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Thursday, February 10, 2011

What do assisted suicide advocates really want?

Hawaii has turned down an effort to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill people, the third time in 6 years such legislation has been introduced in that state and was, well, euthanized in committee.

The bill apparently would have applied only to those who are terminally ill, and not those who are seriously injured and disabled but otherwise not facing imminent death.  Testimony against the bill dramatically outweighed testimony on its behalf.  Those supporting the bill basically said, "The way I die should be my choice."

Opponents pointed out that people with serious illnesses are not always in the right frame of mind to make that choice. One said he would have lied in the first 5 years of his disability to get the doctor to help him die if assisted suicide were legal.  But after he accepted his condition, he got on with living with a disability and now has no desire to kill himself.

Another said, "We do not need a law that is presented to people when they are vulnerable, sick and unable to think clearly." This person has been a quadriplegic for 20 years but still paints art by holding a brush in her mouth. If assisted suicide is legal, it is automatically a pressure on them to ask for it. If it is legal, people are going to suggest it. A doctor, a nurse, a friend. "You're suffering so much," a person who cares about your welfare might say, "You know there's a way to end it."

It used to be that anyone who wanted to commit suicide was by that very fact considered to be not thinking clearly enough to make that decision. When the conditions of life make you want to die, you simply can't see the reasons to live, reasons that are really there but that you cannot see. And by "see" I mean not simply "be aware of." For instance, someone could say to you, "but what about your kids?" And you could say, "Oh, they'll get over it, I'm too much of a burden to them now anyway, they'll be happy enough when the will is read." 

But that could be all wrong. Yes, "your" illness could be a burden to them, but maybe they love you and want you around in spite of it. It's the illness talking, the illness and shame and some sort of guilt for being a burden; it's the illness and faulty reasoning that block the full perception and internalization of the reality of things. And there are two parts of that reality to consider: One is that modern medicine has wonderful pain killers that do not directly kill the patient when used correctly, so one need not suffer if one lives--let it not be said I want to make people experience a prolonged and agonizing death.  The other is that no matter what the situation, life is worth living and anything to the contrary is false no matter how grim things appear.

If you can't see the whole picture, you simply act with insufficient knowledge and therefore are likely to act wrongly.

And it used to be that someone who wanted you dead was considered a monster. Now he's your best friend, the one most concerned about your welfare.  Because, the reasoning goes, sometimes the thing that is in your best interest it to undergo the worst possible threat to your best interest. Death terminates your future. How on earth can it offer you the best future? Death might terminate the suffering of a cancer patient, but only by terminating the patient. Death does not cure cancer.  Death does not relieve pain.  Death gets rid of the sufferer, not the suffering.

Now, this is the third time such legislation has been introduced in Hawaii and the third time it has been killed. Is it that assisted suicide advocates do not get the picture?  The people of Hawaii do not want vulnerable people being pressured to die at the precise moment they are most vulnerable.

The advocates of assisted suicide do, however, and they keep pushing it. But why?

Look, someone who wants to kill himself can do it.  What does he care about the law prohibiting it? He'll die, and he won't be prosecuted.  The only disadvantage is life insurance that does not pay out for suicide.  But even the legalization of assisted suicide would not change that clause of life insurance, because the insurance companies do not want someone to buy a big policy just to leave beneficiaries a big payout when they commit suicide after paying a month or two of premiums. They want to insure people who will die when their time comes, and they'll play the odds.  But a suicide is like playing with loaded dice, it skews the odds, it's cheating. So it isn't about protecting insurance money.

Is it about ending suffering.

So it is becoming clear that "assisted suicide" is not the right of the ill person to kill himself, but the right of someone else to help him do it.  Keep that in mind. It's not about the rights of the terminally ill to self-determination, but it is about the rights of the healthy to make the terminally ill die more quickly.

One can make an analogy with abortion.  It's not about the right of a woman to procure an abortion, but the right of the physician to perform one. And the physicians who perform abortions make a lot of money. So it boils down to the right of physicians to make money off of women's ability to get pregnant.

One has to wonder then if there won't be some money involved in helping people die. It may not be a source of money like abortions are, but it may be a way to save money. And it does relieve the suffering the healthy experience during the decline of their loved one. So perhaps the push for assisted suicide is about the right of the healthy to limit the expenses and emotional burdens they incur for a sick person.

That's how it seems to me anyway.

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