Blog Post

Is Fear of Suffering Ushering In a "Euthanasia Culture"?

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer Speaking at a recent International Euthanasia Symposium in Virginia, a prominent bioethicist blamed society’s obsessive fear of suffering for ushering in a “euthanasia culture.” According to a report by, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith said that a culture that seeks to escape suffering at all costs will end by eliminating not only pain, but the people who are feeling the pain as well. "If you had a burst appendix 100 years ago, you died in agony," Smith said. "Today, people don't have to, at least in the developed world, die in agony." In the course of his lifetime, he said he has seen the purpose of society shift from the concept of justice, equality, mutual caring and mutual support, to what he called an obsessional fear and loathing and avoidance of not only suffering, but difficulty. "It is distorting our culture ... into something that is not as compassionate as we should be, that is not as caring as we should be," said Smith. "If the point of society is to make sure you don't suffer, that will often be making sure there aren't any sufferers. Which isn't only about making sure the sufferer doesn't suffer, but putting the sufferer out of our misery." "If we're going to defeat euthanasia and assisted suicide, we're going to have to recognize that for a lot of people, the principle of right and wrong doesn't matter anymore," said Smith. "What matters is making sure there isn't suffering. And that can lead to some very bad and dark places." He went on to tell the story of a mentally ill, depressed woman who drank antifreeze and left a note for paramedics to find asking them not to treat her. They didn’t and the woman later died. Her attending physician said, "It's a horrible thing to have to do, but I thought I had no alternative but to go with her wishes." "Think about the kind of mental anguish somebody is going through to drink antifreeze, and to do it more than once," said Smith. Allowing her to die, he said, was "abandonment of the most profound kind." "There are many things today that are better than in my formative years, racism being one of them," he continued, "but there are a lot of things that are not, and this is one of them: abandoning suffering people, mentally ill, mentally anguished people, to suicide." He urged those opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide to be proactive in asserting the sanctity and equality of human life. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace.