Did you know that the New Testament views the
suicide of Judas not as sinful or as wrong or regrettable, but approvingly
as an "act of repentance?" Have you heard that the "rage
for suicide" among early Christians was turned back only by
St. Augustine's "utilitarian" concern that the ranks of
Christians were fast thinning?
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed these propositions,
and many more equally preposterous ones, in a March 1996 opinion,
eerily named Compassion in Dying v. Washington. The false religious
teaching is bad enough. That the judges based a constitutional right
to physician-assisted suicide partly upon it is more cause for believers'
alarm. Indeed, Compassion reads much like Roe v. Wade, with all
its pseudo-history of Greek, Roman and other historical attitudes
toward abortion. Like Roe, Compassion sought to present its deadly
conclusion as, if not within the mainstream of Western ethical reflection,
just barely outside it.
Compassion's systematic misrepresentation of Christian moral judgment
owes not just to the court's ignorance of that tradition, but also
to the judges' own reductionist account of human action. On their
view, one does an act and one ends up dead. Call it suicide if you
like. Call it martyrdom. One is just as dead, either way. So, the
Compassion court adduced a history of martyrdom and of Christian
hope of heaven during times of earthly tribulation as evidence of
Christianity's favorable evaluation of suicide. On the Ninth Circuit's
view of how to identify an act for moral evaluative terms, one could
just as easily say that Jesus was a suicide as that He was a martyr.
In contemplation of law, there is no significant difference.
Where is the wall of separation between religion and the state
when you really need it?
*Gerard Bradley is a professor at Notre Dame Law School.