A woman's right to choose?

by Phyllis Zagano

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The other day, 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard earned a 500-word obituary in The New York Times because she killed herself. The newspaper calls her "the public face for the 'death with dignity' movement."

It has to stop. If you think all the talk about slippery slopes is exaggerated, think again. Human life is increasingly disposable. Connect the dots: abortion to euthanasia to killing unwanted souls simply because they are of the wrong ethnic background or the wrong religion.

Pro-life folks in many Western societies are typecast as "religious extremists" or "conservative hard-liners" when they object to the free-for-all abortionfest now gone around the world in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Next idea to party on is euthanasia, getting a PR push to expand beyond Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the five U.S. states that allow individuals to take their own lives with prescribed drugs.

Life is becoming cheap. Well, it is already cheap. It is becoming cheaper. What is next? Will societies ration medicines and treatments by some calculation of an individual's value? Will some demented triage take account of race, religion, ethnic background, social status, even age?

We know in terror-torn countries, worshipping the wrong god, or even the right god in the wrong way, is increasingly dangerous. Is that the most extreme end of abortion, euthanasia and rationed treatment?

Tell me, who gets to live? And why?

We recoil in horror learning of the 200 or so men, women and children executed near Baghdad not long ago. Their crime? Belonging to the wrong religious sect. We've seen the beheadings and heard of the atrocities by the crowd of bullies running around Syria and Iraq claiming to be an "Islamic State." They don't like to be called ISIS, and they certainly don't like ISIL. That latter name, preferred by the genuine governments in the world, predicts the marauding thugs' goals: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

What is the Levant, you ask? It is the Eastern Mediterranean. That would be Syria, surely, but also southern Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Palestine and Israel. That would include the Christian Holy Land. Think Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the place called Magdala.

That is the territory, but not their scope. The ultimate goal of ISIL is a world state, where all Muslims accept their policies, their laws, and especially their sick views of women. Today, ISIL creepily stalks Shiite Muslims, indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and Armenian Christians. They kill members of smaller non-Christian groups, including Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks, and Mandaeans. 

What does this have to do with abortion and euthanasia? Many years ago, an old pro-life priest told me: The life you save may be your own. As abortion on demand slithers around the world, societies accept the argument that some children need not be born. Equally, ISIL argues some people need not live.

The next stop is euthanasia. The step-by-step PR campaign for "assisted suicide" took a giant leap when Maynard became the "right-to-die" poster girl. She earned that right in a CNN opinion piece, explaining that she hoped "that this option is available to you."

Maynard and her husband moved from California to Oregon so she could die when and how she chose. Oregon joins Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and Vermont with such statutes. Seven U.S. states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) have pending legislation.

The legislation formalizes what goes on in every state in the union and in many developed nations. The patient saves pain medications, or the colluding doctor prescribes more pills or morphine than the patient needs. The problem for the right-to-die advocates, not to mention for the doctors, is that governments increasingly scrutinize the kinds of drugs the suicidal like to use. So the answer, they argue, is just to make it all legal.

But legal is not necessarily ethical and is certainly not moral. What kinds of boulders will we hit sliding down this slope? In some countries, hospitals cannot refuse to perform abortions. Will that spread? Must we fear withheld treatment or involuntary euthanasia? What will happen to the doctor who refuses to prescribe the lethal dose?

With the Hippocratic Oath, physicians promise of patients they "will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage. Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so." Legalized euthanasia turns this on its head.

Is it possible that some day, healers will risk their licenses for refusing to kill?

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak Nov. 9 at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia; Dec. 6 at Union Theological Seminary in New York; and March 11 at University of Illinois, Chicago. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches.]

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