By Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© March 2016, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Definition. Assisted suicide is the procedure in which a medical doctor or someone else helps another person to commit suicide in a legal and open way. Suicide can be done with a lethal injection, or by preparing another poison, or by helping someone push themselves off a bridge or a cliff, or in other ways. The procedure is sometimes called death with dignity, euthanasia, and the right to die.
Where is it legal? As of April, 2016, assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Japan, Colombia and Canada.
At the present time, six states in America permit assisted suicide. These are Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana and New Mexico.
Is assisted suicide the same as the hospice program? No. The hospice program, which is all over the world today, involves withholding heroic medical interventions from those who are given no more than six months to live. It never involves poisons, gunshots, lethal injections, or other means of killing people. It may involve withholding food, but it never involves withholding water.
Is assisted suicide the same as a “living will”. Assisted suicide is not the same as a living will. The latter is simply a signed and witnessed statement that:
1. If one is unable to make one’s own medical decisions.
2. And there has been a serious accident or terminal illness from which recovery seems impossible.
3. Then one authorizes someone to remove all life support and “heroic” technologies that would simply prolong a terminal condition with no chance of restoring normal human functioning.
This is a legal document that is a very good idea. Otherwise, one may end up on a respirator or heart-lung machine for years, using up all of one’s family’s funds and causing grief for the family for a long time.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR ASSISTED SUICIDE
1. Reduce suffering and cost. Some people are terminally ill, and just “waiting to die”. Why should they suffer, cause suffering for their families and for others, and why should they consume scarce resources that could better be spent on the young and the vital people?
Others are young, but saddled with a painful health condition, or even a difficult mental condition. Why should they suffer and live on for years, rather than end their lives quickly and save themselves and those around them pain, cost and other suffering?
2. Maintaining control. Many people, especially as they age, feel out of control of their life. Why not allow them to make this final decision to die in the manner and time of their own choosing?
3. The pre-existence of a “right to die”. Some claim that this exists. Therefore, assisted suicide should be legalized.
PROBLEMS WITH ASSISTED SUICIDE
1. The Biblical problem. According to the Holy Bible and other holy books, suicide is never a good idea. The span of life is in the hands of God, it is said. To cut it short damages the soul, and the person, even if the damage is not apparent.
It is also said that if one commits suicide, one must “finish the lifetime” at another time in the future. This is usually to be a difficult time because it must balance out the poor decision in the past to commit suicide.
2. The life is special argument. This important argument echoes the Biblical principle. It is that life itself is a rare gift and is always special. We should seek to extend it and preserve it. We should celebrate it, in fact, even if it is unpleasant, painful, and not particularly fun or to our liking.
Thus, when a person willfully decides to terminate life, he or she commits an error of judgment, in all cases. In fact, one violates the sacred nature of life, which always seeks to extend itself through us.
3. The learning argument. A third argument against assisted suicide is that one learns lessons from illness, disability, suffering, old age, and mental illness, as well. These are not pleasant lessons, at times, but they may be very valuable.
If one commits suicide, with or without assistance, one skips these lessons. This may be more pleasant at this time, but it is not the best path for human beings, who are here to learn many lessons.
4. Changing the role and purpose of physicians and others in the health field. Traditionally, and according to the famous Oath of Hippocrates, physicians and other health care workers, are to foster, preserve and restore life. This is a noble calling, and one that fits with the idea that life is special and to be revered and promoted.
Laws legalizing assisted suicide change all this. While physicians may not be forced to engage in assisted suicide, they are given free reign to oppose life, and to terminate it, perhaps even against their better judgment if the patient requests it.
This may not seem important, but it is. Physicians already have a lot of power over their patients. Just withholding medical care, for example, can doom a person to death. Laws legalizing assisted suicide greatly increase the power of the medical doctors, and one must wonder if doctors are capable and competent to handle the greatly increased responsibility of taking life, and not just seeking to preserve it.
5. Cheapening life. A somewhat related argument, but not the same, is that assisted suicide, and in fact all suicide, implies a serious cheapening of life. This is always dangerous for a society because society exists to promote the life of the people. If one cheapens life, one always diminishes the greatness and vitality of the society.
6. The difficulty in deciding whom, and when, a person may legally commit suicide. This is a difficult and multi-faceted problem. For example, is it okay to commit suicide because you are having a bad day, or because your boyfriend walked out, or you did poorly on your college entrance exam, or you lost your job, or you broke your leg, or you reached the age of 80, or you lost your hearing, or you just received a diagnosis or cancer?
Where is the line to be drawn? This is a very difficult question because suffering is a very personal matter. What one person considers terrible suffering, another might not. What one person considers “a disaster” may not be the same for the next person.
Also, what one considers “a disaster” one day, may change the following day. However, suicide is permanent. Once it is done, one does not have a chance to reverse the decision should circumstances change. This makes it a much more important life decision.
And who is to decide when suicide is acceptable? Will it be the person himself or herself? What if the person is just in a bad mood, or has been influenced somehow by a movie, or a friend.
Should a doctor decide who should commit suicide? But do doctors really know what suffering another person is experiencing and even, how long a person will live. The truth is that doctors do not know these things, no matter what they claim. They only know percentages and statistics, and that is not the same as the future or fate of an individual.
Perhaps the person who decides about suicide should be one’s pastor, or perhaps a judge paid by the government?
The question of who should make the decision about suicide is made more complex by the fact that there can be competing interests at work. For example, the person may be disabled and costing his family or the government a lot of money. Should this enter into the decision?
Other considerations today include whether the decision for suicide should be influenced by a person’s age, race, family background, sexual orientation or gender?
These are very difficult questions to answer in a coherent and logical way. Nations and American states that allow assisted suicide really do not want to deal with them. They have set up arbitrary rules and they hope they work.
My guidance on this important issue is that planet earth is not ready for assisted suicide. It is fraught with problems that have no good answers.
Assisted suicide is too close to the Nazis, and to the Communists under Stalin who murdered close to 100 million people in Europe and Asia during and after World War II. It is also too close to the treachery of Mao Tse Tung, who murdered millions of people in China, all in the name of progress.
You may say, “The treachery of these butchers has nothing to do with assisted suicide, which, in fact, preserves human dignity”. On the surface, this is true. However, all of them saw their “mission” as one of remaking their society. They believed that if some need to die for the cause, it is acceptable. This is the same idea as saying that people should have the “right to die” to save money for the state or for their family, or to stop their pain. Both cases involve a “right to die”.
In contrast, the Hospice Program is excellent, and needs to spread. It is humane, gentle and safe. It ends suffering quickly and easily, in most cases. It saves money for families and governments, which is also beneficial, and does so without forcing doctors to act as executioners. The latter destroys the sacredness of medical care.