This is the testimony that FACT President David Fowler provided to the members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in conjunction with the June 9, 2015 hearing on the merits of legalizing assisted suicide in TN.
I appreciate the gravity of the question presented to you by the amendment offered to Senate Bill 1362. I appreciate, too, the emotional gravity associated with death. It will come for all of us, and its certainty is a reminder for all of us to number our days that we might live them wisely. And the issue of painful deaths is not an abstraction for me; I have personally experienced the death of my mother by cancer and of my mother-in-law over the course of several months as her aging body failed her.
These are delicate situations in which emotions can overrule the mind and obscure the ethical dimensions of our decisions. Having once obscured them, we may find ourselves moving forward toward future decisions without those ethical principles to serve as our guiding light.
Therefore, as you move forward, I ask you to also consider and answer for yourself these questions, starting with the most basic of questions: There was a man, a private citizen, who went into another man’s home and killed him. Is that ethically wrong?”
The next question is whether the ethical nature of the act depends on what the civil law does or does not say. In other words, does the ethical nature of the killing just described depend on whether there is a civil law prohibiting murder?
Assuming that your answer to these question is that the act of killing so described is unethical and that a law prohibiting murder only recognizes what is already unethical and does not make the act less ethical because of the legal prohibition, then we must ask ourselves some questions as to what circumstances, if any, might change the ethical nature of the act.
For example, does your assessment of the ethical nature of the killing change if I tell you that the killer thought the man he killed was an evil person?
Does your assessment of the ethical nature of the killing change if I tell you that the victim, wracked with self-knowledge that he’d done much evil in his life, asked the man to kill him?
Does your assessment of the ethical nature of the killing change if I tell you that the killer had said the man he killed was going to die someday anyway?
Does your assessment of the ethical nature of the killing change if I tell you that the killer has said the man he killed was feeling so ill when he came upon him that death put him “out of his misery?”
Does your assessment of the ethical nature of the killing change if I tell you that the killer said the man he killed was feeling so ill that when he came upon him the sick man asked him to put him “out of his misery?”
Would any of these acts by a private citizen of bringing about the death of another be transformed ethically because the state authorized them, or would it be an unjust law?
If not, then how does one’s anticipated life expectancy or one’s evaluation of one’s misery transform the ethical nature of the act of one person taking the life of another into one that is acceptable? If it does transform the ethical nature of the act, then why could not self-loathing or guilt transform it as well, such as with the man who thought himself evil and deserving of death? After all, aren’t all people appointed once to die anyway?
If all people will die, then what is there about the nature of waiting until someone thinks there are only a certain number of months left before that appointed time that makes it more ethical for someone to help kill that person? Why not allow assistance any time a person wants to reorder their “appointed time” to die?
Ethically, why should we not allow any person, and not just a doctor, to come to the aid of anyone who wants to end his or her life? Is the ethical nature of the act changed because it is a doctor and not a legislator or schoolteacher who comes to the person’s aid?
And why not allow people to come to another’s “aid” by any means the person chooses? Is the ethical nature of the act changed because it is a pill and not a pistol that brings about the desired end?
As I think of my responses to these questions, I come to the conclusion that only the state, acting as the state, and only as an act of justice in response to a crime of highest moral turpitude, determined in accordance with due legal process, should actively take the life of another person and no private individual, acting in a private capacity, should have the power or right to take or participate in the taking of another person’s life. I hope you will come to that same conclusion.
Thank you for your consideration,
Family Action of Tennessee, Inc.
On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee heard testimony from various physicians, ethicists, attorneys, and advocates for the disabled community on legislation that may be considered next year to allow physicians to prescribed lethal doses of medications to patients who are “terminally ill.” The testimony in favor of the legislation certainly pulled on the heartstrings, but questions from Senator Richard Briggs, along with testimony from those opposed to the legislation, illuminated the troubling ethical issues underlying the “compassion” of the “death with dignity” movement. The testimony of Dr. David Stevens Testimony, Executive Director for the American Academy of Medical Ethics, explaining the problems such legislation raises, is rather short and worth the read.