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What the Assisted Suicide Debate Has to Do with Evolution


It's not possible to remind yourself too often how evolutionary thinking ramifies through the culture. Assisted suicide, for example, the subject of a proposed new law before the California State Legislature, as Wesley Smith wrote here. Senate Bill 128 would bring California into the company of Oregon, Washington, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and now Canada.

In brief -- at stake in the question of biological and cosmic origins is, finally, the question of the human self-image. Our colleague the historian Richard Weikart (California State University, Stanislaus) comments in an op-ed for the Merced Sun-Star.

Is this the wave of the future? Or is it a descent into barbarism that undermines the value of human life?

Debate over assisted suicide inflames passions because it strikes at the very heart of what it means to be human. Are we morally significant beings with intrinsic value?

Do we believe that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?

Or, are we simply the chance combination of chemicals thrown together over eons in an impersonal universe? Are we nothing but animals whose love and morality are products of random evolutionary processes -- and thus have no objective reality?

Legalizing assisted suicide is essentially treating people either like animals or, worse, like things.

Peter Singer, a leading bioethicist supporting euthanasia, professes that humans are not special, but are just another animal. Nobel Prize-winning biologist Francis Crick has said, "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." No wonder Crick thought infanticide was acceptable.

As a historian who has written about the history of euthanasia, I have noticed that this kind of disdain for the sanctity of human life has led down some rather dark paths. By the early 20th century, many scientists and physicians in the U.S. and elsewhere were labeling people with disabilities as "inferior," "useless," "burdens," "unfit" and even "persons of negative value." The Nazi regime dubbed them "life unworthy of life," "useless eaters" and "subhumans." Then, in less than six years, they murdered over 200,000 disabled people among the 7 million they annihilated.

My point is not that assisted suicide in Washington or Oregon is the same as Nazi euthanasia. However, it seems to be based on some of the same attitudes -- specifically, the notion that some people's lives are not worth living and they are a burden both to themselves and to others. Instead of encouraging them to live, assisted suicide proponents suggest we should treat them like animals and put them out of their misery.

Put them out of our misery, too, Wesley would add.

As another Discovery Institute colleague, political scientist John West, reminds us, there is no "firewall" between science and culture. That observation defines the mission of the Center for Science & Culture, which is aptly named. Read the rest of Dr. Weikart's comments here.

Image: California State Capitol, � Steven Pavlov / lovingwa.blogspot.com, via Wikimedia Commons.