Who’s Next?

On January 7, thousands of our fellow Americans converged on Washington—and according to one organizer, the mood of the crowd was characterized by fear and outrage. Who were these demonstrators, and what were they asking for? Quite simply, they were asking that they not be killed. The crowd which gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court was made up of disabled Americans—possibly the biggest gathering of disabled Americans ever. They had come to protest in front of the Court, which was hearing oral arguments in landmark cases: Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg, formerly known as Compassion in Dying v. Washington. In both of these cases, circuit courts overturned state laws—one in Washington, the other in New York—against physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court’s decision will affirm or deny the practice of euthanasia. People with disabilities fear that if the Court legalizes physician-assisted suicide, there will be tremendous pressure on them—that their lives may be taken involuntarily. And they believe such a decision will create enormous social pressures to keep the disabled from being born in the first place. After all, it can be argued, from both the family’s and society’s point of view, that severely disabled people are burdens. That’s why groups representing the disabled are urging the Supreme Court not to legalize euthanasia. The disabled are under no illusions about how this new so-called “right” would be used. As Stephen Gold, a lawyer representing the group Not Dead Yet told USA Today, “people with severe disabilities are petrified they will be next.” In his friend-of-the-court brief, Gold described how the disabled are already coerced into ending treatment. The problem will only worsen, Gold warned, if the Court affirms the circuit courts in these cases. Of course, advocates of physician-assisted suicide are tripping all over themselves to reassure the disabled. Faye Girsh of the Hemlock Society insists that “the right-to-die movement will never have the intention to eliminate vulnerable populations, including the disabled.” What nonsense. The consequences of legalizing physician-assisted suicide are obvious. When Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer warned that once you create a right to terminate “inconvenient” life, it’s all downhill from there. Shaeffer knew the same logic that justified abortion could easily justify euthanasia, infanticide, and even genocide. And that’s why many of us have always believed that abortion is about more than just abortion. January 7 ought to be circled in red on the calendar because it marks a decisive moment in American history. If the Court affirms physician-assisted suicide—euthanasia—it will fully embrace what Pope John Paul II calls “the culture of death.” On the other hand, if the Court turns back these cases, it might begin to undo some of the damage wrought by the lethal logic of the abortion decisions. The Gospel of John describes how the disabled of Jesus’ day would gather at a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. Jesus, demonstrating the love and compassion of God, came up to a man who had been lying there for many years and asked him a simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” Unless the Court hears the voice of those living on this most slippery of slopes, the question for millions of disabled Americans today won’t be Do you want to be healed? but You don’t want to be a burden on society, do you?  


Chuck Colson


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