Just Another Guy with Opinions

Will You Help Me Die??

Posted by shadmia on February 18, 2008

Suicide is taboo in most western societies. People are expected to hold on to life – no matter the consequences. But is there any benefit to being alive and suffering constantly, with no hope of ever leading a “normal life” again. Is there a point at which it is preferable to leave this world with dignity and grace?

These are questions that have been asked for an eternity. Recently, the medical profession has become more deeply involved in this dilemma. Should a physician, who is trained to preserve life, be either actively or passively aiding a terminally ill patient to terminate his/her own life? Should a family member be given the authority to decide if someone should live or die? Can someone make a decision on their own that it is time to go and expect medical assistance?

Then there is the question of the law. Countries have different laws regarding assisted suicide. In some countries a person could be charged with murder for assisting in a suicide(no….I don’t think the death penalty would be applied…but that would be ironic!). For a look at how some countries treat this matter, check out this link.

The following are real-life stories from people who have struggled with this problem, taken from a New York Times article.

Gloria C. Phares, a 93-year-old retired teacher in Missouri, wrote:

“I was healthy until 90, and then Boom! Atrial fibrillation; deaf, can’t enjoy music or hear a voice unless 10 inches from my ear; fell, fractured my thigh and am now a cripple; had a slight stroke the day after my beloved husband died after 61 years of marriage.

“I’ve lived a happy life, but from here on out it’s all downhill. Is there any point in my living any longer? I’m not living — just existing. I very much want to die, but our society doesn’t let me. Oh for a pill to ease myself out and end my pain, pain, pain.”

Betty Rollin’s mother, Ida, who, at 75, also had advanced ovarian cancer.

As Ms. Rollin told it in “Last Wish” (Linden, 1985), Ida was a loving, funny, delightful human being. She was also a no-nonsense, take-charge person. So when Ida’s life had become a series of debilitating medical crises — “Every day is bad,” she said — she asked her daughter to help her end it.

“Mother,” Ms. Rollin responded, “is that really what you want — to die?”

“Of course I want to die,” Ida said. “Next to the happiness of my children, I want to die more than anything in the world.”

And so Ms. Rollin embarked on a quest to find out how her mother’s wish might be granted. It took courage and perseverance. But most of all, it took love, enormous love and respect for a woman who knew what she wanted “more than anything in the world.” With the right prescription finally amassed, Ida died peacefully by her own hand.

Then there is the example of Dr. Timothy E. Quill of the University of Rochester School of Medicine says he believes that there is an occasional need for an assisted death. As he wrote in May 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine:

“I recently helped my father to die. He was an engineer, independent, always on the go and in charge. He began to deteriorate rapidly from an ill-defined dementing illness, and his confusion and intermittent agitation did not respond to the standard treatments that were tried. He had made his wishes clear about avoiding any prolongation of his dying, but now he had lost the capacity to make decisions for himself.

“He was unable to sleep or relax at night, despite trials of neuroleptics, antidepressants, and antianxiety agents. How were we to honor his wishes and values and help him to find dignity and peace in the last phase of his life?

“We elected to try low-dose Phenobarbital. He awakened periodically to exchange a few words, but he almost completely stopped eating and drinking. He died peacefully five days later.”

The doctor continues: “I for one have made my wishes clear to my family. When the tortures of a continued existence with no hope of recovery outweigh the benefits of maintaining that existence, I want out. And I hope that those who love me will find a way to make that happen.”

When someone expresses a clear and unambiguous desire to end their life, is that not their right? Or does society have a vested interest in preserving that life at all costs, even against the will of the person most affected by this decision?

Just recently there was a halt of executions of condemned prisoners on death row in the U.S. The reason – the lethal injection cocktail they are given may cause the condemned to experience substantial pain before dying and this constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment. On the other hand, terminally ill patients who are undoubtedly in great pain have to endure what can only be described as “cruel and unusual” punishment.

It also occurred to me that maybe it is the living that don’t want to let a loved one go. It is like having a party for a one-year-old baby. Who is the party for? the baby who surely can’t appreciate why all these people are here making such a fuss. Or is it for the adults who need to mark the baby’s first birthday? Personally I believe the party is for the adults to gather and celebrate. So maybe it is out of selfishness that people want a dying loved one to live/suffer for as long as possible.

There are of course many arguments in support of and in opposition to assisted suicide. These can be broken down into 4 main categories:

  1. Ethical and Moral
  2. Legal
  3. Medical
  4. Safeguards

Arguments for assisted suicide and Arguments against assisted suicide

Nevertheless, it is my belief that as long as a person is sane and has been given the opportunity to explore alternatives, then if they desire to end their life they should be allowed to do so, with medically approved means so as to minimize discomfort.


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2 Responses to “Will You Help Me Die??”

  1. I think there comes a time when it’s harder to watch someone suffer than to watch them die peacefully. When a very ill person is truly ready to go, death is a welcome friend. This is especially true when someone goes to a nursing home and is just waiting to die…and has not experienced joy for some time.

    When it comes to medicine…yes, there can be “too much of a good thing.”

  2. […] Minister Gordon Brown’s grilling by senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee. (33 clicks) Will You Help Me Die??Suicide is taboo in most western societies. People are expected to hold on to … President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush wave to President Boni Yayi of Benin and Madame […]

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