A suicide party? Moral and religious questions? Associated Press draws a blank

Ever hear of a suicide party?

There was such an event in San Diego in July and the Associated Press was there to tell us the details. The piece came with photos of a party with a 41-year-old woman who was sometimes sitting up, other times lying down. However, she could not stand or walk nor move her arms and her speech was so slurred, most had problems understanding her.

Still, what would you do if you were invited to such an event? Would you raise any questions of a moral or religious nature? We will come back to that.

SAN DIEGO -- In early July, Betsy Davis emailed her closest friends and relatives to invite them to a two-day party, telling them: “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness.”
And just one rule: No crying in front of her.
The 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, held the gathering to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state's new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill.
“For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her,” said Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from New York City. “The idea to go and spend a beautiful weekend that culminates in their suicide — that is not a normal thing, not a normal, everyday occurrence. In the background of the lovely fun, smiles and laughter that we had that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming.”
Davis worked out a detailed schedule for the gathering on the weekend of July 23-24, including the precise hour she planned to slip into a coma. ...

The article described the party, and then its end:

As the weekend drew to a close, her friends kissed her goodbye, gathered for a photo and left, and Davis was wheeled out to a canopy bed on a hillside, where she took a combination of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate prescribed by her doctor. …
Davis ended her life a little over a month after a California law giving the option to the terminally ill went into effect. Four other states allow doctor-assisted suicide, with Oregon being the first, in 1997.

The next sentence mentioned that some opponents of the bill had argued it was morally wrong. However, in terms of journalistic content, no one was ever quoted explaining why there might be valid objections to Davis’ act.

In other words, there was a hole in the story -- a religion ghost, as we call it -- in this piece; quite a big one, as it turns out, if you read Davis’ sister’s Aug. 9 essay about the party posted at VoiceofSanDiego.org.

In that essay, the sister mentioned that not only had she grown up Catholic (as did her sister, I assume), but that it was Catholic legislators who obstructed an assisted suicide bill passing in California.

This is crucial, from a journalism point of view. The AP reporter cited the Voice of San Diego essay, so she had access to the part about Catholicism but chose not to mention it.

One wonders: When it comes to euthanasia, has the opinion of the church, mosque or synagogue simply become irrelevant to those reporting on it? Seems so to me.

The sister got positive comments underneath her essay, but reactions were different in this National Review piece suggesting that suicide has become so normalized in our culture, it’s now something to party about. 

As I've written about in the not-so-distant past, other stories assisted suicide and euthanasia of children and fairly young adults have totally omitted religion as well. Obviously, the reporter was not at the Betsy Davis party and had to put together an account of it one month after the fact. That's called reporting. She could have found out which parish the family attended and put in a call there to get the reaction of the priest. 

Can journalists at least try to get other points of view, or are we at a point where we ask the hard questions when it comes to politics, but step back when it comes to euthanasia? Was there anyone who refused to attend the party because they felt it was an immoral act?

I can see why the reporter felt the best strategy was to be a stenographer and simply record how the sister characterized the event, but why do we hear nothing from Betsy's parents who apparently are still alive? 

Before physician-assisted suicide becomes even more common in our culture, those of us who are reporters need to keep asking the big, complex, difficult questions as these people pass into the night.

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