On Assisted Suicide


In a previous post on physician-assisted suicide, I had the following exchange with a commenter named Van:

Van:

I take it you are are against assisted-suicide?

Let me ask you this – how can we say we live in a free nation if we cannot do what we wish to our own bodies, as long as we do not impact the life, liberty and safety of others?

I have mixed feelings on the subject, but I really have a hard time with others telling me what to do with my body.

Dr. Bob:

Yes, very much against it.

You are, of course, perfectly free to end your own life, with or without such legislation. A handgun and a single bullet will do the job very nicely — along with a hundred other ways.

The problem with this public policy is that you are asking your physician to kill you — and therefore it is no longer just about “what you do with your body”, but very much involves other people — the doctor, the families, and society as a whole.

The problem with this sort of “it \'s my body” radical self-autonomy is that it focuses solely on the self, while conveniently ignoring the enormous consequences of such legalization on others and society as a whole.

Van:

So your key issue is the doctor assisting in the suicide, thereby involving others?

Let \'s say you have a 90 year old individual with no family, suffering from cancer, who has no meaningful impact on others… If they take their own life, you are OK with it?

Just trying to understand where you are coming from.

Van’s question is a valid one, to be addressed shortly, but in digression one should note what often passes for arguing from principles in our current culture: the argument from the exceptional. When promoting or defending some contentious social or moral issue, we seem always to find the most extreme example imaginable and argue from this specific, then applying our conclusions to the general. Hence, for example, when arguing for government prescription health coverage, we must first find some old woman who has to eat cat food in order to pay for her prescriptions; when discussing gay adoption, we must find the idyllic gay couple, lifelong partners (or so we are told), ecstatically happy with nary a relational dispute, as parents; when arguing for assisted suicide, we must find the patient in unbearable pain with a loving husband passionate about ending her life “in dignity” by slipping her a deadly cocktail — or one who is dying utterly alone, with nary a friend or family member to share their suffering. That such argumentation almost invariably presents a false dichotomy is never considered; that far better alternatives might exist to solve the problem never pondered; that applying the suggestive solution based on emotion without consideration for its broad implications or ramifications might prove disastrous, is never seen as a possibility. We press for great social and policy changes with profound effects on culture and society using pop emotionalism and pulp fiction.

But I digress. So, to answer the question: I would not find suicide of such a sadly-abandoned individual justified, simply because no physician was involved. Suicide is the ultimate repudiation of life, of relationships, of hope, the product of the deep hopelessness and self-absorbed insanity of depression. My point was simply this: we all have free will. Each of us may choose, if we decide to do so, to end our own lives. There is a pernicious distortion of the idea of freedom which is a product of our radical individualism, to wit: I live in a free society, therefore by necessity I must be free to do whatsoever I please, and others must not only allow me to do so, but must bear the consequences of my actions, and must be actively engaged in enabling my behavior, because it is my right. Hence, I must be free to say anything I wish, without consequence, including criticism of my speech; I must be free to terminate my pregnancy, without guilt or restriction, though my unborn child pays the ultimate price; I must be free to end my life when I wish, and my physician must be required to deliver the lethal potion — or at least must be coerced into finding another doctor who will, if his “values” (defined as mere subjective opinions) don’t agree with mine.

Many of the “rights” which are being promulgated and promoted by today’s secular culture are in reality straw men, fine-sounding proxies for demands and desires far less salutary than they sound. Thus, gay marriage is not about gays getting married (hence the lack of enthusiasm among gay rights advocates for civil unions which provide all the legal benefits of marriage), but is instead an effort to destroy traditional heterosexual marriage as normative in culture, thereby removing not merely legal but cultural restraints on all forms of sexual and relational deviancy. The high standard — heterosexual marriage, with its enormous advantages in the raising of children and establishment of societal self-restraint, morality, and relational stability — must be brought down to the lowest common denominator of any two (or more) people getting “married” — with the sole purpose of muting societal condemnation for self-gratifying, dysfunctional and heterodox partnerships. Unrestricted abortion, a.k.a. “freedom of choice”, is about the uncompromising (albeit delusional) demand for unconstrained sexual license without consequences — especially for women, but also for their sperm donors who want no responsibility for their casual hookups: dispose of the unplanned pregnancy, move on to your next “partner”, and you have achieved the perfect “zipless fuck.”

Likewise, physician-assisted suicide is not at all about “death with dignity”, but rather about actively enlisting the culture in support of radical individual autonomy. Not only must we exert full control over the time and manner of our death — which we have always been able to do, by simply killing ourselves — but we demand that society support, honor, and praise this decision, without the faintest whiff of criticism or condemnation. It is not sufficient that we be able to kill ourselves. Rather, it is necessary that we actively kill those societal sensibilities and strictures which condemn such a choice as morally misguided and potentially destructive to our human dignity and our social fabric.

Were some silver-suited alien from Alpha Centuri to visit our noble globe, he would find our passion for self-extinction puzzling, to say the least. What manner of sentient being seeks to facilitate its own demise, only to perpetuate the illusion that they control their own lives? Has their existence no purpose but to be ended at their own direction? Are their relationships so shallow that they choose death over life, has their suffering no meaning, will their precious time with life partners, friends, and offspring be traded for the dark comfort of a deadly cocktail? Who are these intelligent fools who hand over the power of death to their doctors, oblivious to the evil which dwells in the hearts of men, waiting to be empowered by cold rationalism, scientific professionalism, self-justification, and sterile repetition?

Yet were our starship sojourner to study the society which breeds such nihilism, he would, by turns, find his answer: we are, for all our technological advances and unbounded prosperity, a culture without meaning, a people without purpose. We have embraced unquestioningly the mantra of materialism: we have come from nothing, and to nothing shall return. Our relationships mean naught but what we may gain from them; our suffering gains us nothing but rage and resentment; our deaths are like our lives — without hope, without a future, joyless and empty. We desperately push the buttons and mix the potions which promise to make us happy and whole, yet find they only echo forlornly through our hollow souls, singing that siren song:

“I am my own master.”

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22 thoughts on “On Assisted Suicide

  1. Bob, this is one of the best pieces you’ve ever written. What is the most salient is the fact that radical causes want more than abortion or gay marriage. They want it with no restraint and with unabased support and praise. And they’ll use the most extreme, unusual examples to call for the urgency of need to support the cause.

    And the mother lode is your following quote, so fine:

    “Thus, gay marriage is not about gays getting married (hence the lack of enthusiasm among gay rights advocates for civil unions which provide all the legal benefits of marriage), but is instead an effort to destroy traditional heterosexual marriage as normative in culture, thereby removing not merely legal but cultural restraints on all forms of sexual and relational deviancy. The high standard — heterosexual marriage, with its enormous advantages in the raising of children and establishment of societal self-restraint, morality, and relational stability — must be brought down to the lowest common denominator of any two (or more) people getting “married” — with the sole purpose of muting societal condemnation for self-gratifying, dysfunctional and heterodox partnerships. Unrestricted abortion, a.k.a. “freedom of choice”, is about the uncompromising (albeit delusional) demand for unconstrained sexual license without consequences .”

    A world with no consequences for extreme and unnatural behavior is a world that’s extemely unnatural and unreal. And no amount of legislation will change the ultimate commupance.

  2. After more thought, a comparison might be made with the death penalty. Might one assume that Van, or the thinking he illustrates would oppose the death penalty to prevent the execution of “a single innocent man”. Yet once the state, in the name of compassion, and ‘rationing scarce health care resources’, (scare quotes intentional), decides that Mr. van Soandso needs to go for the good of someone else, and steps in to make the call. Because the specimen is too far into in either coma or Alzheimer’s land to ‘do the right thing, and ‘as long as this is his body, and will have no impact on others’, just let’s ease this needle into his veins. And to any of you Van’s out there, you are Mr. van Soandso. Or you lost the case with the state, and your father or grandfather is Mr. van Soandso…Remember, you don’t want any innocent man to be excuted. Now what do you think about principles?

  3. Until you watch a loved one going through thr process of death I truely do not believe that anyone has the right to force their views on anyone. You are not facing what that person is facing. You do not have to go through the so called proceedures to ensure life. Is it more humane to deny a person food and drink? or the law of do not resitate? I think that is more inhumane than to say my life is not going to get any better and so I choose to end my life. What right do any of us have to force our views on anyone? Jackie Kennedy had the right to choose why can’t the average Joe have the same consideration? To be able to say good by with family and friends and celebrate the person who is and not the vegetable that is left to die. We put our dogs to sleep so that they do not suffer any more than they have. Are our lives any less important? Why do we have to suffer and not have the choice to call it quits when that quality of life is no longer evident? I watched my mother die for three long years and have watched her go through procedures to prolong her life and in the end the poor care of nursing facilities and the infections she had to endure and the painful treatment of those infections that she had to endure makes me in favor of physician assisted suicides. God does not want us to suffer. God does not want us to experience the pain and suffering of disease. So why as a human being are we enforcing that way on ourselves as well as our loved ones? Where is the compasion? Where is the love for human kind? Something is not right here and needs to be revised. Look at the poor people who are stuck in thoses facilities and see the mistreatment, the filth, the disease and infection that is spread not only in the Nursing facilities but in the hospitals themselves. None of this was happening years ago but it is today. Until the medical field cleans up their act who are they or anyone else to say that we do not have the right to choose if we want our live to end or not. The re was a time when children were not allowed on the floors of sick people not today. There are infants up there contracting the same diseases as the people in the hospitals. The cleaning of those facilities is not as clean as they once were. the nurses do not care and are as dirty by leaving syringes all over the place. If you do not have anyone there to speak for you then your are as good as dead. The care in hospitals and nursing facilities is sub standard. Not everyone has the space or the means to have the patient have care at home. Nursing facilities are the worse because there are not enough nurses to care for the patients as in a hospital. The nurse in a nursing facitity may have up to 30 patients on her shift. That is 1 nurse for 30 patients who are there for critical care. The CNA’s do not care. They will stand in the halls a talk with each other and the patients have to go to the bathroom all at the same time. Then when the patient has no choice but to soil their pants and the embarassment of having to do that not to mention not all CNA’s want to clean the mess so the patient has to sit in it. This causes the infections that they get. Not to mention that the nurses do not follow doctor’s written orders. The list is endless. Do you want to live your last days like that? People wake up! It may not be a choice for everyone but do not deny another person that right. Everyone should have the right to choose. After seeing what my mother went through I do not want the same fate for myself. I do not want my family feeling guilty because of what they may be forced to choose as a way of life for me. I want the right to say no more. I am so sick of people playing God by making the decision of what they feel is the right thing to do. I want to be able to make the decision of what I want to do when faced with what is going on in my life. I want what is right for me. Not what someone thinks should be right for everyone. We have had it stressed that we are all individuals so why can’t we make the decision of life vs death? Do not force your beliefs on another person. The option should be there for all people. Not everyone will choose that way of dying for whatever their reasons are but they should have the option available to them.

  4. Dr. Bob,
    We need you in our medical schools! I can’t even begin to count the number of times my classmates have begun arguments with “the specific” and then attempted, with the unabashed approval of professors and lecturers, to attempt application to the general.
    I came across this Victor Frankl quote from “The Doctor and the Soul” in my first year of medical school: “I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”
    Sadly, I think he was right. And I am compelled to believe that history is repeating itself, only this time I find myself embroiled in the conflict.

  5. Unrestricted abortion, a.k.a. “freedom of choice”, is about the uncompromising (albeit delusional) demand for unconstrained sexual license without consequences — especially for women, but also for their sperm donors who want no responsibility for their casual hookups: dispose of the unplanned pregnancy, move on to your next “partner”, and you have achieved the perfect “zipless f**k.”

    Have you ever had sex in your life? Shit happens! Condoms break, dedicated married couples end up pregnant before they are ready, people with vasectomies even end up pregnant on occasion, and you are saying that abortion is merely a justification for tramps and mansluts to get down all the time? Do you think women want to get abortions?

    If you are trying to justify this (delusional) pro-life stance at least use some unfalsifiable bullshit claim like religion.

    You fail.

  6. Oh I almost forgot,

    You are, of course, perfectly free to end your own life, with or without such legislation. A handgun and a single bullet will do the job very nicely — along with a hundred other ways.

    It must be so easy for terminally ill patients who are confined to hospice beds to get guns right? Nobody is asking the physician to kill them, the legislation calls for access to lethal prescriptions so that paitents can kill themselves. Maybe you will finally understand when you are dying.

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