NO SUCH THING AS ASSISTED SUICIDE
Suicide is, by definition, an act you perform by yourself.
By the time you are ready to commit suicide, you have come to certain philosophical conclusions. You believe that your life is no longer worth living, and that there is either oblivion after death or a condition that is better than the one you are in now.
If you ask your friends, family members or doctors to help you commit suicide, you immediately change the definition of suicide from a solitary act with certain philosophical implications. It is no longer suicide. It becomes conspiracy to commit homicide. “Assisted suicide” is therefore a misnomer in terms of common sense, law, and life experience.
Some would argue that each person has the right to end his or her life in the way and hour of choice. However, even the United States Supreme Court can find no such right. While you do not have any legal right to commit suicide, you do have the power to end your own life. Power is different from right; for example, you have the power to use drugs, but no one has the right to heroin.
People argue that a dying person who takes a lethal prescription is still killing himself because the doctor is not present at his death. Again, this argument defies common sense and the law. Legally, any doctor who writes out a prescription that he knows will be used for a suicide is an “accessory before the fact.” He is knowingly participating in a homicide. His actions will bring about the death of another person. A gun dealer who sells a pistol to someone he knows is about to commit suicide with it is an accessory before the act. The people who helped Timothy McVeigh blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma were accessories before the fact. These people are criminals under our legal system.
The vast majority of terminally ill people has ample time and means to end their lives long before they become too incapacitated to need assistance from others. A doctor’s drugs are not necessary in the vast majority of cases. Nearly every drug known to man is available on the Internet. Pro-suicide societies offer easy guides and directions, readily available in any public library or online. Suicidal people can choose from hundreds of conventional ways to kill themselves -- from a pistol to automobile exhaust to Hamlet’s bare bodkin.
By writing laws by which doctors help their patients kill themselves, you are giving physicians a power no sensible doctor would want. Doctors are just human beings like the rest of us. The majority realize that their very participation in life-ending decisions changes those situations. What should always be a private act becomes one sanctioned by a respected authority figure. Yet a doctor, like any human being, has no more knowledge of, or answers to what one man called “the eternal questions” than anyone else.
With such laws in place, a physician can no longer tell a patient, “Where there’s life, there’s hope. We can try a new treatment. Miracles happen.” Yet any doctor knows this to be true . Any hospice nurse can describe a past case in which a person had a few weeks to live but instead lasted for years. No one can write a law that includes miracles and hope.
No law can truly cover the question of whether suicidal ideation is a matter of clinical depression. The mental state of depression is one that the medical profession can heal with psychotherapy and drugs. By asking for help in assisting suicide, a depressed person may really be asking for help with his despair and fear or for affirmation that suicide is the correct course. If he wanted to commit suicide, he would find a way himself. Most people believe that any terminally ill person about to suffer weeks of incapacitation is depressed. However, this is not true . Many terminally ill people are not depressed. Those who are need treatment.
Proponents of such laws point to a tiny minority of cases in which terminally ill people are too sick to leave their beds or even to move their arms and legs. They want to commit suicide, but no longer have the power to do so. If they have made a living will, they have already provided that their care will be limited to pain control and that no extraordinary means will be taken to keep them alive. By the way, helping severely incapacitated people such as Christopher Reeve or Terri Schiavo to die is not a factor, because assisted suicide laws are only for the terminally ill.
Sometimes when we watch a person in his last hours, we wonder if it would not be a kindness to end that life more quickly. We tell ourselves that we would not want to be that person. We delude ourselves that euthanasia is compassion, not killing. We do a form of doublethink. We change the notion of mercy killing to suicide.
However, as we set up laws and rules through our courts and justice system, we cannot just think of ourselves only as individuals. We have to think of the greater good for society. We have to look at the implications of having such a public policy in place. We have to think through what it would mean to young people, who already end their lives by the thousands each year, to live in a country where everyone agrees that suicide is justified. We have to look at the implications for medical practitioners, whose work is now healing disease and promoting life, not ending it.
We have to picture our country as a place where we do not protect and care for our terminally ill, but instead ask them to hurry things up so we can avoid looking at mortality. Finally, before we pass such laws, we have to look at the history of other societies that have had policies of actively killing the terminally ill. We note how these policies gradually came to include other classes of people: deformed babies, physically handicapped, mentally retarded, insane, and those with objectionable skin colors or religions or lifestyles. The Romans and the Nazis did this, and their worlds collapsed. There is no reason to believe we Americans are nobler and wiser or that our society would end any differently.