Robin Williams’ widow has disclosed that he had been diagnosed with a terrible disease that leads to dementia and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
That has Dallas Morning News editorial writer, Tod Robberson, in effect, applauding Williams’ suicide. From, “Suicide is a Selfish Act? Not in the Case of Robin Williams:”
Considering the long trail of evidence in Robin Williams’s life, his many charitable acts and devotion to worthy non-profit causes, it seems more than likely that he carefully examined where his life was headed and the suffering he would probably put his family through.
Chances of recovery and a resumption of normal life were zero. Rather than impose that awful experience on others, Williams decided to cut his losses and end it quickly. Yes, there would be pain and anger and tears. But those feelings would be relatively short lived.
The suffering of family and friends as they watched him waste away promised to be prolonged and agonizing. Plus, when he eventually would die, there would be all the normal pain and tears of death anyway. Williams simply saved everyone else the trouble of watching it play out over months or years.
And, then the expected pitch for assisted suicide.
His experience adds a lot of weight to those who argue for legalization of assisted suicide, at least in cases where the prognosis is similar to his. It takes a lot of courage to make this decision and go out on your own terms. It is the exact opposite of selfishness.
Of course, Williams would not have qualified for assisted suicide under any law in effect in the USA. But so what? Such distinctions don’t matter once the premise of assisted suicide as an acceptable response to serious illness or disability is accepted.
But here are the primary points of this post:
We shouldn’t condemn those who commit suicide. None of us knows our own limits.
At the same time, we should not applaud suicide. That normalizes self-destruction as a proper response to terrible circumstances.
Moreover, Robberson also implies–heck, he all but states–that Williams’ wife is better off not having experienced the difficulties of caring for her husband as he declined–and by more than implication our loved ones would be better off too if we kill ourselves when facing a terrible illness.
But the exact opposite is often true. I know so many people who deeply treasure experience of caring for those they loved through physical decline and death. Suicide, rather than receiving care, would rob them of an essential part of an intimate human relationship.
Promoting suicide to benefit family is very dangerous. It sends an insidious message to the very ill, disabled, and elderly, that it is an act of love to put themselves out of their family’s misery.
That kind of pressure–to die now, for those you love–is the last thing people struggling with terrible circumstances need to make it through the night.