By: Josie Luetke
Imagine a man on death row. Some of you probably support his being there, or at least raise no objection.
Imagine that he has been fighting his impending execution for years when he learns he has terminal cancer.
Suddenly, his will to live vanishes. To be spared the anguish of cancer, he wishes to be euthanized, but the state where he’s imprisoned does not permit euthanasia. So, he abandons the process of appealing his sentence, and is killed by lethal injection.
Question to my death penalty supporters: Are you comfortable with this outcome or did his desire to die eliminate your desire to kill him? Because death should only be foisted upon the unwilling? And if you are comfortable, I suppose you wouldn’t mind that there could be some people lying in their hospital beds right now wishing to meet the same fate as he and feeling as though they’re being punished for not having committed the same crimes.
Imagine the inverse scenario: a free man on the outside, but one struggling with great mental torment and grief, who has been fighting against pro-life forces for years, wants to be euthanized. When it appears that he will not succeed, and seeing no other option, he confesses to being responsible for unsolved murders from decades past. He is handed the death penalty, and is finally killed by lethal injection, which he long sought and pro-lifers long opposed for him.
Has my point become apparent?
It’s not impossible to simultaneously support the death penalty and oppose euthanasia/assisted suicide (as much smarter minds than mine do), but at the very least, it’s a very tenuous position to maintain – to oppose killing when it’s viewed as a reprieve but to support it as a penalty.
I know some of you would rush to distinguish between killing the guilty versus the innocent, but remember that the second man was guilty all along, even if no one else knew it, and the first man could very well be innocent; there have been countless cases of wrongful conviction before. The line between innocent and guilty is never as clear as we’d like it to be, especially in a world full of sinners.
Also consider that many of the arguments against euthanasia/assisted suicide are applicable in the debate over capital punishment.
We worry about doctors becoming killers, but don’t wring our hands over those who wear the title “executioner” …because at least their roles are clearly defined? Except, of course, sometimes medical professionals are involved in supervising executions. I’m sure they aren’t likely to confuse a prison for a hospital though, so at least there’s that small comfort.
Similarly, pro-lifers are fond of asking, “Who among us is entitled to play God and decide who should live and who should die?” but evidently death penalty supporters will answer “judges.” Of course, there’s an awkward pause when we recall Carter v. Canada and all of the other legal cases in which judges have affirmed not just the permissibility to kill, but a supposed right to be killed. No matter, however; sometimes judges get things wrong. They don’t get things wrong when it comes to doling out the death penalty, or maybe they do, but let’s call that collateral damage.
“Killing is not a solution to suffering,” we intone as well, but not on principle—just vaguely, rather.
Finally, there’s our conviction that life is always worth living—that even in the darkest of days, we can find meaning and purpose and potentially redemption, but maybe this claim requires an asterisk. Sure, we’re all made in the image and likeness of God and are inherently valuable, but the retort could be that non-state killers forfeit their right to life when they take another’s life, and it’s only suitable to demonstrate that to them by taking theirs.
In all seriousness, though, even if there’s an ethical difference between the state taking the life of a criminal in retribution and taking the life of a patient in pain, in a weird denial of mercy in the two cases (but not for an aversion to killing in the latter), I think a position against both is a lot stronger and more coherent.
Not only ought we to reject the alleged “right to die” (or more accurately, “right to be killed”), but so too ought we reject any alleged license to kill (at least when there are no other lives threatened), and especially and categorically any notion of (human) “life unworthy of life.” As English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge proclaimed, “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.”