On June 5th 2007 George Delury (74) committed suicide. For those readers who don’t remember him, Delury gained notoriety for the 1995 assisting the suicide of his wife, Myrna Lebov (52) at their Manhattan apartment. Although euthanasia advocates initially expressed confidence that Lebov had not been coerced, nothing could have been further from the truth. That’s exactly what happened! Delury let his wife know, in no uncertain terms, that she was a burden on him. Four months before his wife’s death, Delury made the following entry in his diary (which he let Myrna read):
“I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic]like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact it appears that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.”
Not exactly the sort of message to make a person feel valued, welcome, or wanted by their mate. The whole sordid story of what led to Myrna Lebov’s assisted suicide is chronicled in Wesley J. Smith’s book FORCED EXIT: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (Random House, 1997). It’s a critical addition to the personal library of anybody concerned about where North America is headed with euthanasia and assisted suicide. Smith presents insights about how Delury helped destroy his wife’s will to live “by making her feel worthless and a burden on him.”
I am chronically ill with degenerative multiple sclerosis, and have been relegated to the life in a wheelchair and various indignities of a neurological disease attacking internal functions. I am acutely aware of the distance most people keep from me – be it physical or emotional. As unfair as it is, I am aware of the slightest expressions on people’s faces of pity, shock or disgust – sometimes real and sometimes just perceived. I am aware that I do not fit in and that people must make special accommodations to include me. There is always a little nagging question in the back of my mind: When they turn away, do they roll their eyes or grit their teeth?
People with chronic illnesses or serious disabilities live in an intolerant world that celebrates youth, beauty and health more than love. Each time I hear of an assisted suicide I wonder how many rolled eyes or gritted teeth did the person see? How many exasperated sighs did they hear when they asked for help?
Assisted suicide is cheap compassion because it is not really compassion at all. It does not require love or commitment to the common good of society. It celebrates self as the final authority. The eyeless “I” cries: “Every man for himself!” It calls to the individual who has sunk beneath the waves of circumstances, the miasma of depression or misery, and says you are your own master; you have no responsibility to the common good. Assisted suicide is aligned with human despair and says it is insurmountable. Euthanasia is murder and assisted suicide is a form of murder. It deforms the sacred image of both assister and assisted. It abandons the beauty of selfless love.
All true beauty stems from love – be it human or divine. Saint John tells us that God is love (1 John 4.8). As children of God (4.4, 5.2, cf. John 1.12) we are called to love one another. The Apostle tells us,
In the interests of maintaining transparency about Macdonald’s death, Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition rightful asked the RCMP to investigate whether Canadian law against assisted suicide had been violated (specifically Section 241 of the Criminal Code). Without the restraining influence of this law, other vulnerable people are at risk of seeking assisted suicide. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director, Alex Schadenberg, was met with a firestorm of criticism from autonomists.
The rule of law! Apparently the autonomists do not believe in it. After all, laws have a restraining influence on autonomy. Schadenberg merely asked the valid and proper question about whether a Canadian law had been violated. The autonomists wanted no such determination. Their god is unfettered personal autonomy. They roasted Alex Schadenberg for daring to ask a legitimate question.
I am glad there is an organization like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada to advocate life with dignity rather than death for people like me. I am glad there are people like Alex Schadenberg who dares to ask unfashionable questions. He has the courage to face detractors who would try to shout him down and would abandon the rule of law for the sake of any individual or cause.
Individual choices impact others. If I have assisted suicide, it will detrimentally impact my wife, children and grandchildren. It will affect my doctor because I will ask her to stop being a healer and start being an executioner. It will impact my community, and possibly even my nation, by helping to entrench the notion that there is such a thing as a life unworthy of life.
And that is why I do not have a right to ask for assisted suicide and you have a duty not to grant such a request.