Holy Post: My life, my choice

Barbara Kay responds to Matt Gurney

Posted: November 25, 2009, 3:14 PM by Matt Gurney

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Matt Gurney’s November 24 column, “My life, my choice” reprises the stock arguments for euthanasia: “every individual has the right to define the value they place on their own existence” and “just because euthanasia would be tricky to enact does not mean we shouldn’t bother” and “The church, the state and the opinions of society as a whole are not welcome...in my death bed.”

Like all theorists around euthanasia, Gurney has forgotten to factor in the human element. He has not accounted for the fact that when a procedure is normalized, it morphs into something quite other than it was in conception.

In The Netherlands, where euthanasia began with lofty ideals about the individual’s right to put his own value on his life, the state, supposedly not a factor in Gurney’s hygienic view, is now killing so many people who did not ask to die that old people living near the German border are actually moving to Germany out of fear of being euthanized. And the United Nations is presently conducting an inquiry into the escalating numbers of the euthanized in The Netherlands.

You see, what happens when the state sanctions the pro-active termination of life – we saw this with abortion – is that what begins as something people do with great caution and a sense that they are performing a momentous and very serious action becomes trivialized. Abortions used to be performed only in situations where the stakes are high. Now it is just another form of birth control.

Consider this cautionary tale.  Assisted suicide (the moral issues are the same as euthanasia) remains a crime in the U.K. but local prosecutors have been informed by newly-published guidelines that it is “not in the public interest” to bring charges in such deaths. The guidelines say that if the suicidee has a "terminal illness," a “severe and incurable disability” or a “severe degenerative condition,” there will be no prosecution if the assister is a close friend or relative, and if the victim "had a clear, settled, and informed wish to commit suicide.”

That would seem to meet Matt Gurney’s standards. (Except please note that nothing in the guidelines says it must be in any way medicalized or under the supervision of doctors or trained technicians.)

But imagine if New York prosecutors had felt it was “not in the public interest” to prosecute a certain Manhattanite George Delury who in July, 1995, “assisted” his 52-year old wife Myrna Lebov’s suicide after many years of suffering from progressive multiple sclerosis.

At the time of her death, the husband was lionized as a selfless, loving mate. The assisted-suicide movement exploited his alleged compassion to call for legalization of assisted suicide, and they set up a defence fund for him. Delury became a media pet and even signed a deal for a book, later published as But What If She Wants to Die?

Delury did go to jail for a few months on a charge of manslaughter (he plea bargained), but would have gone scot free in England today. Scot free? Why am I talking as if he were a criminal? Read on.

As it turned out, Delury was not only a criminal who should have gone to jail for many years, he also had to be the dumbest man in America. For he kept a computer diary chronicling the details of his wife’s “decision” to die. And her determination to die was, how shall I say, not nearly as compelling, to say the least, as Delury led the public to believe.

The diary was like the blackest of comedies. From its revelations, it turned out that the wife sometimes felt like dying and sometimes felt like living as normal a life as possible. She even thought of writing another book (having published one in 1984). But Delury kept urging his wife “to decide to quit.” Not by her request, he under-dispensed her depression medication so he could build up a lethal dosage.

On March 28, 1995, Delury wrote: “I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out...” On a talk show later, Delury admitted he had shown his wife that passage.

On June 10, he wrote: “I put it to Myrna bluntly – ‘If you won’t take care of me, I won’t take care of you.’”

On July 4 (Independence Day for him at any rate), Lebov took the lethal dose of antidepressants George had cached and his troubles were over. But wait, the story’s not over! When his book was published – double jeopardy then prevented further prosecution – Delury revealed he had also smothered his wife with a plastic bag to make sure she was seriously dead.

So it wasn’t “assisted suicide” at all, now, was it? It was more like...something else. George Delury killed himself in 2007, whether because he couldn’t live with his conscience – or with his stupidity. Meanwhile, if he hadn't kept the diary, his name would go down in history as the loving husband who helped to bring legal assisted suicide to New York State. Funny thing, life.