Monday, June 13, 2011

It's My Life

I'm sure I've written about suicide before, although I couldn't find the post to link to. At any rate, I doubt my position on the subject has changed much. I am essentially in favor of legalized suicide. As with many issues, I find myself relatively alone on this one. As many conservative/religious people have noted, liberals often take a view of death that seems, at the onset, to be completely absurd. Taking my own position as an example, I am against killing animals, but for abortion rights; I am against the death penalty but for suicide.

Many progressives are in favor of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients as an alternative to hospice care, or for patients whose brains are effectively dead but the bodies are kept alive. I am in favor of these things as well - they seem to be obvious. When someone's medical future is so bleak that they have nothing to look forward to but more suffering, how on earth is it immoral to end that? In fact, how is it moral to preserve this suffering for them? When our dogs and cats are near the end of their lives and are in pain, no one would think twice about euthanizing them. And why? Because we don't want to see them suffer. I don't recognize a significant difference between animals and humans (more on that in a moment), but plenty of people do, and those people place a higher importance on humans. Why would they want their beloved grandparents to suffer to death while they release their dog from the pain?

It's because, in that difference between humans and animals, human life is somehow sacred. Human life is special in a way that precludes the application the logical rules of morality and basic kindness. There are numerous reasons that people give in their opposition to assisted suicide, most of which refer to this very notion of the sacredness of human life. But another commonly given reason is rooted in fear of abuse. And while I do oppose the idea of compulsory suicide (think Logan's Run), which is essentially murder anyway, I am fine with the idea that someone who is otherwise healthy might want to end their life for completely personal reasons.

Suicide is a sad thing. It comes from a place of desperation and misery and fear. To me, the real tragedy in the story of a suicide is the journey to that point. Once there, the rest of society should do what we can to ease the pain. If we are unable to do that, we should allow the sufferer to end his/her own life. And, like abortion, it should be legal and safe and, for the sake of the rest of us, easy to clean up. Why force the pain into the corners? And how is one sad human's life the property of the collective of society? How is suicide illegal? Why is it our responsibility to keep every last person as alive as possible?

To be clear, I am not advocating suicide booths on every street corner. I am not suicidal now, but I have entertained such thoughts for extended periods of time (not recently). I'm sure many of us have. I am very glad that I didn't follow up on it, although I do wish that I had had access to psychiatric help to help me sort my head out. At the same time, even though I am happy now and glad that I never took steps to end my own life, I maintain that it was my mistake to make. If, after therapy and medication, I was still of a mind to die, I should have that option.

This all comes back to quality of life vs. quantity of life. Life is a precious gift (metaphorically speaking), but if it is full of pain and suffering, it is not worth living, and we should be under no obligation to see it through to the bitter and painful end.


Ed said...

I'm not sure where I stand on the issue of assisted suicide and the right to die. "When someone's medical future is so bleak that they have nothing to look forward to but more suffering, how on earth is it immoral to end that?" I don't think it is necessarily immoral, but it is problematic since happiness and suffering are largely subjective. It is very hard to know for certain if one really does have nothing to look forward to other than suffering. The one thing that is certain is that things (pain and our emotional state for example) change.

"If PAS (physician assisted suicide) is legalised, great care must be taken to ensure that it is not offered to individuals whose “unbearable suffering” is actually treatable depression." What if one ends up helping someone die, who could have relieved their emotional torment and suffering some other way?

We assume life events like winning the lotto or becoming paralyzed will affect happiness and they seem to, but not in the ways we might expect. or

"There is research suggesting that the blind, the retarded,and the malformed are not less happy than other people (Cameron, 1972; Cameron, Titus, Kostin, & Kostin, 1973).'

Our ideas about suffering, happiness and quality of life are murky and often misguided as the examples of loto and paralysis make clear. Emotions are not a firm basis for permanent irreversible action since they are transitory.

"How is suicide illegal? Why is it our responsibility to keep every last person as alive as possible?"

As far as I can tell suicide is not illegal in the USA anymore. Assisted suicide on the other hand, presents unique problems that for many people are not easily resolved. Do we have to keep everyone alive as long as possible? No, but if the possiblity of cure or treatment exists shouldn't we try that first?

I think in theory I am for assisted suicide in limited cases but I think it is rather difficult to know for certain if it is the right decision for a person to make. I agree with Yale Kamisar who was for assisted suicide "if he could know that a person was in fact (1) terminally ill, (2) suffering intolerable pain that (3) couldn’t be relieved, and (4) had a desire to die that was (5) unwavering and (6) rational"

Ed said...

A further comment on the subjective nature of illness and suffering. Christopher Reeve is a perfect example. As he wrote in his book "Still Me" (a book I highly recommend) he considered suicide. "Because it had dawned on me that I was going to be a huge burden, that I have ruined my life and everybody else's. The best thing to do would be to slip away ... My spirits during those days were on a roller-coaster ride. There were moments when I would feel so grateful ... when a friend would come a long way to be with me, to talk to me, to cheer me up. And there was my family, of course, and the letters still pouring in ... But the time would come when everybody would have to go. I'd be given a sleeping pill at about 10:30 or 11 o'clock, but by one or two would wear off. I'd wake up and be staring at the wall, staring at myself, staring at the future, staring in disbelief. The thought that kept going through my mind was, I've ruined my life. I've ruined my life, and you only get one."

Reeve decided against suicide and went on to be a source of hope for many, prompting his doctor to describe him as
"one of the most intense individuals I've ever met in my life. ... before him there really was no hope. If you had a spinal cord injury like his there was not much that could be done, but he's changed all that. He's demonstrated that there is hope and that there are things that can be done."

I pulled these quotes form a UU sermon because it was all I could find for quotes online, but it a sermon worth reading even though it *is* a sermon.