Friday, July 2, 2010

Stopping the legalization of Assisted Suicide

The past 4 days at the Academy we have been focusing on understanding and learning how to articulate the pro-life position against assisted suicide/euthanasia. I am actually personally very interested in this topic because of all the issues that I dealt with in the deaths of my grandmother and great-mother in the last several years AND because of its extreme relevance to the future of our country. Once we devalue life even more by saying the those who are terminally ill should have the right to die - then the elderly, the disabled, the imperfect, and the useless are also in danger of being eliminated (as evidenced by Oregon and the Netherlands).

While I had read about assisted suicide issue before, this four day intensive study has definitely helped cement what I believe and why. Additionally, I feel more confident in expressing why upholding the sanctity of life at all ages is so important. I still have questions about various aspects of this very complex issue, but Burke has assured us that "we are not done with this discussion!" I am glad - While abortion is still a very big part of the pro-life movement, upholding the sanctity of life at any age or stage is critical at this time. Only 2 states (Oregon and Washington) have legalized it and we must do everything we can to stop the progress of the pro-death agenda.

So that you can feel like you're learning right alongside me - I will write in my own words a few of the main points that I have found to be most convincing and helpful. (but warning - I have a hard time being 'non-wordy' - sorry) I have many, many, many personal stories, examples from the unfortunate test cases in Oregon, Washington and the Netherlands - if you want more specific examples or have any questions - please let me know.

The whole debate can really be framed into two areas: the Autonomy argument and the Quality of Life argument.
"Isn't it a person's choice whether they live or die? Its really none of our business. They should have the right to die"
The autonomy argument leads to an extreme position - With this precedent of extending the right to die to the terminally ill or those with permanent disabilities, it follows that it shouldn't be society's right to judge that any individual's life is worth living and so should not interfere with the suicide of anyone - including an 18 year old who has just been dumped by her boyfriend or a 35 year old whose business has just gone bankrupt.

Why would the right to die only apply to the terminally ill? Do we really want to legalize suicide for everyone?

"She's a competent adult - she wants to die and she's making a logical decision. We should let her." 
Actually those attempting suicide are generally not exercising true autonomy because they have their judgement impaired by a mental disorder.

At least 90% of those who commit suicide have a mental disorder - and of the terminally ill, 24% have expressed a wish to die, and ALL of those people have clinical depression.

The good news is that depression is TREATABLE - with medication and psychological counseling.
The depression is causing the person to desire death, but this can be a reversible condition. If attempters were stopped and counseled, in 5 years, less than 4% attempted suicide again.

The true attempt is usually not to die, but it is most commonly a cry for help. If we address this cry for help by helping them commit suicide - then we really are reinforcing their hopelessness by saying, "You're right - your life really is worthless.”

Quality of Life
"Its reasonable in some cases that people would want to die : intractable pain, depression, disabilities, or feeling like they are a burden on their family." 
90-99% of all pain can be controlled according to the Washington Medical Association. The problem is that not all medical professions are trained to use the most advanced medical technology to control pain effectively without the sedation/groggy effects. The solution is to expand training in pain management, not kill the person in pain.

Depression - see above. Depression can be treated even for the terminally ill. Too many primary care providers don't truly know how to spot or diagnose depression, and not enough doctors refer their patients to psychiatrists before giving them the lethal prescription in Oregon and Washington in 2007 and 2009.

Most people with disabilities don't want to die because the think their quality of life is low, but because of the prejudice and discrimination of non-disabled people. If assisted suicide is legalized for the disabled, we are not respecting their "right to die", but instead we are discriminatorily denying them suicide prevention counseling that we would afford to non-disabled people.


There is less pressure to devote energy to finding positive alternatives since death is the easy way out.

Doctors are not longer healers, but killers. People will be afraid to go to their doctors - "Am I worth saving?" There are case studies of insurance companies in Oregon who refused to cover life-prolonging medication/treatments but would cover assisted suicide.

The right to die becomes the duty to die... social, economic and familial pressures cause the elderly to be seen as selfish for not wanting to die and get out of the way.

And once the psychological barrier is crossed, killing becomes easier and easier for less and less reason.

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