Society

Why Society Should Unequivocally Oppose All Suicide

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Relativism is the bane of our times, although it is still selectively
applied. We tell teenagers to try not to have sexual intercourse, but
if you do--which we know you will--then please use a condom. Yet, we
still know how to be unequivocal in some areas: We tell kids, "Don't
smoke,!", not "Don't, but if you do choose use a filter-tipped
cigarette," because we know that if we did it would only result in a
lot of smoke being inhaled.

It seems to me that well
meaning people are being seduced into an equivalent stance on suicide,
and it would just result in more suicides. Case in point is the column
by Atlanta Journal Constitution pundit Jay Bookman, who in
supposedly opposing the Forced Exit Network defendants, has fallen for
their basic premise that bad health or disability can justify society
facilitating suicide in some cases. From his column:

[S]o
do my inalienable rights as a human being extend to the right to
self-destruction? If my life is truly my own, shouldn't I be able to
end it as I see fit? Personally, I think the answer is almost always
no. Societal consensus, backed by medical research and experience,
dictates that a person in decent physical health who wants to commit
suicide is by definition mentally ill--no fully sane person would make
such a decision.

But how far does that line of reasoning extend?
As a person's physical health declines, that once-bright line begins to
blur for many of us. During the Terri Schiavo controversy, for example,
I stumbled across the case of David Mack, a Milwaukee police officer
who had been shot in the line of duty and lapsed into a vegetative
state. Twenty months later, Mack miraculously returned to consciousness
only to be horrified at his predicament. The shooting had left him
totally paralyzed; he could communicate only by moving his eyes across
a spelling board. He told his wife that he wished the bullet had killed
him. He begged for a lethal injection or for feedings to stop. Using
the spelling board, he would send the same message over and over: "I
D-O-N-T W-A-N-T T-O L-I-V-E L-I-K-E T-H-I-S A-N-Y-M-O-R-E."

Of
course, it never occurs to Bookman that Mack, who I don't know about,
might one day change his mind. And in that assumption, we see vividly
why the disability rights movement is so alarmed by assisted suicide
advocacy.

Bookman exhibits the very discriminatory attitudes
that could result in disabled people being killed, for by explicitly
agreeing that life as a quadriplegic is so bad that it takes suicide
ideation out of the "mentally ill" category and into the rational
category, he has stated that their lives are not worth saving. Yet
medical research actually shows that people who become quadriplegic, if
given a chance and proper support services, exhibit no greater levels
of depression than the general population five years post injury.

If
we say some suicides are worth doing, and others worth preventing, we
are both sending a message of abandonment to those we agree should be
helped, and making it impossible to convincingly tell others that they
shouldn't kill themselves, when by definition anyone who is suicidal
finds life unbearable. Moreover, people with mental illnesses often
suffer far more anguish than the categories for whom Bookman would
apparently permit facilitation--which is precisely why both Switzerland
and the Netherlands permit assisted suicide for the mentally ill who
are otherwise healthy and able bodied.

Once we agree that
society should facilitate the suicides of some people, suicide
prevention as an effective intervention is effectively over. Bookman's
column is the equivalent of telling teenagers not to smoke, but if they
do, to use filter cigarettes.

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