O Death, where is thy sting?

July 27, 1996|By Hal Piper

A DIVERSE COALITION of civil libertarians, insurance

companies and fascists greeted yesterday's ruling by the Thirteenth Circuit Court of Appeals that homeless people have a constitutional right to death with dignity.

The decision will permit the state of Maryland to grant the imputed wish of Gus Thunderbird, a homeless drug addict, to die. Supreme Court approval seems all but certain, said Professor Howie Doon, of the Fells Point University Law School. ''All the justices are either liberal or conservative,'' he noted, ''and both those types support death with dignity.''

Judge Solomon Wiseman's ruling extends recent judicial discoveries that ''due process'' or ''equal protection'' imply a right to assisted suicide. He held that the Constitution's ''general welfare'' clause undergirds an incompetent person's right to have suicide decisions made for him.

Although Mr. Thunderbird did not technically ask to be euthanized, Judge Wiseman cited Oliver North's former secretary, Fawn Hall -- ''Sometimes you have to go above the law'' -- and the Dutch jurists who, when asked to put down a hydrocephalic, spina bifida baby, ruled that the baby's consent may be presumed.

''Quality-of-life considerations rule these cases,'' the judge said. is the merest technicality that Mr. Thunderbird is too strung out to know what he wants. A competent person in Mr. Thunderbird's situation would either rehabilitate himself or give up. Mr. Thunderbird has repeatedly flunked rehab. Only a compassionless state would deny him a surrogate to represent his objective interests.''

The court-appointed surrogate for this case, Carin Person, described herself as ''thrilled. . . . It would be obscene for society to override the judgment of we, the caring professionals, by sentencing marginalized, homeless people to life that is merely biological.''

Stone Savage, fuehrer of the United Fascists of America, also applauded the decision. ''Basically,'' he said, ''it's about who's fit to live. We've said for a long time that life is for those who deserve to live, but normally, we haven't had the courts on our side. Maybe America isn't as decadent as I thought.''

Shares of HMOs and health insurers jumped yesterday on Wall (( Street. Penny Wise, spokesperson for the Life More Abundant health-care chain, pointed out that the key precedent was Judge Wiseman's ruling that death with dignity is a right even for those who do not want it.

''This means that anybody with an unpromising quality of life has a right not to be given costly treatment,'' Ms. Wise said. ''Our duty as caring professionals is to ensure that patients understand their right not to be cared for.''

Tyranny of the victim

Professor Doon, of Fells Point, noted the tendency of rights once granted to expand. ''The obvious next step,'' he suggested, ''is teen-agers. They wish they were dead all the time. But does society do them the courtesy of taking these wishes seriously? No-o.''

''Some teen-agers,'' Professor Doon added, ''don't really want to die. But many do. Only caring professionals can sort out those who are just frustrated adolescents from those who have nothing to look forward to but drudgery, exploitation and heartbreak.''

Yesterday's ruling, he said, opened the way to objective social judgments about life and death. ''Why ask the individual? People are all mixed up. They never know what they want.'' He said to allow individuals to choose whether to live or die left society hostage to the ''tyranny of the victim.''

In a rare joint press conference, Democratic and Republican leaders welcomed the decision for ''freeing up social space by weeding out malcontents. Happy voters are what best serves the national interest. Anyone else should have their demise granted.''

Hal Piper edits The Sun's Opinion Commentary page.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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