PRO-LIFE GROUPS: Branch Out To Fight Assisted Suicide
The front page of today's Washington Post takes a look at the "quiet but profound shift" that has the nation's right-to-life movement broadening its focus to include staunch opposition to assisted suicide and positions on other end-of-life care issues. Although the pro-life movement "always has defined itself as defending life from womb to tomb ... the end of human life is emerging as the new front line of the fight, and conservative 'pro-life' organizations are being pumped with fresh vigor." The shift can be seen as the pro-life groups attempt to defeat ballot initiatives legalizing physician- assisted suicide and push for legislation that makes it harder for doctors and hospitals to discontinue treatment to terminally ill or brain dead patients. Members of the pro-life movement are also "trying to combat the growth of managed health care, which they regard as a way of stinting on expensive care for vulnerable people who are disabled or old." The Post reports that by "[e]mploying methods that sometimes are overt, sometimes behind-the-scenes, they are imparting to end-of-life causes the enormous infrastructure, political skill and facility for rhetoric they amassed in their decades of waging war on abortion."
Making Influence Felt
In Michigan, a coalition of pro-life groups that included the Roman Catholic Church, the state chapter of the Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council were instrumental in last week's defeat of a physician-assisted suicide ballot initiative. Seven Roman Catholic bishops mailed a letter to Michigan's 550,000 Catholic households urging them to oppose the initiative. The Catholic Church also spent $1 million last year in an ultimately unsuccessful effort against Oregon's assisted suicide measure. After the Oregon initiative passed, the Right to Life Committee and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops backed "'lethal dose' legislation" that would have voided the Oregon law. Pro-life groups also played an important behind-the-scenes role in the case of a comatose Virginia man last month, with Virginia Del. Robert Marshall (R) consulting the American Life League and other groups before speaking out publicly in an attempt to prevent the man's relatives from removing his feeding tube.
A New Battleground
Some pro-life activists bristle at the assertion that their shift in focus amounts to admission that abortion -- despite continuing restrictions at the state level -- seems likely to remain legal for the foreseeable future. Christian Defense Coalition Director Rev. Patrick Mahoney said, "I don't see it as a retreat on abortion. I see it as the abortion (mentality) rearing its head in so many other areas of our culture. Tragically, it's a growth industry." Richard Doerflingers, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' director of pro-life activities, said that the advent of assisted suicide "was something we predicted in 1973 (when the Supreme Court handed down Roe) -- that the idea about some lives not being meaningful would influence the way society treats the sick and elderly, as well. All that has come home to roost now." However, some activists admit that the shifting focus to end-of-life issues does reflect political realities. Human Life International's John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe said, "In the 1990s, with the election of Bill Clinton and a series of Supreme Court cases, it's difficult to see what can be done ... to stop abortion any time soon. Euthanasia is expanding. ... What many people are doing is fighting on a battle line where they think they can have some effect."
Gearing Up For Battle
Assisted-suicide advocates, fearing a protracted and controversial public struggle that would mirror the abortion debate, are less than thrilled. Choice in Dying President Karen Orloff Kaplan said, "'Until very recently, we have avoided the controversy and divisiveness' that have long characterized the abortion issue. Now, 'the divisiveness is increasing'" (Goldstein, 11/10).