Ragged Edge Online Home

Suicide Beyond The Question of Choice

Polls suggest nearly a 50/50 split regarding state sanctioned suicide.

For some the issue appears to be the bias toward ableism, for others it is about the choosing to die with dignity.

No matter where your views fall, "physician assisted suicide" could just as easily be called "government enforced death." Your opinion on the subject most likely depends on the knowledge and background you brought to it. Metaphorically speaking, the frame you place the issue in depends on the picture brought into the store.

The presumption of informed choice when considering state sanctioned suicide implies a level of political and personal insight which may not always be present. Clearly, there is little, if any, instruction available to teach people how to live with a disability but state sanctioned suicide is suddenly making headlines across the globe.

What does this say about our priorities -- both personally and politically?

Even the views of disability advocates differ, sometimes greatly. But the issue goes much deeper than personal preferences in death. If we allow the emphasis of the discussion, debate and resulting policy decisions to center around death with dignity, rather than quality of life, we run the risk of framing ourselves out of the debate.

Rather than being a question of choice, the issue may be one of emphasis. If all, or at least most, of what people hear is death talk, the necessary parallel discussion of learning how best to live with illness or disability is drowned out, or worse yet, never occurs -- at least in any meaningful way. Our minds only absorb so much. And most of what we let in tends to make the cut only because it confirms what we already believe.

Labeling state sanctioned suicide a choice simply makes the bitter pill easier to swallow, much like changing laws to let corporate pollution run amok under the pseudonym of the "Clean Air Act."

By focusing our attention on the end of life debate, the energy we, and others, could devote to improving the overall quality of life, either for oneself or for society, is automatically shifted, if not spent. We simply can't do both adequately. As much as we'd like to believe otherwise there are still only 24 hours in a day. By putting our attention in one place the impact we have somewhere else automatically suffers.

Now imagine, if you will, the changes which could occur if the focus, time, energy and resources brought to helping people die was instead devoted to better preparing us for life with illness or disability. Imagine a world in which making our society useable for all was given the same attention. I doubt we'd recognize the landscape. When looked at from this perspective, whatever personal preferences we individually may hold regarding how we wish to die, seem secondary.

End-of-life choices informed by bigotry rather than understanding can hardly be considered progress.

From a disability rights perspective, I can't help but wonder, what prejudices about disability motivate the architects of so-called "right-to-die" legislation? In what ways does "government-enforced-death" reflect assumptions about the value of disabled people in society? What do we, as individuals and as a sociey, stand to lose by further codifying negative notions about disability, largely based on unfounded fears, by passing them into law?

Tough questions. As they should be.

Lawmakers, pundits and pollsters seem to be more concerned about asking whether or not state sanctioned suicide laws can get the votes or past the courts, than they do about posing the most difficult -- and important -- questions.

As the debate heats up again in California, and in Congress, let's make sure we do.

Posted by Lawrence Carter-Long


Right On!

I think you're 100% on target. It's not so much about CHOICE (bad words, today), as it is about RIGHTS (a word not yet co-opted by the REPUGnant majority),



You had me until your last paragraph. Now maybe I'm misinformes, and if so, please, tell me where to get fully informed. I still don't understand what Oregon's law has to do with disabled people. I could understand if you were saying it is discriminatory towards those with a terminal illness, but I haven't seen so much as a mention of this. Doesn't the law only apply to those with 6 months or less to live, determined by AT LEAST 2 physicians? Last time I checked, being in wheelchair or having a cognitive delay was not cause to give you 6 or less months to live. As I said though, I may not be fully informed, and maybe we're not talking about Oregon anymore, maybe Cali has something more sinister in the works. Please, let me know if I am way off base here. God Bless America!!

While the debate remains largely speculative in the United States, a review of the history of assisted suicide in the Netherlands-- as practiced, mind you, not as written -- provides a glimpse into the dangerous precedent these laws may be setting.

At first, euthanasia in Holland was permitted only if physicians followed strict guidelines. Patients had to be conscious, mentally competent, in unbearable pain and suffering from a terminal disease. A voluntary request for euthanasia was also necessary ... However, the Dutch government did not closely monitor the practice of euthanasia ... inspection of the statistics reveals ... patients had their lives terminated without specifically requesting the termination. Also, 8,000 terminal patients were intentionally given lethal overdoes of pain medication. Fewer than half of the overdosed patients had requested euthanasia ...

Wesley J. Smith, writing for The Weekly Standard, cited a 1997 study published in the British medical journal, the Lancet:

According to the report, doctors were killing approximately 8 percent of all infants who died each year in the Netherlands. That amounts to approximately 80-90 per year. Of these, one-third would have lived more than a month. At least 10-15 of these killings involved infants who did not require life-sustaining treatment to stay alive. The study found that a shocking 45 percent of neo-natologists and 31 percent of pediatricians who responded to questionnaires had killed infants.

None of the children signed a consent form. Furthermore, it is questionable whether or not they were terminally ill.

If the above is any indication, there is due cause to be concerned.

Government enforced death?! Now just who is using euphemisms and Nazi parallels to justify their own views?

Euthanasia is about the PATIENT taking control of their own lives. Do you show similar outrage towards people who shorten their lives by 30-40 years by smoking, drinking and not exercising? I doubt it.

As far as the Netherlands putting babies to death because of pain and disabilities, I disagree with that practice because babies clearly can't give informed consent. Personally, though, I would support using morphine to keep them sedated and pain-free until they die.

As for abuse, the level of unconsented euthanasia is higher in the US, because it's not monitored. It goes on with a wink and a nod, and doctors rarely get prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Post comment:

(All entries are checked for inappropriate content before they appear on the site. Thanks for waiting.)