CNN Analyst Turns Activist: 'We Should Have Death With Dignity Laws'

CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins acted as an activist for a liberal cause on Monday's CNN Newsroom as the network covered the debate over euthanasia: "I disagree with the 45 states that make it illegal. I think that we should have death with dignity laws." Robbins later played up that "this is happening behind closed doors, and that's why I think these laws are important – to bring it out of the shadows."

Anchor Brooke Baldwin speculated whether a movement for the legalization of euthanasia would follow the path set by another pet cause of the left: [video below]

BROOKE BALDWIN: Do you think we will eventually, just like...and totally, this is apples and oranges – what we've seen with the legalization of marijuana?...It's not treated as it was five years ago, let's say. Might we see that, over the course of the next few years, with right-to-die, do you think?

Baldwin turned to Robbins for her reaction to a segment on Sunday's 60 Minutes on CBS that zeroed in on a case out of Pennsylvania, where a woman was criminally charged with enabling the suicide of her ailing 93-year-old father by giving him the morphine that he nearly overdosed on. The anchor pointed out that the woman "wanted to honor his wishes. He was sick. He was 93. She was aware." Robbins pointed out that "what's interesting is had he reached for the bottle and just downed it himself, there would be no issue." She continued with some legal analysis:

MEL ROBBINS: She could have witnessed the whole thing. She might have even...tapped him on the arm and said, it's going to be okay, dad. The Supreme Court has said that encouraging somebody is part of your First Amendment right, as long's not done maliciously. It's a much longer complicated jurisprudence to get into, but she handed it to him, knowing it was going to happen. I don't think a jury – I don't think she's going to get indicted. I don't think she's going to be convicted of this.

After the CNN journalist made her marijuana comparison later in the segment, Robbins cited her own personal experience with end-of-life care for a loved one:

ROBBINS: ...It's a very polarizing issue. And every single family in this country will deal with this. I saw my father-in-law struggle for 16 months as he battled and lost cancer. We had conversations about whether or not he wanted to go to Portland, so that he could end it. And so, this is happening behind closed doors, and that's why I think these laws are important – to bring it out of the shadows – because I do believe that you can give end of [life] care. And people are scared about dying – most people are – and there's a lot of fear about the pain associated with it. And I think you can help people manage pain, but also give people a choice about how they end their life if they want to.

Both Baldwin and her guest omitted a key detail in the Pennsylvania case. Back in February 2014, a judge dropped the charges against the woman who was accused of assisting in her father's near death. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper noted that legal move during his report for 60 Minutes about that case on Sunday.

Cooper also did something that Baldwin failed to do during her program: he brought on a prominent opponent of the legalization of euthanasia. The journalist played multiple soundbites from Doctor Ira Byock, who slammed laws like the one in Oregon that allows for assisted suicide. In his questions, Cooper hinted that he leaned towards euthanasia proponents, but at least allowed Dr. Byock to get his pro-life viewpoint across:

ANDERSON COOPER (voice-over): Doctor Ira Byock is a Dartmouth professor, and head of the Providence Health Care System's Institute for Human Caring. He's been nationally recognized for his efforts to provide terminally-ill patients with better care. But he is strongly opposed to laws like Oregon's.

DOCTOR IRA BYOCK: There's certain things that people aren't supposed to do to one another as absolutes. They are not okay. Doctors killing patients is not okay.

COOPER (on-camera): But shouldn't people have the ability to – to determine the – the – when their life is no longer worth living?

BYOCK: You know, when a physician is involved in a suicide, it's a social action. And if you want to look at societies like Belgium and – and Netherlands – well, nowadays, people who have just lost interest in living – or are clinically depressed – are being euthanized legally.


BYOCK: I think that this case is emblematic of how we are failing elders, chronically-ill people – vulnerable people in America.

COOPER: Failing how?

BYOCK: In so many ways. We are – you know, not treating people's suffering. We are making them feel undignified. Ask any Boomer who's cared for their parents – they'll tell you that even for those of us who are doctors and nurses, it's really, really hard to get the basics of care for – for your frail loved one met.

COOPER: Barbara Mancini would say, well, if – if Pennsylvania had the kind of laws that Oregon now has, which would have allowed her father to – to get some – some medicine that could have ended his life – whether he chose to use it or not – that would have at least given him a sense of – of peace.

BYOCK: So, what we're saying to Mr. Yourshaw is, we're not going to treat your pain. We're not going to train your doctors to counsel you. We're going to basically ignore you. But don't worry, because if the time comes when you're feeling hopeless, we can write that lethal prescription. In – in what world is that a progressive, positive development?

CBS and CNN aren't the first media outlets to spotlight the Pennsylvania case to forward the pro-euthanasia cause. NPR's Richard Knox touted the judge's dismissal of charges as "a sign that attitudes about end-of-life decisions are changing, whatever most statutes say" in a February 12, 2014 item for the public radio network's health news blog. Knox also euphemistically described euthanasia as "medical care that may hasten death."

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.