Words have to mean things or we can’t engage in informed moral analysis. That’s why assisted suicide/euthanasia advocates campaign to convince people that suicide isn’t really suicide. The point is to give people moral permission to commit suicide so that more people will take terminal action upon themselves.
The Daily Mail reports on a very sad example. Frances Medley, disabled by MS killed herself, but left a blog insisting that she didn’t actually commit suicide. From the story:
The emotional post, published on Ms Medley’s Victorious Endeavours blog, read: ‘The prospect of further rapid deterioration was both terrifying and not one I wanted to entertain. ‘I decided to end my life in a manner and at a time of my choosing. Ms Medley added: ‘I am very clear that, whilst the law might say otherwise, I AM NOT COMMITTING SUICIDE.’
But that’s precisely what she did. Indeed, everyone who commits suicide “ends their life in a manner and at a time of their choosing.”
Twenty years ago, a similar event propelled me into anti-assisted suicide advocacy. My friend (also named Frances) committed suicide on her 76th birthday, and sent a suicide note claiming too that she had not actually committed suicide. From my Newsweek piece, “The Whispers of Strangers:”
Today is my 76th birthday,” the letter began. “Unassisted and by my own free will, I have chosen to take my final passage.” Suicide. My friend Frances died in a cold, impersonal hotel room after taking an overdose of sleeping pills, with a plastic bag tied over her head suffocating the life out of her body…
I am still in control,” she wrote. “The choice is mine–this act is not one of ’suicide’–I consider that it [is] my final passage.”
Why the insistence that suicide isn’t suicide by those who commit suicide? I think it remains a stigma and people don’t want to be judged. In that regard, I don’t think we should “judge” in the sense of looking down our nose or castigating character. No one knows what might bring them to the breaking point.
But we do not help suffering and despairing people by sugar coating the act! In fact, we put them at greater risk.
Perceived stigma can save lives. My Frances had been fatally influenced by the Hemlock Society, the newsletters of which gave her moral permission to commit suicide and taught her her how to do it. Without their advocacy and seductive persuasion that suicide isn’t suicide, she might well have not killed herself.
On the broader level, if words cease to have meaning, we can’t engage in meaningful public discourse. That’s the territory we are in now–and not just about the assisted suicide issue. Word manipulation corrupts democracy and destroys the cohesive glue that binds a society together. It is a weapon that furthers the destruction of social norms and commonly held mores.
Look around: Isn’t that the very social implosion we are witnessing? One of the causes of our distress is the ”suicide isn’t suicide” type of advocacy tactic.