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LIFE DIGEST: Advocacy for assisted suicide expanding to include chronically depressed

WASHINGTON (BP)–A new article in a leading bioethics journal demonstrates proponents of physician-assisted suicide increasingly are advocating extending the practice beyond the terminally ill to the chronically depressed, a pro-life spokesman says.

Jacob Appel, who teaches at Brown University in Providence, R.I., wrote in the May-June issue of the Hastings Center Report that the arguments used to defend assisted suicide for the terminally ill can be applied “in many cases of purely psychological disease,” including “repeated bouts of severe depression.”

“[T]he principles favoring legal assisted suicide lead logically to the extension of these rights to some medically ill patients,” Appel wrote. “Most likely, the taboo against assisted suicide for the mentally ill is a well-meaning yet misplaced response to the long history of mistreatment that those with psychiatric illness have endured in western societies.”

This is a time when the mentally ill “do not need to be protected, but empowered,” Appel said. “Our goal should be to maximize the options available to the mentally ill.”

Appel “most definitely” is not on the fringe, bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said.

His article appeared “in the world’s most prestigious bioethics journal,” and such calls for what is described sometimes as “rational suicide” have grown “increasingly mainstream” in recent years, Smith wrote in the July 5 online version of The Weekly Standard.

In Appel’s article, “we finally have a clearer picture of where the right-to-die crowd wishes to take America,” said Smith, a lawyer for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

He pointed to Switzerland and The Netherlands as examples of jurisdictions where assisted suicide has been extended as a right to those with mental illnesses. Of the reportedly 130 people whom Jack Kevorkian helped commit suicide, a majority was not terminally ill, Smith said. It is difficult to prove Oregon, the lone state that has legalized assisted suicide, has been able to limit the dying to the terminally ill, he said, because the government depends on reports from doctors involved in the practice.

“The natural trajectory of assisted suicide advocacy leads” to increasingly wider categories: “from the terminally ill, to the disabled and chronically ill, to the ‘tired of life’ elderly, and eventually to the mentally ill,” Smith said.

It is time for a genuine debate, he said.

“This debate should not pretend that the practice will be limited and rare and it should fully address the societal implications of transforming assisted suicide into a mere medical treatment,” Smith said. “[L]et’s stop pretending that assisted suicide legalization would be just a tiny alteration in public policy restricted only to the terminally ill. That clearly isn’t true.”

GOP VOTERS ON ABORTION — A recent poll shows 60 percent of Republican voters would be likely to vote for a presidential candidate who disagrees with them on abortion but agrees with them on a majority of other issues.

The survey found 35 percent of GOP voters would be unlikely to vote for a candidate they differed with on abortion, even if they agreed on a majority of other issues.

The poll, conducted by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, could prove interesting for the campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He is distinguished from the other leading candidates for the GOP nomination by his pro-choice position on abortion.

The survey of GOP voters also showed:

— 61 percent consider themselves pro-life, while 34 percent consider themselves pro-choice.

— 52 percent think abortion should be legal in certain situations; 28 percent believe it should be illegal in all circumstances, and 16 percent favor it being legal in all situations.

The survey of 2,000 Americans who described themselves as Republican voters was released June 27. Performance of the surveys was divided equally between telephone and the Internet.

NO TO PARENTS — New Hampshire has become the first state to repeal a law requiring parental notification before a minor has an abortion.

Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, signed legislation June 29 that reversed a 2003 measure mandating parental notice when an under-age girl requests an abortion.

Fergus Cullen, the state’s Republican Party chairman, criticized the governor’s action, saying, “One can be pro-choice and still believe that parents have a right to know whether their minor daughter became pregnant. Governor Lynch is saying that parents don’t have a right to know their minor children became pregnant.”

The 2003 law never took effect. A court blocked its enforcement after abortion rights organizations challenged it in court.

There are 29 states that have laws in effect that require the notification or consent of at least one parent or a guardian, or authorization by a judge, before a minor can have an abortion, according to the National Right to Life Committee.