Hawaii legalised assisted suicide this week. It becomes the seventh American jurisdiction to do so. Since 1997, the legislatures of Hawaii, Oregon, Washington state, California, Colorado, Vermont and the District of Columbia have passed laws permitting assisted suicide. In Montana, a court decision found that it was legal, but there has been no legislation.
The new law follows the controversial Oregon model. One of the drawbacks of this legislation is its definition of "terminal illness". It is usually understood to be a condition which will lead to death withinn six months or a year. But if a patient decides to spurn all treatment, treatment which could keep them alive for years, his or her illness will automatically become "terminal". This is a flimsy basis for such an important law.
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IN DEPTH THIS WEEK
Political commentators in the US have clashed over new state legislation that seeks to prohibit abortion on the grounds of Down Syndrome. In an op-ed in the Washington Post early last month, journalist Ruth Marcus argued that legislative moves to ban Down Syndrome abortion were “unenforceable, unconstitutional -- and wrong”. Marcus argued that the decision to terminate a pregnancy based on a Downs diagnosis should “be left to individual women, not to government officials who believe they know best”. She criticised North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana for passing legislation that prohibited abortion based solely on the grounds of Down Syndrome.
In a scathing response, conservative political pundit George F. Will wrote that the real “Down Syndrome problem” is the “ethical complacency” with which people around the world choose to abort trisomy-21 children. Will alerted readers to the near 100% abortion rate of Downs pregnancies in Iceland, describing this feat as a form of “genocide”.
Late last month, American journalism lecturer Tim J. McGuire entered the debate, arguing that, while abortion decisions should remain an individual choice, the decision to abort a Downs child was “just plain wrong”:
Trinity International University academic Neil Skjoldal made a similar observation, writing in a blog post that “when we decide who to treat as people, we dehumanize all”.Everybody is different in some way, and everybody has a special contribution to make to the world. We enter dangerous ground when we decide some gifts are worth exalting and others are worth destroying.