Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taking sides on branding the right to die

Before social change, comes a change in language.

Language expresses what we believe as a culture. Language is not neutral.

A couple of years ago there was a controversy over the language used to define legal acts of assisted suicide in the State of Oregon.

Compassion and Choices, the leading euthanasia lobby group in the United States, launched legal action to force the Oregon Department of Health Service to replace the term assisted suicide with the term "Aid in Dying".

The same debate appeared last year as the American Public Health Association accepted the term "Aid in Dying" in place of the term assisted suicide.

In Canada Dr. Larry Liebrach, a leading palliative care physician, has been pushing for a discussion over the issue of assisted suicide. He also uses the term "Aid in Dying" and he also wishes to have the Palliative Care movement in Canada become neutral on the question of assisted suicide.

In September 2006, I attended the World Federation of Right to Die Societies bi-annual conference in Toronto. One of the speakers was Steve Hopcraft, who was one of the organizers of the campaign to legalize assisted suicide in California. He stated that their polling information found that when the term assisted suicide is replaced by "Aid in Dying" that they gained 15% greater support for their cause.

The term "Aid in Dying" has not been created to bring greater clarity to the assisted suicide debate, but rather to give the assisted suicide lobby a term that confuses the public into supporting their position.

The problem with the term "Aid in Dying" is clear. We all want "Aid in Dying" but most of us do not want assisted suicide. Clearly the term "Aid in Dying" is an inaccurate term for an action of assisting another person's suicide death.

This brings us to the controversy over language in relation to Initiative 1000 in Washington State to legalize assisted suicide.

The Dying With Dignity folks recognize that the term "Aid in Dying" will gain them significant ground. The Initiative will be settled by the voters and if only a small percentage of voters remain confused about what Initiative 1000 is actually about, then that will gain them the precious extra votes to put them over the top.

Remember, a similar initiative failed in the state of Maine only a few years ago by a margin of 51% to 49%.

At least the style writers in Washington State have currently sided with accuracy and are continuing to use the term assisted suicide. But the battle is not over.

For more information on the question of language please refer to an article written for the national review by Rita Marker and Wesley Smith:

To read the article about the Washington State controversy click on:

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