Human Exceptionalism

Suicide as a “Gift”

The media are suicide promoters–in the way some journalists report stories about assisted suicide, and especially among the punditry, so many of whom extol suicide in their columns.

Case in point, St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, who extols an elderly man’s suicide as a “gift” because of the serious discussion about mortality it promoted.  From the column:

I.E. Millstone, who lived to be 102, was a remarkable and generous man in life, and he has proven to be the same in death. His final gift to the community was to initiate a serious discussion about morality.

In the days following his suicide, I heard a number of people discussing his final act. These were serious discussions, thoughtful discussions, far removed from the yelling and name-calling that passes for public discourse in this Age of the Blogosphere. Most of the people seemed to approve — if that’s the right word — of Millstone’s decision to end his life. Or at least they didn’t disapprove. The consensus seemed to be that when a great man senses an impending decline, one should not question his right to choose to end his life.

Think of the insidious message that paragraph sends to elderly people and to those with disabilities.  When one is in decline–think suicide.  No wonder we hear so many seniors today worrying about being “burdens.”

Back to the column:

Millstone chose to make his final act a very public one. He jumped off a busy bridge. Perhaps he wanted us to talk about it. How else to explain the public nature of his final act? In fact, it was the means of his death that most puzzled me. Why not a fistful of pills and a highball? That would have been the easy way. Pour a glass of the finest whiskey, cut it with sweet vermouth — whiskey lovers will argue that that is a waste of good whiskey, but a man about to enjoy a final drink should not worry about such criticism — and then wash down the pills and sip your drink. Let the caregiver find your body.

Or perhaps he was depressed as often happens with elderly people, a condition that can often be remedied by proper medication. Or, perhaps it was a tragic impulse.  If he didn’t leave a note, how can anyone know his motives? It is the columnist, not the deceased, who wishes to promote the discussion–and acceptability–of suicide.

And then McClellan called out the old standard:

Still, even my pro-life friends have been reluctant to condemn Millstone.

Nobody should condemn suicidal people. That is not, and has never been, the issue.  But we can and should condemn a public discourse that increasingly pushes people on the margins to embrace suicide as an acceptable the answer–nay, a gift.

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