According to Time magazine, Charlie and Francie Emerick of Portland, Oregon committed physician-assisted suicide together on April 20, 2017. The Emericks—who were in their late eighties, had been married for 66 years, and were both terminally ill—obtained lethal drugs through legal means pursuant to their state’s assisted suicide law. Two of their daughters assisted them in taking their own lives.
The Emericks allowed their daughter and son-in-law “to document and film their conversations and preparations right up to their deaths. It was supposed to be a remembrance only for the family, but they ultimately decided to have the clips edited into a film that could be shared outside of the immediate family. The result is ‘Living & Dying: A Love Story,’ a documentary that details the background of the Emericks’ final decision and their resolve in carrying it out.” The stated purpose of the documentary was “‘to help people change the way they think about dying.’”
New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation is saddened by the Emericks’ tragic choice and dismayed at the existence of this documentary. To us, it seems that the true purpose of the documentary—and of Time’s approving article about it—is to normalize and legitimize physician-assisted suicide.
Assisting another person in attempting or committing suicide is a crime in the State of New York. There are good reasons for this. All innocent human lives have value and worth, and the lives of terminally-ill persons are no exception to that principle. Furthermore, every moment of a person’s life has value and worth, even if that person is terminally ill. Accordingly, no one has the right to take an innocent life, even if they are asked to do so by a person who wishes to commit suicide. Legalizing assisted suicide for terminally ill persons would send a disturbing message that some lives really are not worth living. Furthermore, as New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms’ (our affiliated organization) position paper explains, physician-assisted suicide carries with it a series of troubling potential consequences; those consequences include the potential for patients to feel that they have a “duty to die,” the potential for misuse of lethal drugs, the potential for persons to commit assisted suicide when they could have outlived their terminal prognoses or recovered from their illnesses altogether, and the potential for assisted suicide laws to be expanded to allow for euthanasia.
Compassion for terminally ill persons does not mean helping them to expedite their demise. Terminally ill persons need aid in living, not physician-assisted suicide.