A leading opponent of assisted suicide says that while the movement supporting euthanasia seems strong, the reality is that, at least in the United States, it has had few political victories. “The difficulty in this issue is that the media sells us this as a tidal wave that's coming; it's inevitable, this is people's rights, it's going to happen anyway, and in fact none of this is true,” Alex Schadenberg told CNA Sept. 23.

While a handful of states in the U.S. have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, “over and over and over again [euthanasia] bills have been defeated.” Assisted suicide became legal in the United States when Oregon approved the practice in 1998. Washington State legalized it in 2009, Vermont in 2013, and Colorado, California, and Washington, D.C. in 2016. In Montana, the practice was permitted by the state Supreme Court in 2009.

However, while the legalization of euthanasia in these states has been “tragic,” the losses for the euthanasia movement far outweigh their victories, Schadenberg said, explaining that thus far in 2017, assisted suicide bills were introduced in dozens of states, and “all of them were defeated.” “U.S. courts have universally found that there is no right to assisted suicide,” he added. “So in the U.S. you don't have a tidal wave.”

Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada, and was a speaker during a Sept. 20-24 conference for MaterCare International in Rome. In his comments to CNA, Schadenberg said “the [euthanasia] movement has lost more battles than probably any other movement in the history of the U.S., and yet there's supposedly a tidal wave in favor.” “And for a group that has the kind of money they have, they should almost be embarrassed,” he said, explaining that Americans “are not buying the news, they're not buying their lies.”

The euthanasia mentality is built on a lie, he said, because while those supportive of legalization argue that euthanasia supports freedom and autonomy, though actual laws are focused on protecting doctors' rights instead. In Canada, which legalized euthanasia in 2016, laws protect doctors and nurse practitioners who assist in euthanasia from nearly any liability or error, “so long as it is reasonable error.”

By law, then, there's essentially “no way (for) a doctor who intentionally does something, (that) you can prosecute them. The law is so tightly protecting of them,” Schadenberg said. He noted that the American College of Physicians reiterated their stance against euthanasia and assisted suicide in a recent position-paper on topic, published September 19. In the paper's abstract, the college said they remain unsupportive of euthanasia because it “is problematic given the nature of the patient—physician relationship, affects trust in the relationship and in the profession, and fundamentally alters the medical profession's role in society.”

“Furthermore, the principles at stake in this debate also underlie medicine's responsibilities regarding other issues and the physician's duties to provide care based on clinical judgment, evidence, and ethics,” the abstract read, and stressed the need to focus on palliative care. “There is no tidal wave in the U.S...the doctors don't even want this,” Schadenberg said.

What actually happens in the states and counties where euthanasia has been legalized, he said, is“terribly sad, because lives are being lost and vulnerable people are being abandoned.” “The reality is when you legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide, there is money that's saved because you are ending the lives of people who are not always terminally ill...but might have a significant health condition, which means they are expensive,” Schadenberg said.

He condemned the “eugenics mentality” that he said drives the push for euthanasia, saying it's a part of our culture “whether we like it or not.” Schadenberg said that euthanasia supporters “look at certain lives as not worth living, they would look at certain conditions” and, coupled with the fact that euthanasia is money-saving and makes healthy organs available, “would be in favor of it for those reasons, they would say that's actually a good thing.”

However, the average person who supports the euthanasia cause wouldn't argue on these points, but rather on the prospect of eliminating suffering, Schadenberg said. People are afraid to suffer, “and that's a normal human reality,” he said, explaining that “we've got to break down the issue and talk about our normal human experience, and my experience as a human being is that when I'm going through a terrible situation, I become very emotionally upset, and that's because that's how we are as humans.”

“This is how we were made to be, whether you believe in God or not, we're wired this way,” he said, adding that throwing in the idea of euthanasia when one is “emotionally and physically distraught” makes the situation worse. Rather than freedom and autonomy, euthanasia and assisted suicide are about “abandonment,” he said. “It's about abandoning people in a time of need, it's not about freedom.”