Human Exceptionalism

Suicide Shouldn’t Be Easy to Accomplish

Switzerland is Jack Kevorkian as a country. Just as suicidal people used to fly to Michigan to be made dead by him, they now fly to Switzerland to be made dead at Swiss suicide clinics.

Some say that this is a reason to legalize assisted suicide. In that way, this argument goes, people can commit suicide at home. The latest such case comes out of Canada where a disabled woman with a terminal degenerative condition is planning on killing herself in Switzerland. From the CBC story:

The Canadian government says it won’t reopen the debate over assisted suicide, as a Winnipeg woman makes plans to die in Europe by the end of this month. Susan Griffiths, 72, has left loved ones and friends behind to carry out a planned assisted suicide. “If it was legal [in Canada], I’d have done it now. Definitely. Months ago, probably,” she said. “I knew that my future was absolutely hopeless.”

Griffiths has multiple system atrophy, a rare and debilitating disease with no cure. If left to run its course, the disease would likely leave her bedridden, blind and unable to walk or talk, she said. “All your body parts break down and quit working,” she said. “You would have to have people do everything for you. Every function that a human needs, another person would have to do it. They’d have to feed you, take you to the bathroom — and it’s horrific to me.”

The actual lessons from this very difficult situation is quite the contrary of that which assisted suicide advocates and many in the media assert. First, note that she has been with us longer than she would otherwise have been precisely because assisted suicide is illegal. Second, by claiming that people should be able to commit suicide at home rather than fly to Switzerland, they essentially claim that suicide is a necessity. That’s the last thing we should tell suicidal people. Third, this is a very difficult case, but even here there are significant and important care opportunities that the media doesn’t discuss. Not only that, but promoting assisted suicide in cases such as this tells dependent people and their families that dead is better than disabled.

Changing public policy to make suicide easier to accomplish isn’t merciful. Indeed, making suicide difficult is the true mercy because it saves lives. In fact, there are people who wanted to commit suicide–but didn’t because it was not easy to access–who were later glad to be alive, and this includes people with terminal illnesses. Studies show it and I have met such grateful people. Why that doesn’t seem to matter much in this debate demonstrates how seductive death has become in our decaying culture. 

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