On May 27th, Lifenews.com published an article by Wesley J. Smith concerning the use of deceptive language surrounding the practices of abortion, euthanasia and vulnerable members of the human family. We have seen ample evidence of this in Canada prior to the tabling of the euthanasia and assisted suicide Bill C-14. For years, advocates have referred to euthanasia and assisted suicide as ‘death with dignity’, ‘medical aid in dying’, ‘assisted death’ and resorting to another familiar slogan, ‘My body, my choice”. Many media reports, members of Parliament and Senators speak of medically assisted death and medical assistance in dying. In euthanasia, the physician does not assist your death, he causes your death by lethal injection. In assisted suicide, he will provide the means for the patient to commit suicide by prescribing lethal drugs. Either way, he plays a role in bringing about the death of the patient.
Wesley J. Smith writes:
“Words also have the power to degrade the human dignity of born and grown people. A classic example is the pejorative term “vegetable,” referring to those with severe cognitive disabilities and impairments. Even the diagnostic term used to describe the condition of permanently unconscious patients—“persistent vegetative state”—is pejorative, perhaps the only explicitly demeaning medical term. (Why not use the perfectly accurate “persistent unconscious state”?) The V-word has the effect—and in some cases, indeed, the purpose—of excluding these human beings from the moral community and exposing them to oft-proposed forms of oppression and exploitation—such as allowing them to be used for live-organ harvesting and as subjects in medical experimentation.
We see the same phenomenon in our debates around end-of-life care and assisted suicide. The Dutch euthanasia practitioner Dr. M.A.M. Wachter, ethicist/director for the Institute of Health in the Netherlands, made this point explicitly when he appeared at a 1990 international euthanasia society convention. “The definitions build the road to euthanasia,” he stated, explaining that even the word “euthanasia” (“good death”) could harm the cause, because people naturally recoil from the killing act.
Thus, Wachter urged his audience to prevaricate and obfuscate: “Definitions are not neutral. They are not just the innocent tools that allow us to describe reality. Rather, they shape our perceptions of reality. They select. They emphasize. They embody a bias. Therefore, definitions constantly need redefinition.” This is precisely why the Hemlock Society, an assisted-suicide advocacy organization, changed its name to Compassion and Choices and now deploys the euphemism “aid in dying” in its media and advocacy materials.
In these times, language as an accurate conveyor of ideas is under constant assault. Knowing this, we must strive to keep our language precise and descriptive, particularly when it comes to controversies surrounding human dignity. We should be vigilant against words that dehumanize weak and vulnerable people and suspicious of rhetoric that masks movements’ real goals. We should be wary of words that serve as honey to make the hemlock go down.”
LifeNews Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His new book, Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine,was just published by Encounter Books.