– Bioethics, followed by medicine, began to take a very disturbing turn. Legalizing euthanasia, assessing patients in terms of their quality of life, which leads to rationing health care, starving people in a state of limited awareness. All this has become commonplace in the West – says Wesley J. Smith, lawyer and one of the leading activists of the American movement to protect life.
PIOTR WŁOCZYK: A “non-person” sounds like a term from a science fiction movie. It would seem that this is a completely niche idea with little chance of gaining wide public support. And yet here we are…
WESLEY J. SMITH: Unfortunately, such utilitarian thinking is growing in the world of Western bioethics. But how is this different from racism? My country has already experienced this monstrous division of people.
People like Vincent Lambert, Terri Schiavo, Charlie Gard, and Alfie Evans – defenseless, seriously ill patients – are considered less valuable than other people. Often times, people who consider racism a crime see nothing wrong with diminishing the value of the lives of people in a serious clinical condition. Therefore, we have to say over and over again that humanity is an objective matter – you are human because you exist. Period. You don’t have to meet any additional conditions to be considered a human. The objectification of human beings opens up extremely dangerous avenues.
Your book on the culture of death was first published in the United States in 2001. What has changed in this regard during this time?
When the first edition of my book appeared in bookstores, all these monstrosities were just looming on the horizon. For example, the precedent Terri Schiavo case has not yet occurred. Since then, bioethics, followed by medicine began to take a very disturbing turn. Legalizing euthanasia, assessing patients in terms of their quality of life, which leads to rationing health care, starving people in a state of limited awareness… All this has become commonplace in the West and so I decided to update my book.
I am glad that “The Culture of Death” was also released in Poland. I can assure you that these topics will also be present in your society. Poland is not yet influenced by the thoughts of the famous ethicist Peter Singer, but when it will have to be confronted with it, I would like Poles to be ready.
You end the introduction to the Polish edition with the words “Hurray for Poland!”. What do you see that makes you so optimistic about our society?
Firstly, I have great respect for Poles for their fight against communism. It is truly amazing that for so many decades Poles have resisted this system. In the context of our conversation, however, the most important thing for me is that in Poland human life is still viewed in terms of sanctity. Utilitarian ideas of dividing sick people do not yet have much social support from you. In this sense, Polish society presents a “healthy”, humanitarian approach to sick people. But I repeat – this threat is coming and you must be ready for the moment when a serious debate in particular on the legalization of euthanasia starts among you.
Who has the advantage in America today? People like you or the followers of Peter Singer?
In the world of bioethics in the US, there are certainly more people like Peter Singer than me. However, in the world of medicine, the opposite is still true. Most American doctors and nurses do not divide people into less and more valuable. The problem, however, is that people like Peter Singer teach our future doctors and nurses…This struggle on the perception of human beings is taking place before our very eyes. We must constantly strive to ensure that bioethics and the health care system are based on human rights and not on utilitarianism.
The prolife movement seems to be doing very well in the US. Doesn’t that make you optimistic about the future?
It is especially pleasing that many young people have joined the pro-life movement in recent years, as shown in the annual “March for Life” in Washington. The euthanasia wave was stopped in the US by the pro-life movement and the movement to defend the rights of people with disabilities. Interestingly, activists of the latter usually have left-wing views and support free access to abortion. Its members realized, however, that they were in fact hit by the legalization of assisted suicide (i.e. with the help of a doctor – ed.) and euthanasia. In this way, in the mid-1990s, a broad coalition of pro-lifers, the Catholic Church and the movement to defend the rights of people with disabilities was formed in the USA, which to this day is quite effective in combating the culture of death.
Who is on the other side?
People who have huge resources to implement their program. George Soros spends huge amounts of money in the US to promote assisted suicide and euthanasia. The organization Compassionate Choices, which is the main lobbying force here, receives millions of dollars from him. Add to that the mainstream media, which are allergic to the word “pro-life” and will automatically recognize that the opponents of this movement must be right.
The American prolife movement is a sensation in the West when it comes to driving force. Meanwhile, beyond your northern border, the situation is completely different.
Unfortunately, this is true and everything is possible in Canada today. Human life has become a very relative value there. Doctors in Canada are being forced to take part in killing people. Recently, an Ontario appeals court ruled that any doctor who is asked to perform assisted suicide, abortion or surgery on a transgender person must either do so or find a physician willing to do so. The religious views of the medics are irrelevant here, even though the Canadian constitution contains very clear provisions on the protection of conscience. These rights are even better protected in Canada than in the US – at least on paper. However, an Ontario court found that although such regulations violate the conscience of some doctors, citizens’ access to the cited medical “services” take precedence over the constitution…
How can a judge deliver such a clearly flawed decision?
It happens when implementation of a certain ideology takes priority over everything else. A judge from the referenced court of appeals stated that if a given doctor did not want to participate in such practices, he could always specialize in some other field, for example he could start transplanting…hair. This obviously destroys medicine. In such a legal order, believers will not want anything to do with many important branches of medicine, e.g. gynecology, neurology…
Therefore, all those for whom human life is an absolute value cannot stop repeating this fundamental truth. Otherwise, utilitarianism will completely poison our societies.
In your book you give examples of people who call you to ask for help, because doctors refuse to treat their ill relatives, guided by a utilitarian approach to life, assessing them in terms of their “quality of life”. And then it turns out that some of these patients recover after starting therapy. It seems that there are places in the world today where people must have the strength not only to deal with the illness of their loved ones, but also to fight doctors who are ideologues…
Yes, sometimes you have to go to war with utilitarian doctors, threaten them with lawsuits to defend your loved ones. This, of course, kills trust in doctors as a community. A man who knows a lot about this fight is Brother Terri Schiavo. Despite threats, he is still committed to containing the culture of death. As the battle for Charlie Garda’s life unfolded, his parents asked Brother Terri for help, and he flew to Britain and stood with them. For them it was invaluable support from someone who understood their drama perfectly.
Before I picked up your book, I thought that at least transplantology was out of this war. Meanwhile, it turns out that this is not entirely true. What are the biggest threats here?
The social contract stipulates that organs can only be collected from the dead. The brain must die before the organs can be removed. The Catholic Church supports this view. Now, however, utilitarian-minded bioethicists are straining confidence in all transplantology as they discuss the use of organs from humans whose brains have not died…Such are the logical effects of using the term “non-person” on patients who are not conscious.
When it comes to public confidence in transplantology, it is broad, but very shallow. If people become suspicious that doctors view their seriously ill relatives as an organ farm, it could break faith in this extremely important branch of medicine.
As you yourself emphasize, this is still just a discussion – no one is trying to implement it.
The whole revolution in bioethics began with a discussion… Unfortunately, we are already dealing with very serious abuses in transplantology. Not everyone knows that in Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia is associated with organ harvesting. Many of the people who end their lives are people who suffer from mental illnesses. The law in these countries allows a physically healthy person with mental disorders to legally commit suicide with the help of the state.
The use of the argument that their deaths will save other people’s lives can push them all the more to take their own lives. In this case, mentally ill people can see meaning in their own death. This is one of the horrible consequences of introducing a culture of death.
Why are you arguing that legalizing euthanasia always has a devastating effect on the healthcare system? What might the death of a fearful or demented man have to do with other parts of the system?
Euthanasia kills the value of life in society. We get used to the idea that it is not always necessary to save people. We should also remember that other people are involved in killing the sick. The havoc it causes in their sensitivity to life… People are driven to suicide mainly by fear of helplessness, pain, and loss of dignity. By agreeing to euthanasia, we simply acknowledge our worst fears. Our response should be love, maximum care and accompanying the seriously ill, not killing them.
Wesley J. Smith is a lawyer, one of the leading activists of the American pro-life movement. His most famous book “Culture of Death: The Age of Do Harm Medicine”, was published in Poland in 2019.
This article was published in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.