A few hours after this was posted, Brittany Maynard’s death was announced. MercatorNet will repost shortly. 

There can be no more persuasive explanation than an attractive, intelligent young woman with tears trickling down her cheeks. As she dabs at her eyes, the trembling words always sound heart-piercingly right. Perhaps from an evolutionary perspective, we’re programmed to agree with her, because young women need to be protected so that they can live to have a family.

It’s the tears that sweep us away in the videos which Brittany Maynard has made with assisted suicide activists at Compassion and Choices, not the ideas. With more than 9 million hits on YouTube, it must have been the best-ever advertisement for right-to-die lobby. The ideas are pretty shop-worn. Marcia Angell, a campaigner for assisted suicide and a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, puts them in a nutshell in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “people are increasingly asking why anyone — the state, the medical profession, religious leaders — would presume to tell someone else that they must continue to die by inches, against their will.”

Laws must be changed, in other words, to support absolute autonomy. But if this is the case, isn’t it discriminatory to restrict this to the terminally ill? Why not lovelorn teenagers or impecunious grandmothers? It’s a blindingly obvious objection which is not refuted in the video.  

Sorry, no English sub-titles

Ironically, the same tear-soaked argument was used by the Nazis to persuade Germans to support assisted suicide. Brittany’s beautiful wedding photos, her artfully scripted message, the lachrymose piano chords, her family words of love and support — they all reminded me of a competent 1941 German melodrama called Ich Klage An (I Accuse). The young wife of a doctor begs for release before she becomes “deaf, blind, idiotic”; the family doctor refuses; her husband obliges. In a final speech before a jury her grieving husband accuses the law of being inhumane.

It seemed like a good argument then and an estimated 18 million Germans watched the film. It still seems like a good argument. The only problem, in both cases, is what comes afterwards… In Ich Klage An, the beautiful Hanna, like Brittany, is surrounded by people who only want the best for her, people who respect her autonomy. But the principle of assisted dying was then applied to tens of thousands of disabled Germans whose autonomy was ignored. Significantly, the Nazi secret police reported that audiences “were reluctant to face the moral implications of the film”. 

Thankfully Brittany has decided that life is still too good to die. She cancelled today’s rendezvous with death. I hope that she sticks around for a lot longer.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.