Should we legalize suicide?

By Tom Quiner

A writer to the Des Moines Register, Otto Knauth, proposed a solution to the “population” problem last week as follows:

“There is a simple but agonizingly difficult solution to mankind’s overpopulation problem. It is legalizing suicide after a certain age, say 70, and making it easily available.”

The writer is looking for a solution where there’s no problem, for there is no population problem in the U.S.  The graph below prepared by the Congressional Research Service puts this myth to rest with a single glance:

U.S. birth rates have been in decline since the early sixties

Not only are birth rates declining, thirty-five states have birth rates that have dipped below replacement level. Iowa is one of the worst. Most of the population growth in the U.S. comes from legal and illegal immigration. So we know Mr. Knauth is either mis-informed, or has another agenda.

He goes on to say:

“No, wait, don’t just condemn it out of hand. This is a serious proposition worthy of serious thought. There are millions of people out there who are condemned to useless lives, helpless in bed, entirely dependent on others for their very existence. There is every reason to believe that given a rational choice, free of religious dogma and superstition, they would choose suicide over their present condition.”

Mr. Knauth shares a similar philosophy with pornographer, Larry Flynt, that certain human life is disposable. As I wrote last week [The Pornography of Abortion], Mr. Flynt thinks we should get rid of Downs Syndrome Children because they are not sufficiently human according to his standards. On the other hand, Mr. Knauth would like to make it easier for dependent people like the paraplegic Mr. Flynt to end their lives once they hit seventy or so.

Their key idea is that human life is disposable.

He goes on to say:

“Think of the immense burden we now bear to support these citizens in their meaningless lives. An easy suicide would be a blessing for them, their families and society as a whole.”

In other words, he seems more concerned about the burden dependent people put on society than about the dependent people themselves. This is but one danger of assisted suicide: could those who are dependent be coaxed or pressured into ending their lives by those in charge of their care?

And who says their lives are meaningless anyway?

As the world watched the physical decline of Pope John Paul II on the world stage over a period of years, we were struck by the dignity of his life.

I have a unique perspective. My 87 year old mother-in-law lives with me and has for a decade. I have watched her physical powers slip. Five years ago, she had to give up driving. Over the past few years, she is rarely up to going to Mass, which is her favorite thing to do.

Today, she has been in bed most of the day, because she just doesn’t have any energy.

She has lost weight and is so very frail.

Is her life meaningful? It is more than meaningful. It is precious. To me. To my wife. To all of her kids … and grandkids … and great grandkids.

She is teaching me and those around her valuable lessons about the beauty and dignity of life, regardless of the stage of life.

Mr. Knauth’s leftist philosophy is dangerous. The old and dependent make the rest of us better people, because they make us think beyond our own selfish selves.

That’s when we see the dignity, the beauty of life.

Life is precious, not disposable.


  1. Mary Beth Beacom on June 7, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Thank you , Tom. I wept when I read the letter you refer to above. Where once that perspective would have been considered extremist in our country, the media has now made such a socialist perspective a soft place to land. Margaret Sanger and her buddy, Hitler, are laughing from their superheated home.

  2. maxine bechtel on June 7, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Thanks, Tom! Very insightful! Writing as an octogenarian, to those who believe individuals over 70 are living “meaningless” lives, I’d like to remind them that the famous artist, “Grandma Moses” didn’t start painting until 80+ years of age! Other famous world leaders, such as Golda Maier, and others made their mark on mankind as senior citizens! Aside from the moral issues, (which most leftists don’t want to acknowledge) It doesn’t make sense, nor is it practical, to force or encourage any sick ( or well) 70-year-old to suicide!