Euthanasia: A Thing Of The Past Or Future?

In December 2008, after a semester studying abroad in Europe, I spent a week roving the historic streets of London before returning home to the States.  With a thin wallet that is common enough for students at the end of their study abroad semesters, I found the publicly funded, free-admission museums of London particularly alluring. 

While wandering the corridors of South Kensington’s Science Museum, I came across a display that evoked feelings previously unfamiliar to me as a museum visitor.  Initially, the display labeled “euthanasia machine” sparked within me a morbid fascination, however, that initial curiosity quickly turned to horror and discomfort at being in such close proximity to (what I had initially thought was a model) the original euthanasia machine, developed by Australian Dr. Nitschke, nicknamed “Dr Death”.

Believed to be the first machine used to legally kill ill people, it was strangely unsettling to gaze upon the same computer screen that four other human beings had used to command their own deaths.  Then, upon recovering from my original shock, I also found it slightly offensive that they would put a tool for suicide on display at a museum that is frequented by families and schoolchildren.  Not surprisingly, I was not the first to think so.

Later, I found out that when the exhibit was first put on display in 2000, it was no less controversial. 

Ann Winterton, a Conservative Member of the British Parliament, sharply criticized the museum’s decision to put the exhibit on display, “I don’t think it falls within the remit of the Science Museum to stimulate debate and I don’t think it’s appropriate.  I’m rather surprised by the lack of sensitivity about this very important matter shown by those who have decided to put this macabre and horrible piece of equipment on show.”

Back in 2000, Ms. Winterton described this exhibit as yet another example in which England continued to the slide toward euthanasia.  Unfortunately, she was right on the mark.

LifeNews reported yesterday that there seems to be a strong surge from activists in Britain to legalize “assisted suicide”.  It seems the days when Britain wanted a death machine for their museums are but a pleasant memory, now activists are pushing to add them to their hospitals. 

Perhaps even more troublesome, is that this demand for assisted suicide, which was first reserved for the terminally ill, is now being promoted more and more for the disabled.  And because of Euthanasia’s illegality in Britain, a phenomenon known as ‘suicide tourism’ has started to become more popular. 

Suicide tourism can be described as citizens who desire assisted suicide, yet live in countries where it is illegal, and therefore travel to a country in which euthanasia is performed.

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith describes how assisted suicide is quickly widening its scope, “The most notorious cases of suicide tourism, such as Daniel James, a young man taken to Switzerland by his parents after a sports injury left him totally paralyzed, involved people with disabilities, not the terminally ill.  And even those bills that did so limit the license proposed to the dying, were never intended remain so restricted. Rather, the dying were the foot in the door.”

“Assisted suicide/euthanasia is not about terminal illnesses.  It never has been,” Smith concludes, adding, “The philosophy that underlies the movement–radical individualism and that killing is a proper means of ending human suffering–make it impossible to limit euthanasia to the dying and remain consistent to values.”

I will say that if the museum curator intended for the exhibit to have a lasting effect on its viewers, he was successful in my case.  For some, the exhibit might be a vision for the future.  For myself, it is a warning from the past that the sanctity of life must be fought for, to ensure that in the future, museums are the only place suicide machines are used.

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