretty much the definition of kicking a man while he is down. In almost all cases, suicide attempts are a symptom of serious psychological problems. These people need help, not punishment.
Society has a responsibility to take control of those who lack agency or whose behavior is a danger to themselves or others. Someone trying to kill themselves is someone who is a danger to themselves or others, so we take control of them by force if necessary. If the reasons for their suicidal actions can be addressed, then you let them loose or turn them over to the care of their loved ones. If not, you take reasonable measures to guard them from themselves.
Proponents of assisted suicide dance around all of these issues as we see in the Will column. They also avoid the problems that arise from giving doctors a right to kill people who request it. Nowhere else in the law do we make exceptions in the law in favor of a two party agreement. That’s what a verbal agreement is between a doctor and a patient. It is a verbal contract.
Common law has always held that a contract is unenforceable when the result of fulfilling the contract violates the law. The classic example in contract law is the contract for murder. No court will compel a hit-man fulfill a murder contract. It also means the contract does not provide a shield to those who break the law in order to fulfill a contract.
To carve out an exception so a doctor can put a pillow over granny’s face without being charged with murder is just about impossible. The one exception we allow for homicide is self-preservation. Taking a life to defend life is permitted because self-preservation trumps everything in the hierarchy of limiting principles. That means you can kill a burglar or kill in war time. It even extends to capital punishment, which is in defense of society.
Convenience and practicality are not principles that trump life. Sympathy is certainly not the basis for an exception either. If we let the doctor kill granny out of a sense of mercy, then you have to let her family kill her too. After all, who could possibly have a greater sense of mercy for poor old granny than her family?
The way around it is to limit the power to kill granny to state agents. That brings us back to the death panels and technocrats plugging your vitals into spreadsheets to determine your fate. But the state can only have powers given to it by the people and the people do not have the right to kill granny because she’s sick and ready to check out. The state can kill in self-defense, but that’s it.
This is why I think this is a good litmus test issue. George Will can meander around to supporting what he used to say made the Soviets evil, but only by avoiding anything resembling critical thinking. That either makes him dishonest or stupid, maybe both. Either way, it’s the sort of thing that lets me know he is not a serious person.
In the event you think I’m being pedantic; I have no problem with doctors giving people morphine or even crack if it will relieve their pain in their final days. Letting a doctor prescribe powerful pain medications that gives the dying person comfort is easy. In fact, we don’t even need laws to permit it, just laws to prevent scumbags from suing over it. This has been something doctors and patients have handled on their own since forever.
And yes, there will be times when the doc gives granny a script for enough pain killers to kill a horse, which she will use to take herself out at home. This is the vast gray area where the law must end, and the hidden rules take over. In other words, the doctor is trained where the lines are so he can write the script and let granny decide for herself but do so without endorsing murder or violating his oath.
A conservative understands this. George Will does not.