Recently, there has been an issue that I have debated writing about just because of how controversial it is. One day I’ll write a couple paragraphs on it, the next I’ll scrap everything. It’s a subject that I feel leaves many of us divided in our opinions towards the matter. Lately, however, in light of some current events, I’ve decided to go ahead with it. Not only because I use this blog as a place to voice my thoughts and opinions, but also because I do believe this issue is a relevant one that needs to be addressed. Besides, controversy can be good. It’s an opportunity for us all to think and speak. In addition, this subject has been at the back of my mind for a couple weeks like a secret brain ninja judo-chopping my meninges, fighting to be released! Not so much fun, as you can imagine…
The last issue of Maclean’s magazine covered an interesting topic that led to its purchase for further reading. Basically, it discussed the debate between those against and those for assisted suicide. See what I mean? The article personified the issue through its profile of a lovely little lady by the name of Bernice Packford from Victoria, BC. It read, “She’s happy. She’s healthy. She wants to die. Should we help her?” Interesting…
First, some important information. Although they are often associated with each other, it’s probably important, in matters like these, to distinguish the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia (because there is a big difference). According to the article, “assisted suicide involves the passive participation of a medical professional in an individual’s decision to take their own life. This may take the form of dispensing a lethal pill or providing advice. In either case, it’s the patient who ultimately takes the decisive action. Euthanasia, in contrast, involves a positive action on the part of a doctor to end a life at that person’s request – by administering the fatal dose, for example.” So basically, the difference between the two is based on who takes the primary action in the ending of a life. It’s a little ironic though. If euthanasia were to be put into effect, those who were committed to saving lives would also now be committed to ending lives. God, is that you?! The magazine expresses these sentiments as well. “Of the two options, euthanasia is easily the most disturbing. Having taken an oath to ‘do no harm,’ it is intrinsically wrong for a medical professional to play an active role in the death of a patient”.
Now, this is where Bernice comes into play. Her argument, as you may have guessed, is “pro” in the death with dignity debate. She states, “I am in good health. I’m not suffering from an illness that will be eventually fatal”… “I’m tired and I do suffer from congestive heart failure [which robs her of energy and requires her to use a walker]. I can have a stroke. I’ve had a stroke, and I recovered from that. I’m facing imminent sickness or a stroke, which will leave me conscious and helpless. And that thought fills me with horror.” Essentially, what Bernice is fighting for is the right to die on her own terms, to die with dignity. This would allow her to have her family with her on the “big” day and ultimately, die in peace. Now, this is the part where I am often left sitting on the fence. No one can blame this woman for wanting to go out with dignity. It’s not so much Bernice that I am opposed to, in fact she seems like a very lovely woman and a strong contributor to society. Instead, it is the act and the justification of suicide that this movement advocates that I am against. Regardless of what I think, however, it’s important to acknowledge that these are very muddy waters we tread. If legislation in support of assisted suicide were to pass, where would the line be drawn? I can understand the justification from those in considerable amounts of pain or vegetative states, but for someone in relatively good health to so readily ask for death? As others have mentioned, what about those who are depressed and in other altered states of mind? If such legislation were to pass, it would send a message out to people, out to our kids, that suicide would be a justifiable action to pursue. I’m sure many of you have seen headlines boldly displaying the prevalence of bullying-related suicides? What about those kids? I can only IMAGINE how many ways such a legislation could go wrong, or God forbid, abused. Despite these reasons, on a more personal note, I feel like this whole debate screams “ungrateful”. Ultimately… I feel like this issue is a huge slap in the face. It is a cold, hard, and cruel smack to everyone out there fighting to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. It is offensive to me because I know people out there in the world and people in my life that are fighting WITH EVERY OUNCE OF THEIR BEING to stay alive, hoping to live just another day. And in the meantime, others who are perfectly healthy and, really, have nothing to complain about, are out there trying to fight for their right to end the very thing we are working so hard to save. Talk about a kick when you’re down. It’s like…someone working years and years to build something beautiful only to have it destroyed by someone who won’t have a second thought about it. Bad example, I know.
I’ve talked to others to get their opinions on the issue, and was actually quite surprised to hear from many that they believed suicide was a justifiable “way out” – excluding those in considerable amounts of pain and vegetative states. I’m sorry but I am STILL having a hard time grasping that concept. Yes, I understand that many people feel like there is no way out, but I truly do not believe that suicide is ever the option! Would you consider it such a justifiable action if it were your family member or friend in the position? No, you wouldn’t ever want them to give up.
Now, I want to be clear on something before anyone gets too worked up. When people decide to go into hospice, to me, that is not giving up. In fact, it is the complete opposite. I think all cancer patients are true fighters. Ever since we were diagnosed, I have never met more courageous, spirited, and supportive people than those affected by this disease. When a person makes the decision to go into hospice, I think that, in and of itself, is a tremendous show of strength and bravery. It is not giving up, it is a shift in focus. These brave men and women have instead decided to fight for quality of life. It must be an extremely hard decision to make and one that I don’t think I would ever have enough courage to muster up. Kudos to them.
On the magazine’s site, another person brought up a good point:
However, a large number of people that do commit suicide would probably regret having done so. How do we know that? Because there are a large number or people who have been prevented from committing suicide, most of whom regret their suicide attempt. Public policy must assume that people who want to kill themselves (I suppose we can make an exception for the terminally ill) are irrational, and don’t really want to do so. Why? Because it is usually true, and, frankly, if somebody really and truly wants to die, they can easily succeed. What Bernice Packford wants is for somebody else to take responsibility for her life. She wants to institutionalize and bureaucratize suicide. One might reason that she would feel guilty if she killed herself on her own. She damn well should, because suicide is a profoundly painful experience for everybody who cares for her. Far more so than death, I should add, which has no assocations of guilt. Suicide is illegal, at least for healthy individuals. But it is also unenforceable if somebody really wants to go through with it. That is the way it should be. Those that truly want to die, can easily succeed. At the same time our public policy response must be to try with every fibre of our being to keep people alive.
When it really comes down to it… I just feel like we are taking too many things for granted. Life is precious, life is valuable. It pisses me off that, as my mom (and millions like her) fights so very hard for her life (to the point of sheer exhaustion), there are those out there that would try to pass a law to end lives. It’s a deeply complicated and emotional issue. I know some of you, perhaps many of you, will get upset over this and I can respect that. This is just me being completely honest and sincere to myself and those reading this blog. I feel like I’m ranting now, so I’ll let it soak.
Provided is a link of the article featured in Maclean’s: Bernice
Ugh! I was reading the Globe and Mail today and found an article about a Minnesota man by the name of William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, who was charged for "aiding" in the suicides of two people via online chat rooms - apparently for the "thrill of the chase". What is wrong with people?! According to Melchert-Dinkel, he had entered into 10 or 11 suicide pacts in the past. Most recently, he had convinced an Ottawa university student, Nadia Kajouji (who, might I add, was battling DEPRESSION), to jump into the frozen Rideau River in March of 2008.
Now, when I mentioned previously about how legislation in support of assisted suicide could go wrong or be abused, this is exactly that kind of situation. How does one truly differentiate between assisted suicide and perhaps a more devious intent or ensure that it does not conflict/contradict with other existing laws? In regards to this case, conviction is unclear because of "jurisdiction, its online nature, and the fact that the Minnesota law against aiding in a suicide (which applies to anyone who 'advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other's own life') is also viewed as untested, and vulnerable to a challenge under U.S. First Amendment free-speech laws."
ARE YOU SERIOUS???
You can read the full article here