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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Pushing Elder Suicide in Slate



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As we are in the midst of an elder-suicide crisis, we see elder suicide promoted within the assisted suicide movement and its camp followers in the media.

Now, continuing the recent pattern, the 2002 joint elder suicides of Admiral Chester Nimitz, Jr. and his wife Joan has been extolled in Slate. Euthanasia activist, Dr. Lewis. M. Cohen recounts how the Nimitzs’ killed themselves together. Members of the Hemlock Society, neither were terminally ill but experiencing the usual circumstances of octogenarians. According to Cohen, these suicides were, “Deaths With Dignity.”  From the piece:

Nurses were employed at their home to attend to Joan Nimitz’s worsening health problems, but the couple did not want to squander all of their money on such care. They were both appalled at the vast sums spent at the end of life to sustain people who were frail and sick and not likely to get better. They could clearly envision–and they rejected–the idea of spending their remaining years in a nursing facility. The admiral particularly worried his heart condition might suddenly worsen and his wife would be unable to commit suicide by herself. Joan Nimitz confided to the children that she, too, feared that without her husband’s help, she would not be in a position to ingest the barbiturate pills they had been stockpiling. The admiral told his daughter, “That’s the one last thing I have to do for your mother.”

It is appalling that such attitudes should be extolled rather than mourned. Anyone who loves and/or cares for elderly parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, cousins, or others should understand that their loved ones are imperiled by such advocacy as explicitly promotes elder suicide as empowering and somehow the most “dignified”–at a time when elderly people worry about becoming burdens–which is our fault, not theirs. 

But this is where assisted suicide advocacy aims, with the terminal illness limitation being just a political ploy to get people to accept the principle that killing is an acceptable answer to the problems of suffering. As the Admiral’s daughter–fully supportive of her parents’ suicides–admits: 

Van Dorn appreciates that the [Vermont] law would not have directly helped her parents, as neither had a “terminal” disease. She understands that a civil rights movement, such as death with dignity, takes politically expedient and incremental steps. She anticipates that in the future the infirmities and suffering of advanced age may also qualify people to request this option (as is presently true in Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). Meanwhile, one more American state will allow its citizens further control at the end of life. And Van Dorn is looking forward to the day “when kids and their parents will regularly sit around the dining room table and talk about end-of-life issues the way you talk about college planning. Because, after all it is just another kind of planning.”

In other words, planning suicides over coffee.

So, where is the Suicide Prevention Community? Silent! Perhaps afraid of being controversial–which never stops the pro-suicide crowd–they gently discuss suicide prevention, often in the narrowest of terms, and certainly rarely (if ever) publicly opposing assisted suicide. Indeed, usually the topic isn’t mentioned. Meanwhile, suicide promotion is growing increasingly brazen–which substantially explains why each year “invisible Suicide Prevention Day” comes and goes, making nary a ripple.



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