Canada’s ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ program grabs disability headlines as ‘mental illness’ added to list of state-approved justifications for suicide, despite acknowledged difficulty in distinguishing patients suicides of those who simply want to kill themselves.
I would like to go back today and speak very frankly about the temptation to commit suicide when living any conditions, physical or mental, covered by Canada’s euthanasia policies. Proponents of assisted suicide give the impression that state-sanctioned suicide is only there to save extraordinary suffering in the rarest of cases. This is not the reality at all.
The reality is that the idea of death is a extremely common experience, and that the availability of physician-assisted suicide creates disastrous suicide pressure in patients who don’t wanna be suicidal.
So let’s talk about this pressure.
Suicide prevention is a normal and healthy philosophy
Before continuing, since this is the Catholic channel, let’s forego a few points about the Catholic faith:
- It is not necessary to take extraordinary measures to prolong life. It is immoral to deprive a patient of nutrition and hydration capable of receiving it (at the end of life, the digestive system can stop), but it is not necessary for the patient to seek expensive or restrictive treatments.
- We should seek to alleviate suffering, using all moral means at our disposal. I will discuss this a little further down.
- It is acceptable to use painkillers (or other treatments) to relieve suffering, even if this treatment carries a known risk of shortening life expectancy.
And while Catholic opposition to suicide has a religious basis, it is not a uniquely Catholic philosophical position.
For the remainder of this discussion, however, I will examine what I believe to be an even more common moral belief: People should not be driven to suicide.
If you think people should to be driven to suicide, please leave. Everyone else, keep reading.
My dog in this fight
Regular readers will know that I have some kind of brain disease, fairly mild at the moment, precise diagnosis yet to be determined. It is not even known if it is strictly a neurological disorder or if it is something else, but which happens to cause neurological symptoms.
What’s new is that since last Friday night, I’ve come down with intermittent movement disorder. Looks like choreaand if you click on that link, you’ll see that most of the possible causes are horrible chronic and/or terminal illnesses that definitely put you on Canada’s suicide list.
(I have many doors to walk through before I know exactly where I fit in the rankings. My GP and I have been wondering for a decade if something like this would eventually pop up to help with a more definitive diagnosis than “Yeah, something is wrong, but we can’t quite say what yet.”
Luckily for me, I don’t live in a state where assisted suicide is legal.
Let’s talk about suffering.
In my own experience, fatigue is one of the most disabling features of chronic disease. With perseverance you can overcome all sorts of other problems, but you have to be awake and mentally functional to do so.
Obviously, therefore, dementia would be even more disabling; drug addiction and psychological disorders will each destroy you in their unpleasant way; and of course there is no end to physical ailments, many of which sound more like science fiction until you hear of someone who actually has this thing.
You, the reader, probably have one of the worst handicaps that completely blows your mind.
I am convinced, however, that the soul crushing power twins are chronic pain and severe sleep deprivation. It only takes one or the other, but of course they often work as a team.
Any of these, or any other catastrophic illness or disability, may easily push you to the brink of despair.
The consequences of improper treatment
Severe chronic pain and sleep deprivation themselves cause despair. I’d bet it’s almost a biological fact.
–> For this reason, refusing to provide adequate pain control is tantamount to murder. Plain and simple. It is torture that drives the patient to madness. To then hang suicide as a “choice” is a mockery.
I say this as someone who doesn’t use prescription painkillers, uses very little over-the-counter painkillers, and has delivered four children without medication (by choice). I don’t speak as someone looking for meds and fearing pain. I’m just telling you what the reality is.
Therefore, you cannot talk about choice about suicide unless the pain and sleep deprivation were treated.
The emotional fallout of disabling illnesses
The emotional toll of a disabling chronic or terminal illness (any physical condition recognized by the Government of Canada as justifying suicide) comes in a variety of forms, depending on the situation:
- Fear of being a burden on your loved ones who must take care of you personally or pay someone else to do so.
- Feeling “useless” because you can’t do what you think you should.
- Social isolation due to the inability to maintain relationships or be involved in the community due to your limitations or because the necessary assistive technology is not available to you.
- Ostracism because your condition makes you socially unacceptable, or your condition requires assistance that members of the community (including your doctor’s office and your church) do not care to offer.
- Awareness of not “putting on your weight” if you can’t support yourself financially, even if you don’t need significant care otherwise.
- Outright dismissal if there is no support network (public or personal) that can support you when you are unable to support yourself.
Poverty has been specifically cited in numerous instances of legally sanctioned requests for assisted suicide. Again, here, what is the “choice” offered? It’s not the choice. Governments that swear they provide a social safety net now refuse to provide needed material support to indigent citizens and instead offer suicide.
Emotionally, however, feelings of intense lack of self-esteem and being a “net negative” on friends and family members are very common, and that’s true even among the religiousand same when the victim has supportive family members.
Riding the waves of despair
If the “choice” of suicide is not on the table, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness can be dealt with.
If initial efforts to address the pain and sleep deprivation are not successful, alternatives can be tried. You, the person who feels isolated and overwhelmed, may continue to seek strategies for building relationships, coping with physical limitations, or seeking financial and practical supports.
Serious illnesses and disabilities put pressure on family relationships, bringing to light issues that were previously hidden when things were going well. With time, these conflicts can be resolved.
Moreover, it is common that waves of despair are part of the experience of chronic or terminal illness. Even if you know better, even if overall your situation is remarkably favorable, emotions are likely to arise.
When the “choice” of suicide is not offered, these emotions can be treated for what they are: temporary feelings that will pass on their own or by addressing the underlying issue that is fueling them.
The Merchants of Death
In contrast, in a climate where doctors, public aid agencies and unsupportive family members tout suicide as a means of escaping suffering, it is impossible to speak of a free “choice” of suicide.
The offer is pressure. In the midst of a wave of despair, it’s already hard not to succumb. The so-called “compassion” of asking if anyone would like to come down from the ledge is not the offer of a choice at all. It’s a death nudge.
Photo: Gentle waves lapping on the sand at sunset, by Christian Ferrer CC 4.0.