The Hemlock Society, or as they prefer to be known now, Compassion & Choices (what a disgusting euphemism) wants their pet issue of euthanasia to be spoken about at candidates’ town halls and are on a mission to ask everyone running for president about their views on physician-assisted suicide
I’m gonna pick on Bernie Sanders today just because his quote on the topic is a good summary of the other side. His quote as they have promoted it goes as thus:
“[If] a human being is in a situation where they are going to see their life end in a short period of time, where they are suffering, where they choose no longer to be alive, I think they have the right to make that decision for themselves.” ~Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2/17/2016
I would like to respond to that as someone who has worked with the dying for 6 years as a CNA and as a hospice chaplain. I also did graduate work in death and dying and end-of-life issues. I’m going to break my response up into three parts:
- “short period of time”
- “right to make that decision for themselves”
“Short Period of Time”
Two important parts of the human life cycle which never go by the medical textbook are birth and death. As much as we try to clinicalize it, medicate it, dissect it, and stick it in our little boxes, birth and death just refuse to play nice with modern science. Just as every birth is different, so is every death. People are put on hospice all the time just to be taken back off again when their condition improves. On the other hand, people who look like there is nothing wrong with them can and do suddenly drop dead.
One of my favorite stories from my time as a CNA involves a resident I only got to know for two hours. She was a relatively new resident. She was showing none of the signs that we look out for in the dying, but her whole family was there. They were convinced she was going to die soon. I’m talking 20+ people crammed in a tiny room to say goodbye. It was her day to get a bath, so I offered and she, in a very soft, but strong voice refused. I respected that and left her alone, assuming she or her family would holler for me if she needed anything. By dinner time, she was dead. Her vital signs had been fine, but her family intuitively knew something was wrong and they were right when medicine was wrong.
So, when doctors tell you that you have a short time to live, don’t believe them. If they tell you that you have a long life ahead of you, don’t believe them then either. We all have to go someday, no one knows exactly when. As the chaplain in me would like to remind everyone, don’t forget you will be meeting your Maker someday.
What a cheap definition of life to measure it only by the amount of pleasure one gets out of it? And isn’t it selling medicine and society short when you say, “My suffering is so great, I just want to die”?
Studies have shown that a majority of people seeking physician-assisted suicide are driven by loneliness. People don’t want to be a burden to their friends and family. Euthanasia is a morally-corrupt coward’s way out of dealing with the overall issues of pain management and loneliness. It’s cheaper to poison a person than to sit with them everyday and be a support in their final days. Euthanasia doesn’t ask anything more of society or medicine. It doesn’t challenge anyone to do better, to be better.
What’s the point of improving pain medicines if we can just kill them? What’s the point in taking time out of my busy schedule to stand vigil with a dying loved one if they can just off themselves and be done with it?
“Right to make the decision for themselves”
First and foremost, I’m not generally a big fan of slippery slope arguments. It seems to me that 9 times out of 10, they are a load of fear mongering baloney, but this is actually an occasion where the arguments are all true. Look at Belgium. First it was legal for adults who were imminently dying. Then it was expanded to include children with the parents wishes. Now doctors are pushing to be able to make the decision themselves for children so that the parents are not burdened with the choice. It has also been expanded for people with depression and may someday include healthy older people who just don’t want to live anymore.
None of these sound like the euthanasia advocate’s ideal of a terminally diagnosed mentally sound adult. It just sounds like murder and suicide all around. It sounds like hopelessness. It sounds like a crappy way to live, much less to die.
“Making the decision for themselves” quickly and easily devolves into others making the decision for you because you are unable to. It leads to the growth of a culture in which the easy way out is encouraged. Again, what is the point in supporting someone through their suffering if you can just end it? What is the point in better pain meds? What is the point in better social support? Assisted-suicide in Belgium has only grown since it it was legalized in 2003. As a Witherspoon Institute article puts it:
Belgium has the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world, and one of every twenty deaths in Belgium is now deliberately caused. Suicide is becoming a moral obligation in a culture that promotes euthanasia as a dignified exit that offers relief to caregivers.
Our dying deserve better than poison through their veins. Our suffering deserve better than murder. Our disabled deserve better than death.