Here is our answer to a question posed in response to the excellent True North article we posted yesterday. “What about the rights of terminal people in great pain?”
Let’s be clear about a few things regarding the “rights of terminal patients in great pain”.
1. When we consider the law that was proposed and defeated in Vermont, we are not talking about suicide but about assistance in suicide. A person who commits suicide is not breaking any law. We try to help people who try and fail to commit suicide; we do not fine them or put them in jail, though we may sometimes commit them to a psychiatric facility and restrict their freedom in order to protect them from themselves. All people have problems, and a terminal diagnosis is simply another human problem: whether a person has a terminal diagnosis or not makes no difference and should make no difference in the way society treats his suicide or attempts at suicide.
2. If a person is determined to commit suicide, no one can stop him. The fact that the suicide rate is high without legalization of assistance in suicide speaks for itself.
3. A terminally ill person receiving medications for pain has ample means to commit suicide without “violence to himself”. He is likely to possess some of the same drugs that would be prescribed in lethal doses if assistance in suicide were legalized. All he has to do is save them up. If a person wants to have the oft-cited “security” of knowing he can kill himself if he decides his problems are too much to bear, he can save prescription sleeping medications, which he can get without a terminal diagnosis. One proponent of assisted suicide wrote that his relative who committed suicide when she became terminally ill had done this for years; obviously she was a suicidal person.
4. Patients who request assistance in suicide where it is legal do not cite “extreme pain” or the fear of it among their top reasons. According to the Oregon reports, the top reasons for wanting to commit suicide are fear of losing autonomy and fear of not being able to do things one considers enjoyable; these reasons resemble “needing to impose on family for everything care for long weeks”. Can we as a society not come up with a solution for fear of dependency that is more humane than assistance in suicide, especially since, as the commentator seems to admit in citing the article’s “good points”, legalization would present a threat to the elderly, people with disabilities, anyone feeling despair, the poor, and in fact everyone facing a time in life that will inevitably arrive for us all, a time when we have to stop denying what was always the case anyway; people need other people. That’s a reality proponents of assisted suicide seem determined to ignore, but it is reality nonetheless.