Letters The Star Tribune Did Not Publish

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Francis Kane

Photo of two stacks of bundled newspapers

On December 6 the Star Tribune reprinted a Ross Douthat commentary opposing legal physician-assisted dying for people with a terminal illness. I sent it out to a small working group that is writing letters-to-the-editor to promote the secularist view on current issues. Steve Petersen and I submitted letters that the Star Tribune chose not to publish. We are grateful to Erica Klein and Ross Meisner for their help.

I subscribe to the NY Times, but I never read Ross Douthat’s columns. I find all of them odious. The Star Tribune picked up one that is opposed to medical assistance in dying. I would quote Douthat to illustrate his insensitivity but would end up copying his entire article. Douthat is completely oblivious of the cruelty of his position. He does, at the end, acknowledge that he is trying to impose a religious argument — another example of religion vilifying personal agency in the most private and personal issues.

Here are the letters.

In reading Ross Douthat’s commentary on medical assistance in dying I was thinking. Compassion in dying is about enabling the individual to control their end-of-life process and decisions with minimal interference for government and freeing the individual from intrusive religious views the person may not agree with and does not want imposed on them by the government.

The state, by allowing physician assisted dying allows the individual when they are healthy to make end-of-life decisions in advance of a possible terminal condition to decide how their last days of life will be lived. It is done by the person not the state and is an empowerment of personal freedom to be able to die with as much dignity as possible.

Douthat sensationalizes and misrepresents the state’s role in this process by insinuating something sinister is being done to prematurely end people’s lives. That is wrong and is an injustice to those of us who support physician aid in dying. This is about physicians caring for their patients in a manner directed by the patient as stated in their healthcare directive. If an individual wants to live as long as possible regardless of pain and suffering it protects that decision. If a person wants religious involvement or religious persons involved in their end-of-life directives they can write that in also, but those of us who want no religious constraints have the equal right to include that in our directive.

Physician aid-in-dying is about compassion for the person in a terminal condition.

—Steve Petersen

Ross Douthat portrays the argument over medical assistance in dying as a clear-cut case of evil vs. good (“Suicide vs. civilization in Canada,” December 6). He portrays terminating one’s life when confronting unbearable suffering and degradation as a “barbaric system,” opposed by the “rules of civilization.” I think, rather, that his indifference to the suffering of the terminally ill reveals a moral blind spot.

To end one’s own life is the most personal decision one can make. Devotion to religious dogma requires, however, canceling individual responsibility to replace it with God’s presumed command. Douthat’s argument hangs on the hidden premise of the sanctity of human life. That is the only way to justify imposing on those who do not believe in that doctrine a ban on medical assistance in dying.

But in a nation that respects religious freedom, laws must have a secular purpose. We can only determine if a secular purpose exists by demanding to hear the state interest promoted by the ban. When we ascertain how the Douthats of America believe the quality of life in the nation is promoted by denying the dying release from their suffering we will learn if their concept of the value of human life can be demystified.

—George Francis Kane

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