Thanks to Wesley Smith (http://thehumanfuture.cbc-network.org/2011/10/legalized-assisted-suicide-would-make-elder-abuse-epidemic-worse/) for recalling to our attention the 1995 case of George Delury, who was convicted of manslaughter after “assisting” in the suicide of his wife, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Released after serving a four month sentence, he later admitted to smothering his wife with a plastic bag after she was able to drink only half of the lethal solution he had mixed for her without the aid of a doctor. Delury later committed suicide himself, not surprisingly, since his diary had revealed how much he hated caring for his wife, how he wanted to tell her (and may have), “I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking the life out of me like a vampire” (http://articles.nydailynews.com/1995-12-16/news/17987464_1_myrna-lebov-george-delury-diary).
Several years ago, Smith directed readers of his blog to an article from the UK Guardian about the voluntary euthanasia death of a Dutch woman, Meineke Weide-Boelkes, whose illness was only terminal within six months because she had refused chemotherapy on the grounds that it would cause her to lose her hair. Nothing in the Oregon law, or in that proposed for Vermont, prevents a person from rendering their disease terminal within six months by refusing treatment, thus qualifying for assisted suicide. Her writer son kept a diary of his mother’s final days, days that were incredibly difficult as she seemed either to become or already to have been, mentally ill, a condition that did not keep her from being judged competent by two doctors. The son records that, when she asked family members what they thought about whether she should die, his brother did say he didn’t see how she was suffering unbearably since she was madly cleaning the house, including scrubbing the outdoor walls and cleaning all the windows. The writer son, however, only said, “”It should be your own decision. None of us is to say anything.” No one, not the woman’s husband and neither of her two sons, asked her not to commit suicide (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/aug/23/euthanasia.cancer).
Recently, the UK Daily Mail published an article about a woman who admitted she “arguably encouraged” her mother’s decision to kill herself by starvation and dehydration. The mother was very old and fragile but not sick; the daughter wrote that she and her mother were in the position of “wishing she were terminally ill” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2021974/How-I-helped-mum-die-A-daughter-explains-agreed-aid-ailing-mother-starving-death.html?printingPage=true).
The point of relating these stories is not that any of them exactly fits the description of assisted suicide as it would occur under the proposed law in Vermont. The point is that stressed caregivers of the chronically ill (like George Delury’s wife), of those whose terminal illness is complicated by mental illness (like Ms. Weide-Boelkes), and of the very old, may consciously or unconsciously encourage these people to commit suicide. Such encouragement is pressure. It does not matter whether the person is terminally ill or not. It is not even necessary to demonize the caregivers. George Delury, probably the most angry and manipulative of these pressurers, was still right when he wrote, “”They haven’t got hold of the idea that if they want Myrna taken care of well, they have to take care of the caregiver” (http://articles.nydailynews.com/1995-12-16/news/17987464_1_myrna-lebov-george-delury-diary).
The main point of relating these stories is simple. A person who commits assisted suicide is never making a free choice. He or she is pressured. Some pressure may be elder abuse. It is a widely accepted fact that most elder abuse is never reported. In Vermont, even reported cases of adult abuse are often not investigated for months (http://vtdigger.org/2011/08/07/abused-vulnerable-adults/). A person with no one to say, “I won’t let you commit suicide,”is pressured by abandonment that causes a real wish to die. He then goes to two doctors, both of whom must be supporters of assisted suicide; that is pressure in itself. He may actually be urged to commit suicide by his caregivers, on whom he is totally dependent and would never tell. Even when pressure to die is suspected, as in the Oregon case of Kate Cheney, the patient’s stated request prevails over caution (http://www.vaeh.org/resources/index.htm, see “Oregon Abuses” link). What happens after the patient fills the lethal prescription no one can ever know. The patient could die at his own hand from simple despair that no one wants him to live, which is pressure, or he could be forced to take the poison. Last year George Eighmey of Oregon’s Compassion and Choices, told a Manchester, VT forum that someone forcing a person to take the poison could be prosecuted as a murderer. Unfortunately no one ever will be, because no one will ever know. No current or proposed US laws require witnesses at the time of death.
Those who write that Oregon’s horrific “experiment” has proven assisted suicide safe disregard the simple fact that its victims, who are now irrevocably dead, will never be able to tell what happened to them in their last minutes. In 2010, two people who took the poison in Oregon did not die. Neither took a second dose, though one lived three months more. One wishes they had been interviewed to find out why. Was the experience less peaceful than promised? Did they think, as a man who was one of only 29 people out of more than 2000 to survive a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, “My God, what have I just done? …I know that almost everyone else who’s gone off that bridge, they had that exact same thought at that moment. All of a sudden, they didn’t want to die, but it was too late”( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/magazine/06suicide-t.html?pagewanted=all). Did the people whose assisted suicides were successful think the same thing? The article that told that Golden Gate jumper’s story stated that very few people who survive suicide attempts make another attempt. That seems to have held true for the near victims of assisted suicide in Oregon, at least in 2010.
The only people who might possibly have committed suicide freely are those who did not ask for assistance, did not expose themselves to pressures from desperate and unsupported caregivers and from doctors who approve of assisted suicide and so will not reach out to rescue them. How ironic that those very ones, the ones who commit suicide on their own, are the ones society always tries to rescue because we are convinced such actions are the result of distorted thought processes.
In fact, suicide is never a free choice. Making the state and doctors complicit in suicide makes it less, not more, so. Making assisted suicide legal tells caregivers it is OK to act on normal desires to end their own suffering through the abnormal act of encouraging those who need care to eliminate themselves and adding to their pressure the cold, studied neutrality of professionals willing to accept the idea that some lives are unworthy of being lived to their natural ends.