Movies open doors to assisted suicide

Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank star in a scene from Million Dollar Baby, a film in which the gym owner removes his paralyzed fighter’s breathing tube.


Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank star in a scene from Million Dollar Baby, a film in which the gym owner removes his paralyzed fighter’s breathing tube.

October 10, 2011

An increase in the number of movies that present assisted suicide in a positive light is contributing to a renewed momentum to legalize physician-assisted suicide, a panellist said at a Sept. 20 webinar.

Films such as Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside, both rated PG-13 as containing material that may be inappropriate for children under 13, “dull our repugnance” for assisted suicide, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Dan Mindling.

They also “suggest that some lives are not worth living,” said Mindling, academic dean at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

He quoted assisted suicide proponent Derek Humphry as saying in 2004 that advocates of assisted suicide “must introduce our subject more healthily into literature, media and the arts so that it is as commonplace to read, watch or listen to in our lives as watching sporting events or monitoring political news.”

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, reviewed the recent history of assisted suicide efforts.

Although its proponents had “predicted a cross-country sweep,” they found great resistance between 1994 and 2007, when assisted suicide began to seem like an idea “whose time had come and gone,” Doerflinger said.

But in 2008, the Hemlock Society — which had reinvented itself under the name Compassion & Choices — began a new strategy, targeting the “unchurched and libertarian segments” of the Pacific Northwest and New England, he said.

Voters in Washington state approved assisted suicide that year, and it was permitted in Montana by a 2009 court decision. But recent legislative efforts to permit assisted suicide in Vermont, New Hampshire and several other states were turned back.

Doerflinger urged Catholics and others who oppose physician-assisted suicide to read the U.S. bishops’ pastoral statement, To Live Each Day With Dignity, approved in June.

“With expanded funding from wealthy donors, assisted suicide proponents have renewed their aggressive nationwide campaign through legislation, litigation and public advertising, targeting states they see as most susceptible to their message,” the document says.


“If they succeed, society will undergo a radical change.”

Mindling reviewed Church teaching on suicide, saying that it often resulted from confusion or “great psychological disturbance.”

But he said Blessed John Paul II made clear in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae that assistance in another’s suicide “can never be excused, even if requested.”

Speaking about the media’s influence on suicide, he cited a recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which showed that the portrayal of explicit and graphic suicide tripled in top box-office films between 1950 and 2006.

Patrick Jamieson, the study’s lead author, said that “modeling of suicide in media can increase the incidence of suicide.”