home |  about |  contact |   
your global information source on bioethics news and issues
Bioethics 101

Recommended Reading

October 20, 2008

Assisted Suicide: People With Disabilities Are in the Crosshairs

This is how the culture of death moves toward cultural hegemony: The first step is to claim that killing (which is descriptive and accurate in that it means “to end life”) will be reserved for the very rare case. But as soon as that premise is accepted, the acceptable category of killable people steadily increases.

Now in a tragic case in the UK, we see that very process in action. An athlete who became paralyzed and subsequently suicidal, was taken by his parents to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. From the story:

From the moment that Daniel James drank the milky liquid and laid his head on the pillow, there was no going back. Within minutes his eyes had closed, his breathing slowed and then he was dead, his once-vigorous body peacefully but lethally shut down by the barbiturate solution he had swallowed…

In the room with the 23-year-old when he died were his parents Mark and Julie. Their grief was tempered only by the knowledge that this was the end that Daniel, who had been almost completely paralysed in a rugby accident, had desperately and determinedly sought. Yesterday Maitland, a supporter of the right to die movement who has spoken to Julie James, said: “When Dan found out about Dignitas he knew that he wanted to go. It was simply his decision and no one else’s.”

Well, he wanted to die, many will say. Wouldn’t you? My answer is I hope not. But if I did, I would also hope that my society would care more about me than I cared for myself in the not unlikely chance that I would eventually adjust to the new difficult circumstances, and thrive. Happens all the time.

But Daniel’s case is now being used politically to promote the legalization of assisted suicide. A Times columnist named Libby Purves has swallowed the hemlock, arguing that assisted suicide, which she says should really be called aid in dying, since we musn’t be accurate with our lexicon, should be legalized, but probably only for the terminally ill, except it is clear that she doesn’t really mean it. Plus, she doesn’t even have her facts right. From her column:

However, assisted dying is not the same thing as assisted suicide. Even in Switzerland it is illegal to help a healthy but depressed person to die

Not true. The assister just has to not have a venal or bad motive. Besides, that’s exactly what happened here, the assisted suicide of a depressed and healthy man! Unless one believes that disability equals sick. Besides, all of that is irrelevant since Switzerland’s Supreme Court created a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill anyway, so it comes close to death on demand.

Purvis then, wringing her hands in the typical style of those who promote the death culture as a matter of compassion, oh so earnestly prattles on about how in the UK, assisted suicide would probably be limited to the terminally ill. Oh really? Than why does she support the lawsuit of But Debbie Purdy, a woman with MS, who wants her husband to be able to help kill her when she wants to die?

Debbie Purdy has an incurable degenerative disease and all she wants is permission to shorten the last painful months. Knowing there is an escape route might be so comforting that you never use it. Many terminally ill people willingly live each day, particularly if they get palliative care and comfort from the hospice movement rather than suffering in a stressed, overlit general hospital. But the law on Swiss-bound helpers must be clarified. Dignitas will not be un-invented.

Debbie Purdy wants to be able to be killed if she decides her disablities make it not worth going on. Remember, MS usually isn’t a fatal disease. From the Telegraph:

Debbie Purdy suffers from a progressive form of multiple sclerosis that will lead to the degeneration of her body. When she feels she cannot go on she wants to be able to end her life at home, surrounded by her loved ones, but because of the country’s “inhumane” law against assisted suicide she says she is unable to do so. Instead, she says she will have to make arrangements while she is still able so she can travel to Dignitas, the Swiss clinic that helps people end their lives by lethal injection, but fears her husband will be prosecuted if he helps her do so.

But Purvis has accepted the premise: So, even within one column, she can’t hold tight to a “terminal illness” restriction, and the slippery slope slip, slides away.

I know, I know: I am mean. How dare I criticize people’s intimate decisions. Judgmental moralist! I’ve heard it all.

But it seems to me that I care more, not less, than those promoting the death agenda–not only for the those whose lives have been lost forever, but for the people whose spirits are increasingly burdened and crushed by the rush of society to sanction mercy killing. And believe me, I hear from them. And in their letters to me are increasingly despairing of a society that they have begun to believe doesn’t give a damn whether they live or die.

Actions like the assisted suicide of Daniel, Purdy’s lawsuit agreed upon by her husband, and supportive columns like Purves’s are cruel, even though they are unquestionably intended to be kind. With every such death emotively and sympathetically reported in the media, with every lawsuit that chinks away at the laws intended to protect people with serious difficulties from suicide, mercy killing becomes more easily accepted. In this sense, the be all and end all justification–”choice”–actually promotes the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living and that those folk who have such lives should be facilitated in ending it all instead of being rendered care and suicide prevention services to help them past the yawning darkness.

And so the foundations crumble.

24 Responses to “Assisted Suicide: People With Disabilities Are in the Crosshairs”

  1. Celtic rob Says:

    It is interesting that voters in Washington state approved a “right to die” measure. How do you think this will affect health care in the future, not only for Washington, but for other North American jurisdictions?

  2. Jaclyn Says:

    I absolutely understand the purpose for Smith’s article and I agree that this subject has been gaining increasing acceptability throughout the world. Whether or not that is a good thing is a difficult judgment to make. I agree with the idea that assisted suicide should be legalized for terminally ill persons who just want to avoid the suffering that may accompany their deaths. I don’t think it’s fair to force a person to writhe in pain for days, weeks or months to fulfill their “lifespan”. In my opinion, that is one of the cruelest things a person could do, even if it is not a direct “violation” of the Hippocratic Oath. I also don’t think it’s fair that the only acceptable form of suicide for a terminally ill patient is starvation in many countries. Not only does the person need to make the conscious decision to end their own life, but they are reminded by the slowly increasing, omnipresent pain that comes with starvation. In my opinion, assisted suicide SHOULD be legalized for those suffering from a terminal illness. Personally, suicide is not a path that I intend to choose for my life. For personal and religious reasons, I don’t find it acceptable for my life, but I do choose to honor the fact that every person has their own beliefs and, thus, different takes on life and death. And, as for my country of America, supposedly the land of freedom of choice and expression, I am rather disappointed by the fact that the choice of assisted suicide is completely banned in all but two states.
    However, I realize that Smith was not completely arguing against the idea of assisted suicide, more so the practicality of it. And, in all honesty, I have to say that I agree with much of what he says. For example, in the case of Dan James, I understand that his life was drastically changed from what he had aspired it to be and I can only imagine the difficulties that he and his family went to. I offer my condolences to his parents and his other family and friends. A parent should never be forced to set a date for their child’s death. I am slightly shocked, however, that Dan James had only lived with his disability for a little over a year. It is, in no way, my place to judge his decisions, but I cannot help but wonder if his quality of life would have been different had they waited another year or two. The extreme change from rugby player to quadriplegic is huge and, as I would imagine, a very difficult and lengthy adjustment. It would lead me to believe that, should the law accept assisted suicide in the case of extreme paralysis as well as terminal illness, a certain amount of time should be lived by the patient with their condition before they are considered able to make the logical decision for themselves.
    In the case of Debbie Purdy, I am actually quite surprised by the difficulty in gaining an answer from the English government. I believe it is wise to be thinking so far in advance, but also saddened by the fact that she even needs to consider her arrangements for death so early in her life. I understand the difficulties associated with MS, my aunt is in the early stages and we are all very concerned and watching her condition slowly. Luckily, it has not progressed much. But in the instance of Mrs. Purdy, she is not expressing a desire for death. She bringing forth, in a very formal manner, the idea that SHOULD this happen to me, this is what I would like to have done. I believe it should be accepted by the courts of England. And to Debbie, I offer my most sincere wishes that her living will need never be put into action.
    And finally, to Mr. Smith. This is a very well written article to a stance that I believe the majority stray from simply because of the difficulty of it. Many assume that if you are not behind a person’s expressed desire for assistance to die, then you obviously cruel and not considering the personal and deeply emotion aspects of the argument. But, as you said, I feel it shows more concern for these things by writing this article. This is, indeed a slippery slope, and one that must be approached with absolute caution. I feel that, whatever the ruling on any case of this manner will open up countries everywhere to a slew of cases involving assisted suicide claims or abolition movements. And each case must be dealt with on an individual basis. It may not be the quick, efficient way of dealing with the subject matter, but it certainly offers the most fair rulings. Each case and person is different and should be treated as such. We truly are standing on a slippery slope, but that does not mean that it should be absolutely avoided. It simply means that we need to watch our footing and be sure that our “efficiency” doesn’t turn lives into statistics. I applaud your stance on such a difficult issue. But I feel that, simply because assisted suicide could lead to more difficult times, that is not means enough to avoid the topic altogether.

  3. Peter Elsousou Says:

    Death; the word that batters the brain and tugs at our heart. It is what we try to bypass so we are able to enjoy the gift of live that was given to us when we entered this world. In the end, we will have to confront it because we can not live on forever. When we are sitting on the bed in the hospital ailing from our illness, pleading with God for a miracle but nothing seems to work, we know that moment of death has arrived and must accept it.

    In some cases, miracles can happen but the majority of it is that it can’t especially when there is no cure. Patients have accepted their death and seen it approaching so they want to end their life quickly because they are constantly tired of the agonizing pain they endured. The patients quickly choose the option of assisted suicide in where they tell their doctor to provide the means of drugs to inject into their bodies committing suicide.

    Although the doctors that know about their patient’s decisions and helping them with their wishes by killing them is wrong, I find that it is the morally ethical thing to do because the patients know what is it right for them. They are the ones suffering with the constant battle of pain that no on else is experiencing but by watching them go through it knowing that this is not the right way to live and that they are better off to live in heaven resting in peace. It is their life and they should be able to deicide what is best for them. No one should stop them from ending their life not even government who has been trying to intrude on patients lives for years. It is only between the patient and everyone should respect their decision to let them die in dignity if they wish in doing so.

    A human life is valuable and must be respected no matter what that person decides to do with their life. I know it is hard to imagine but put yourself in a person’s situation who is terminally-ill. There is no way in hell you are able to cure your illness because nothing has been provided to cure it. Medications can help a little bit to ease pain but it is not going to get you anywhere especially out of the bed. Would you rather be on a bed suffering wondering what the point of living is if I am not enjoying life? Isn’t it better to end my life rather be stuck in this situation where things are not getting better? Those thoughts would replay in your mind for days to come untill the right decision arrives. I think the right decision would be to end their life if they are terminally-ill because if they did not choose to do so, the suffering would continue and that is one of the worst conditions to live with especially when that agonizing pain exists striking the part of the body where it hurts everyday. If they were terminally-ill, they would miss out on everything such as being with their families and being able to go on vacations doing activities living a happy, fun-loving life.

    As John Locke once said “Every man has a property in his own person. Property after all is the right to dispose of what one owns.” If I was terminally-ill and on life support, I would simply advise my family that it would be better to accept my death than having hope of me getting out of this situation when chances are slim. I would tell my physician to end my life because it is not worth living in pain, spending money on medicine when it is not helping. There is not really a reason to let me live on because I am suffering worse then if I were in heaven. At least in heaven, I can rest in peace. I understand that murder is a terrible crime by killing someone but isn’t it murder for not allowing the patients to die with dignity and respect, robbing them of what this nation was based upon that every citizen is granted rights such as the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The constitution is based on rights for the government to set boundaries for their citizens in case the government thinks they have gone too far. Citizens are allowed to exercise rights in which patients should too because after all, patients are citizens. We are people living under the government who are protecting our rights but when we do decide to exercise our rights, it should not be taken away and they must respect it even if it is the right to die. It is our lives so do not stop us from living it and if we feel we are ready to accept death, you must do so to.

  4. Kim S. Says:

    Right and wrong, is it an ethical question or constitutional? One thing is certain though, murder is always wrong. The arguments have been made, both sides have been heard, and the decision has been made. The Supreme Court has declared that no person has the right to die, deal with it. The risk that a doctor takes an unwilling patients life, or that a temporarily depressed patients ends their life is too big of a risk to take. The General public is gambling with the lives of people, and they are betting on the moral compass of every single doctor everywhere. Those are odds not even the most addicted gambler would take, how can America take them? Our society is obsessed with murder, death, violence, and war; why is it that no one can see how disastrously this will end? The world at large need to come to a decision and fast, they need to decide whether they will stay evolved as Hippocrates was or revert to something before even him. The chance to make a difference and to keep society from making a huge mistake is here. None of us can be called God; therefore we should not try to act like one.
    Daniel James chose to end his life, and in all reality it was his choice, but not everyone has to go to the extremes that he went to. Plenty of other people have lost the function of part or all of their body and have gone on to live happy and full lives. Legalizing euthanasia will be for some a cowards way out. I do not have a debilitating disease nor am I paralyzed at all, but I believe that if I was I would want to leave for as long as possible. The life I lived might be over but that does not mean my entire life is over. I believe I would fight back and begin a new life. I do not believe in reincarnation therefore, I believe we only get one life and we should live it for as long as possible.
    So what if we have a few obstacles in our way, it makes us that much stronger if we can overcome them. Just because you can no longer walk or run does not mean you cannot do anything. For one thing you can help people who are in the same positions as you, that way you know if they make the same decision as Daniel at least they have all the facts.
    The decision Daniel made, and for that fact that his family made is a personal one. There is no way we can know all the reasons he did it, but we can at least try to keep other people from ending a life that could still be so full. Although, if I had been asked to write on this topic just a few months ago my opinion would have been, “It is their decision! It should be legal!” But now that I have researched the topic for the last two weeks my opinion has changed.
    To an extent I agree with Wesley Smith. In some cases this is cruel, but not wrong. It is a personal choice, I just cannot help but think of it as a mistake. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself and I think if assisted suicide is ever legalized it would be a huge mistake; unless certain guidelines and precautions were put into effect also. Such as for those who are disabled because of a recent tragedy should be put in a therapy group with people who have overcome their disability and have led a full life. The biggest tragedy that could occur if euthanasia was legalized is ignorance. The ignorance of what life could or would be like. The ignorance of how shot life truly is and that once it ends you never get another chance.

  5. Kyle Says:

    Sir, I understand that you have strong personal opinions on this matter, and I would never wish to restrict you from going about your life as you see fit to do, following the guidelines of those opinions. If you were tomorrow morning to get in some horrific accident and injure yourself so drastically as to sever your spine at your C-2 vertebrae, and choose to live with your disability, then I would honor your courage and fight with every breath in my body to see that your wishes were respected. Human beings have, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “certain unalienable Rights… [which are namely] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And so sir is my belief anchored, the same belief that founded the great country which I am proud to be a citizen of, that all men have the liberty to pursue happiness in their lives however they see fit, provided of course that it does not infringe upon the rights of another human being.

    This belief I am sad to say brings me at odds with yourself over the matter of the actions of Daniel James and the members of his family. I think it rather unfair to be too judgmental over these people, as you yourself said that, were you to be placed in the same position, your conviction might not be as stringent. The very thought of society at large stepping in to pressure one to live in a manner which they do not desire, I find abhorrent. The act of dying does not infringe upon the rights of anyone in the cases where it ought to be a viable option. You might talk about the duty of the person to their loved ones, but we must look at the situation as the stricken person would if we are to understand it, and from their perspective I see a world where one’s every need is but a burden on all those who love them. A man who cannot move cannot care for his children, merely burden them with the sight of what has become of their parent. He cannot love his wife as a husband ought to do, but merely impose upon her a life as a constant nurse-maid. I think that this was how Daniel James viewed the world. He had lost everything that had mattered to him, everything which gave life clarity and pleasure, and if he chose, in clear and sound mind, to end his life, then the state has no business imposing their personal, religiously inspired agenda upon him. Though personally I would have wished he had waited a little longer before taking such a permanent and unchangeable action, I respect his choice and his right to live his life as he saw fit to do, and I have deep respect for his family who risked their own futures at the hands of the British legal system to grant him his final wish: peace.

    I will say this though, that if sir you are going to argue a point, leave the extremism and the pointless, senseless alarmism out of it. It is idiotic to consider that just because one man chose to take his own life, every disabled person will suddenly wind up dead in a gutter. Physician assisted suicide is hardly a new concept; on the contrary it has been practiced in varying ways for centuries. Should we make it legal as I think is proper, do you honestly think that there would be no guidelines set to see that it is not abused by those whom the law was not intended for? I am not proposing that we hand a fatal dose of morphine to a teenage girl who just broke up with her boyfriend. A waiting period and a stringent examination by an independent psychologist to determine sound mind and that coercion did not come into play, are merely a few of the safeguards that could be imposed upon this law to assure that it is not abused. This is not Nazi Germany sir, and you belittle the life of Daniel James by implying that his wish to die as a man ought to die in my opinion, with dignity and self-respect, is the coming herald of the next Third Reich.

    Furthermore, you do the disabled a great disservice by lumping them all together under one cold, unforgiving label as you do so plainly. These are people here, not headings in a psychology or medical book to be organized as you see fit. Do you not see a difference in the standard of living between a man blind in one eye and a case such as Daniel James? Can you not see that the world is not this black and white, “disabled” and “not disabled” place you make it out to be? I think that line of thinking, whereby people are in language stripped of their humanity, to be looked at as groups, as subjects, to be far more dangerous than anything you have talked about in your posting. Do I think then sir that you are the bringer of “Big Brother” and the deprivation of all rights both public and private to the better judgment of the state and those who “know better?” No, I do not. It is your opinion and I would sound like quite a fool to imagine that it was the end of civilization as we know it.

    We have the right to live our lives sir as we see fit to do so and when the time comes, should it ever sadly come, that disease overtakes us to such an extent that recovery is no longer a viable possibility, then we do have the right to die with dignity. Does that mean that we all shall exercise that right should the time ever come? No, but it is of vast importance that the right be there if it is needed. I would never dream of stripping you of your rights; please do not take away those of men like Daniel James. All I ask from you is fairness sir, fairness and compassion to your fellow human beings. I cannot believe that such an early death is the outcome Mr. James saw for himself before his accident. His end is tragedy enough; let us not prolong it against his will. Compassion sir, that is all that I ask.

  6. Pratik Says:

    The very object that brought us onto this world, birth, is just as important as its antithesis, death, which removes us from it. Without death, life would not be as valuable because it would be never ending. With the technological advancements in the medical field today, life can be prolonged for many decades. If life can be artificially extended, why can’t death be artificially created?

    A lack of assisted suicide to those on life support is like playing God, which we are already doing. However, in this case, we are playing God in a very torturous way because we unnaturally force people to live their life without an end. If a person wants to end their life due to certain circumstances, why stop them? Of course, there has to be restrictions on who can and cannot have an assisted suicide. If a person like Dan James decides that his life is over and that he wants to commit suicide, let him. Stopping them from dying simply forces an extremely miserable person to continue living their life that they would rather end. Understanding what a paraplegic or quadriplegic is going through is impossible because every person is different. Therefore, every person takes paraplegia or quadriplegia differently. Some look at it positively and endure the hardships while others, like Maggie Fitzgerald in the movie Million Dollar Baby, desperately want to die after acquiring the condition.

    The last line: “And so the foundations crumble,” is a very pessimistic statement. It’s more like: and so the old foundations of medicine crumble as the new rise. Not until the past decade or so, medicine has been able to artificially prolong life to such an extent, that people are sometimes forced to live. The goal of those in the medical field is to keep people alive and comfortable. Now that it is easier to keep them alive after obtaining conditions like quadriplegia, boundaries need to be set on how far medicine can go to lengthen a life and still keep the patient happy. That is why the foundations are crumbling; they are making room for new ones. We are now able to do much more with medicine due to technological advancements that most would not have been able to envision a century ago. So, these advancements require new foundations because of our newly discovered ability to manipulate life. With this power, comes great responsibility. Doctors cannot go around keeping people alive without having any idea of when to pull the plug. Maintaining life is just as significant as ending it.

    If you are against euthanasia, then don’t consider it as an option for yourself; just don’t limit the choices of those around you. Perfectly healthy beings should not be allowed to dictate what terminally ill and paraplegic/quadriplegic patients can and cannot do with their lives. Only the individual person should be able to make the decision and laws restricting assisted suicide should not prevent them from going through with their wishes. People should not be forced to die either. The decision should rest completely with the patient, whether they should continue to live or not, as long as they are mentally sound. Therefore those of us that have never had an experience of being terminally ill or paraplegic/quadriplegic should never argue with a person that has. Arguing with James’ decision to end his life is wrong because we do not know how he felt about his life when he was paralyzed. On top of that, his parents even supported his decision to such an extent that they flew with him to Switzerland to be put to rest. So, it is morally just to take the topic of assisted suicide case by case and allow the person who is getting the treatment to decide on when to end their life.

    Since death is just as important as maintaining life, euthanasia is a necessary part of the medical field. If assisted suicide seems like a bad choice, then don’t opt for medical treatment that can prolong your life in the first place. Life support artificially delays death. If death is not artificially placed upon the person, will the person have to live forever? Technological advancements sure are leading to these circumstances. We need to prepare for the future of medicine and accept assisted suicide into our society because without it, people will live long, miserable lives.

  7. Steven B Says:

    I believe that spreading the idea that suicide -assisted or not- is acceptable is inherently wrong for our society, both in the short term and definitely in the long term. Smith alludes to the idea of the slippery slope and I agree that to an extent, this slope exists. Assisted suicide should not be considered an “act of mercy” nor do I believe it should be considered murder. If we are to allowed assisted suicide in our society (which is something I disagree with from the beginning), even if we are extremely careful in describing in our law what is legitimate or not, it will eventually lead to doctor’s suggesting that a person who is handicapped has a lower quality of life than someone who is healthy. Any extent of this happening in our society should never be allowed to be acceptable. Society is already on this path though, with parents requesting abortions for children with mental or other genetic disorders or refusing medial treatment for those children. I believe that we cannot allow our society to continue on this path. Society should focus on life and preserving that life; not guessing where the acceptable boundaries of deciding when a life is not worth living. Face it, as humans; we have no idea of what comes after death. Is there a Heaven or a Hell? Or is there nothing after life? Maybe something in-between? Faith fills in that answer for us and there is no problem with anybody’s response to these hypothetical questions. Personally, I do believe there is a Heaven waiting for us after we die. But, what if life is all there was, and there was nothing after? In any case, Society should focus on preserving that life, and never let it get thrown away.

    Many people argue that we should just let people choose, and that way people that want to preserve their own lives will do so. However, there is a fundamental problem with that reasoning, and that is often times, people will take what they are offered. By providing assisted suicide as a “choice” for society would only have people choose they would rather stop living than accept something less than they had. Think of it as this (an acceptable metaphor considering the economic times): your manager has to cut your pay because business is bad. You either have two choices: stay with less pay (and maybe work more to make up the difference) or quit the job and find another opportunity. With assisted suicide, you have a (somewhat) similar choice, accept your new reality, or end it. I think through proper support and counseling most people could come to accept their accident (as the case may be) and still enjoy their changed life. Whose to say Dan James couldn’t have done the same thing?

  8. Aditya G. Says:

    “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” ~Joseph Stalin
    In a way, euthanasia is the bridge between a tragedy and a statistic: millions die every day and yet we feel nothing; when one of our own dies, we spend months, even years, grieving. When one of our own wants to die, that, my friends, is a completely different ball game.
    The subject in itself is controversial, and the many arguments made both for and against it have created a web of ethical considerations for physicians to untangle. Legally, a patient can choose to die in Oregon, Washington, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Thailand. The question, however, presents itself morally, not legally. Ethically, not technically. By the end of this feverish debate we are forced to ask ourselves, is it right for a patient whose life is confined to a state of being that they deem torturous to end their suffering? Who is to say what true suffering is? Is a quadriplegic more entitled to death than a paraplegic? What about cancer? MS? AIDS? Is anyone entitled to death at all?
    I believe it is not for us to say who is entitled to what. We each live our own lives, and are given the freedom to choose what we want for ourselves. I also believe that this does not give us the right to rashly commit an action so irreparable as taking a life (even our own) without first thinking about the impact it might have on others. No life, regardless of how independent, is alone. Every life has other lives connected to it, and I would certainly be both heartbroken and displeased if one of my loved ones took their life without first thinking about the impact it had on the rest of the family.
    I am not too fond of euthanasia myself. As you said, Dr. Smith, it is quite a slippery slope. The danger of slipping down this slope is present, looming, like a jackal in the wild. I believe that life is one of those great gifts whose measure is only truly understood when it is lost. In some cases, this loss takes the form of the death of a loved one, cruelly wrenched from our embrace at the most inopportune of times. By now, I must surely sound like a die-hard opponent of euthanasia. I am not an opponent of euthanasia. I am, certainly not, however a die-hard supporter. While it does end suffering, it takes away life, and that is something that I do not agree with. I do see its value, however, and acknowledge that it holds an important place in medicine. Speaking as someone who watched his grandfather lie in bed dying of tuberculosis, powerless, disoriented, confused, and in agony, I certainly do support the practice of euthanasia in certain circumstances.
    To that end, this should not be taken lightly. Taking a life is no easy task, and it should be taken into heavy consideration. It is the only way we can preserve the only thing we really truly possess.

  9. Thao Says:

    Nobody should judge people’s personal decisions, yet it is a part of human nature. And so we have come to deciding whether assisted suicide is right or wrong. I think it all comes down to the motives of the person “assisting” in the so-called suicide and the state of the person to be supposedly eased out of their pain and suffering.

    The suffering and pain that someone with a disease or disability will endure is unimaginable. No one could relate to their situation unless they are in the exact situation. As a healthy, able person I do not know how it feels to be paralyzed, have cancer, a terminal disease or just any disease. I can only imagine how horrible it might be to have so much taken away. I know many people with diseases and disabilities learn to cope and enjoy life, leading a very fulfilled one instead of moping around. Everyone is different, psychologically too. Not everyone has the capacity to overcome obstacles in life. It would be ideal that everyone had hope, the hope of a brighter future whatever obstacles happen on the way, but it’s not a perfect world.

    Death is a word that tends to scare most people in today’s society. They fear their own death and the death of loved ones. I’m pretty sure most people want to go as peacefully as possible. Who wants to suffer a long, painful death? Not many people I’m guessing. This is the reason why so many with disabilities and diseases are seeking this assisted suicide. They want help to die peacefully. They also want family and those they love around. Who has the right to tell someone that they have to die alone? I don’t think anyone has that right. It is the individual’s life and in the end is their life to do what they wish. If someone does want to die alone, fine. And if someone feeling trapped in their own body wants to be among the people he loves most when he takes his last breaths that should be fine too. But in a majority of the world today, it is not.

    Daniel James may have been too irrational in his decision to end his life. He had only been paralyzed for a year. It takes time to heal, and I don’t think he tried to overcome his disability long enough. I understand that all his parents wanted to do was to ease their son’s pain, as any parent would. No parents should have to see their children suffer like that, but it happens. I do think that Daniel should have tried to see life in a more positive light, but who am I to judge? I respect his decision despite my opinion. After all, it was his life not mine.

    As for the situation with Debbie Purdy, I think her husband should have every right to be with his wife during her last few days. If they prevent him, she will end her life sooner because she cannot be with those who can help and love her most. It is not a bad notion that Debbie is preparing for the future and making her wish now before she cannot.

    Assisted suicide may be going down this slippery slope as each case makes it seem more and more acceptable. I am not condemning assisted suicide; I think each situation is a special case and should be looked at closely. Not every person who requests it is in need. Most people who do request do, however; that’s why they are asking for help. Why would someone ask for help when they didn’t need it?

  10. Cee-Cee Says:

    We all have the freedom to do what we wish with our own lives – God has blessed us with free will. Dan James made his own decision. I can’t say I know what it’s like to have mobility and independence taken from me, but I do not believe it was the right decision to have made, nor do I believe that suicide is ever the answer. We don’t know what the future holds, and I think it’s a mistake to cut off that potential. I believe every life has a purpose, whether you’re in a wheelchair or not. Joni Earekson Tada’s story is evidence of this. She was an extremely athletic girl until a she had a diving accident the caused her to become quadriplegic. She was angry and at times contemplated suicide. But she didn’t do it, and in fact, her life has become something amazing through this disability: she began painting – with her mouth. She is an active advocate for people with disabilities. She is an author as well, is married, and travels around the world as a speaker, and she has been able to reach and touch thousands of lives.

    But now on to the legality and technicalities of assisted suicide: How strange it is that taxpayers may be required to pay for suicide rather than quality health care. Assisted suicide is listed under the Oregon Health Plan as “comfort care” – taxpayer dollars are used to provide means of suicide to low-income patients. The case proponing assisted suicide is made many a time on the basis of uncontrollable pain. However, in the first year after Oregon allowed it, none of the 15 people who died by assisted suicide requested it because of intolerable pain. According to a statistic from the Hastings Center Report in Oregon, 67% percent of suicides are because of psychiatric depression. Yet only 26% of Oregon’s suicides received psychiatric counseling (Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Experience).

    In Lee v. Oregon, when the assisted suicide law was first ruled unconstitutional, the judge stated “The attempt to restrict such rights to the terminally ill is illusory.” How do we put limits on assisted suicide? If a terminally ill patient has decided his life is not worth living the next four months, what about a quadriplegic who decides his life has no value? A paraplegic? Does society have the right to deny assisted suicide to them? Does society have the right to legalize suicide at all? “Where in the Constitution do we find distinctions between the terminally …the disabled, or any category of people who have their own reasons for not wanting to continue living?” (Lee v. Oregon; Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Experience). If assisted suicide is legal for one man, where do we draw the line to deny it to another? This is without a doubt a slippery slope.

    Works Cited: “Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Experience”. Omega Publications. – Lee v. Oregon

  11. Diana Says:

    Death is biological; but it is also a cultural and personal concept. Why is death so dead wrong when it is so natural in the way of life? Psychologically, death means different things to each person. It could mean liberation, it could mean forever darkness, it could mean an eternal non-existence, and it could mean heaven. I do see the pattern you, Mr. Smith, had described. I can see that maybe this gradual acceptance toward assisted dying would potentially lead to a future of easy claims of “mercy killing”, a future where life is less respected. The same step-by-step process happened with the issue with marriage. When interracial marriage became a societal hot-topic, some felt the world is coming to the end. How could such thing happen to defy the “natural order of life”? But today we see interracial marriage as a norm of life because history pushed society forward toward progress. The next step for marriage is the current debate over same-sex marriage. It is what happens with pushing the limit – it pushes further and further until one day there is no longer a limit, or at least that’s how it seems. Noticing that equality had won different races many rights, now we have groups that promote animal rights and equality in our society. It seems like soon enough, people can cross-marry animals as well. While that is not the issue at hand, there is definite parallelism to the growth of acceptance to assisted killing of any kind. However, while you may see it as a regression in the society, I would say that it is a potential progress. Time will tell.

    Assisted dying (or suicide, whichever; I have no shame in saying either), is not about devaluing life. In fact, this act is an act which places value on the value of life. It is unfair to say that Daniel James was depressed therefore he committed suicide with the help of others. While that might be true, while you say you hope you wouldn’t do the same, I think the circumstance is still too personal to call it a tragedy. It was less of a tragedy because Daniel James made a decision while he was depressed, and more of a tragedy because he lost his life’s passion, his ability to move. There are certain aspects of pride in life that perhaps prevent some of us to adjust fully to new circumstances; yes, it is psychological, but we have to respect the psychological wiring of the brain.

    If the problem is because society is caring less about these unfortunate people with limited abilities, then that is why I am for the legalization of assisted suicides. If society truly accepted death as a natural way of life, it would not treat those who see life in another light with the dignity and respect they need. We cannot fully understand the value life when death produces such fear in us, when death is so unacceptable. If we live in a society that legalized assisted suicides, there will be more regulation. There will be less abuse if more is known of it, more is publicized. If it is under governmental regulation, then there will be more support for everyone seeking to end their life. Perhaps they will receive proper counseling and decide afterwards that they will be able to live their lives. Perhaps they will receive more attention under a governmental that recognizes their suffering, and wants to make the best for them. I agree that not everyone should be greeted with death when times are hard, but knowing that the choice is available, that help is present, that your family will not be accused, is a greater relief than to live trapped inside a life you are presented with no choices.

  12. Stephen Says:

    From where I stand, I would have to agree with your opinions. Logic tells the story of the slippery slope. One day it’s ok for the terminally ill, the next the disabled, then the pained. I always joke about killing myself around finals time, but it is not funny that long when I think about how many people would end it all if society didn’t look down upon suicide.

    My family is stricken with bipolar disorder. My aunt was recently released from the hospital after a breakdown that left her in shambles. If you met her when her sickness was balanced by medication, you would see that she is the happiest person in the world, and the nicest too. She saw her only child into a great college and always has the biggest smile in the room when we are eating dinner. But during her rare bipolar lows, she is stricken by the deepest sadness, not caused by a poor life, but a simple chemical imbalance. I can see a person in my aunt’s position, mortally depressed for an instant, making a poor decision that ends the rest of their life. I don’t want to lose my aunt, and I know that she doesn’t want to lose herself either. But when episodes of deep psychosis strike her, if the doctors around her give in to her pleas for death, then she will be gone from this life forever, irreversibly stripped from all of those who love her so much.

    This was my opinion, at least until a year ago. My uncle, the husband of my aforementioned aunt, passed out and fell down a flight of stairs. He was whisked to the hospital, there was nothing too horribly wrong with his body, he is a strong 50 year old man, and nothing was injured during the fall. However, CT-scans revealed some devastating news. Several large tumors had made residence in my uncle’s brain, cancer. To this day he has struggled through rigorous chemotherapy sessions, a poisoning therapy that ravages the body and leaves cancer victims like Uncle weak and frail. It kills me inside to think of my strong uncle wasting away in a hospital bed, and I think if he looked me in the eye and asked me, I would end his mortal suffering while he still had some dignity left.

    I think this story reflects the point of view of many people. A cold and detached view on euthanasia; “death is bad; therefore we should condone it in all cases, end of story.” A rigid ideal that breaks down very quickly under the gaze of someone you love truly suffering, truly falling apart. And it begs the question, Mr. Smith, have you seen the human face of despair?

  13. Greg Says:

    Ideally, mercy in death would only have to be provided to the terminally ill, inflicted with easily definable and blatantly malicious conditions, to remove pain from the equation of pain and death. Unfortunately the world is hardly so kind or so vivid in explanation. Paralysis exists without the sensation of pain, but instead inflicts agony upon the translucent mind while its sister, depression, is transient in its stay, not its affliction. With a condition like the one you mentioned, multiple sclerosis, the sufferer would degenerate into a state of weakness so extreme that any body movement would become impossible, yet they would be at such a loss as to retain complete sound of mind, and never die of it, living in the condition until the liberation of another disease comes to “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die.” Many have described it as a fate worse than death and I believe that question of necessity in assisted suicide has potential for creating immeasurable suffering. Forcing a person to starve or suffocate to death rather than passing them unconsciously is an obvious flaw in current laws. The resistance to help those die in mind, who have received death in body can be inhuman in its cruelty. And while some might not agree: “that the dread of something after death, makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of,” Death cannot be feared so devoutly by others that it becomes inexcusable taboo, because it is part of the natural process of being alive. Assisted and lawful suicides cannot be cut off at the terminally ill.

    Ay, there’s the rub; that slippery slope between death in life and depression from agony in life. You are exactly right that the idea that death would be served by doctors as treatment, could even be prescribed and encouraged is the most outrageous crime possible. We can never allow it into the law. But that slippery slope is not the ultimate end to the permission of suicide beyond terminal illness, it is the problem which we must conquer in order to create a more perfect world. Feasibly, the soundness of mind in decision must be respected in the will to die, but it should be proven. Consider instituting an outrageously long waiting period before assisted suicide requests for those not terminally ill and in chronic physical pain. Never allow doctors to mention suicide as a possibility. It is possible to engineer legislation that takes the best of both worlds and allow the unfathomable, rare, and miserable cases where death becomes an option to be a little more dignified, and a little less agonizing.

  14. Steven D Says:

    It is interesting that you sir, do not accept the whole choice theory which will allow many you say “sick of life” would have a chance to kill themselves. Death which is the end of a life may seem like a decision that we should not have correct? That God has already planned for us to be on this earth for this long or so. But then, the choice of ending it as one pleases is now obtained and many find it wrong. Well what if God intended for us to find this method and once the person’s choice of the death was actually god’s intention? You know that could be a very plausible answer.
    Mr. Daniel James was in a horrible accident which made him become completely paralyzed. Many would say they would also end their lives after that event. In my opinion I believe I would as well. If my life revolved around the action of needing your physical body to accomplish tasks, then clearly I would not be able to do that. As you say sir, “My answer is I hope not. But if I did, I would also hope that my society would care more about me than I cared for myself in the not unlikely chance that I would eventually adjust to the new difficult circumstances, and thrive. Happens all the time.” But can you really think that you would be able to get out of this situation. Rugby was his life, which was his passion to play. He also wanted to become a engineer and sadly he would not be able to do that either after his mishap. I believe society does care of life, and Daniel’s value of life. They allowed him the choice to leave this earth, rather then having Daniel suffer a painful existence until his natural death.
    Mr. Smith I understand on your stance, and your article is a well written argument, but in some ways you have gone too far. You stated, “I care more, not less, than those promoting the death agenda–not only for the those whose lives have been lost forever, but for the people whose spirits are increasingly burdened and crushed by the rush of society to sanction mercy killing.” How can yourreally think you care more if you really don’t believe Debbie has the right to peacefully end her life. Even though MS is not a fatal disease but it is extremely excruciating. If we pass the law to allow assisted suicide, it doesn’t mean it wants everyone with a disability to be killed. In the end it is just giving them a chance to leave this world where if their pain is too tremendous they would be able to.
    This answers ends with: people have a choice or at least should have a choice. They know when they can withstand the pain or when it is finally too much for them and they want to end it now. I don’t think our society, or our laws should stop that. Really our process in life is to grow. We first begin as infants and then grow into other intelligent beings if a disability or accident leads the person back to the infant stage for the rest of their lives, then they should have a chance to end it instead of ending thier thrive of a growing human being.

  15. Minh Says:

    “In Chinese Philosophy, the concept of Yin and Yang is used to describe how seemingly opposing forces are bound together, intertwined, and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn.”
    ~Unknown Author
    This concept can be expanded upon to include any opposing elements that work in unison and balance each other out. For example, if there is no such sensation as “cold,” how can we know what “hot” is? Let’s take this a step further and remove Congress from our government, now there will be no one left to limit the President’s authority or enforce the Supreme Court rulings. Now, let’s examine the concept of “Yin and Yang” on the second largest scale possible (the largest being Good and Evil) and think about the cycle of Life and Death. A vast majority of people in the world have some religion or another that believes in the soul ending up in either heaven or hell do they not? If so, then I believe it is safe to say that the concept of a “Soul” is indeed a viable one. A word of warning: I am about to combine concepts taken from both religion and science, this may result in an extremely polemical explosion of debate. In the First Law of Thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; all energy in the universe is constant.” Since it has been impossible to completely obliterate a person out of existence without pursuing their soul to the afterlife and destroying that too, the soul must therefore be made of energy as it is capable of “moving onto the afterlife” regardless of what is done to the “physical shell” or, the body. So, in essence, nobody really dies, they just “pass away” as the euphemism goes.
    Having said that, I would like to remind everyone that, immediately following childbirth, we all start doing the one and only thing that all living things do at the exact same time: we age, or rather, transcending all euphemisms, we start the dying process. Some people would like to speed up the process to begin life anew whereas some will desperately beseech the doctors and nurses to “play God all they want, just as long as they keep them (the patient) alive.” How then can we determine, based on a patient’s health status, which of them are viable candidates for assisted suicide and which ones are not? In medical protocol, the doctors would use “Triage,” a process that differs depending on the medical workers using it: Military Medics treat those most likely to survive, paramedics treat those worst off, so who do doctors treat? Which patients deserve to have their lives extended through life support and which ones are allowed to die? Had we all been born “color blind,” a term used to describe those who see only in the “black and white” of all issues and always agree with one of the two extreme, this question would have been answered at the drop of a hat.
    But alas, we are human; we recognize that the issue of a patient’s Right to Die is a grey area with an infinite number of possibilities such as the notorious question: “Who deserves life support?” Is it the loving family of the brain-dead child or is it the stubborn homeless man with no friends or family whatsoever? How do we even determine which patients are dead? Is death defined as “loss of the brain” or “loss of the heart?” Does a biomort (someone whose brain is dead or non-functioning but their heart still beats and their cells are still alive) deserve to be kept on life support at tax-payers expense? Or does a quadriplegic (someone whose body is dead but their brain still lives) deserve the life support even more? Is this issue going to be determined by a patient’s pulse or ability to communicate?
    I cannot answer any of those questions because I have never known anyone suffering under those conditions. As such, I have less authority on the subject than anyone who has even glanced at a paralyzed patient. However, I am able to remind others of one thing: Terminal illness or any other debilitating affliction is a personal matter that should be decided by one person and one person only: The Patient. After all, mankind was given free will, who are we to judge who can or cannot die? Is that not “playing God” even more than the doctors themselves? Many would argue that doctors are “playing God” because they have the power to end or save lives right in their very hands. I would argue that doctors too, are just employees working under a higher power. And that higher power is the law. Who shapes the law? People like you and me who debate about the Right To Die and pass legislation enforcing our beliefs at the time. In the end, while it should be the patient’s choice in the matter, the voices of otherwise perfectly healthy (at least in comparison) individuals ultimately overrides the patient’s choice. Does Daniel James have the right to go to the Swedish Clinic Dignitas and end his life? His family, in spite of certain religious perspectives, certainly thinks so.
    A friend of mine once said, “If life can be artificially extended, why can’t death be artificially created?” Do we really want to live forever? If so, would immortality be much more enjoyable if one was not confined to a wheelchair or a bed? Do we even need immortality when the planet can barely sustain mankind as it is? May these pressing questions haunt us all till the end of time.

  16. Nick M. Says:

    What is life but “the animate existence or period of animate existence of an individual?” According to the dictionary, that is but what life is: existence. Then why is it that human culture fears death so much, is it that state of inexistence? Or is it something more? I would like to think that it is not death that we fear the most, yet instead the inability to do what we love, to not be able to accomplish our aspirations in what time life has given us that haunts us so much more.

    Tell me this; what is life when everything that one loves when all hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals are unachievable; for me that is the same as death. Dan James was a rugby player; he was a 23 year old man that had a life of meaning and hope ahead of him before his accident. I am usually not one to assume, but I would like to think that Dan had already seen himself as dead before he had the help to end his physical being. I can see that Smith isn’t directly questioning Daniel’s choice to die, he’s attempting to make the same correlations as every other extremist out there on the case against Assisted Suicide: that if we allow the right to die for one handicapped person, then sooner or later we won’t see the value of life in someone that has lost their eye sight and sooner or later we will have another genocide on our hands where the sanctity of life no longer matters, where anyone can look at your life and say it doesn’t matter. Call me optimistic, but I can’t imagine a world where human life is no longer sacred.

    The same with Debbie Purdy she sees a future in which her life no longer holds any meaning, and to question her wish that is obviously made logically and not altered by depression is unjust of anyone to do. She is not a woman that craves death, she is a woman that sees that sometime in her near future that her life will soon be not only meaningless to live anymore, but be excruciatingly painful for herself and her husband Omar. She has MS a disease that Smith has stated to not be life terminating. But is it not life degenerating? This disease may not end her physical life, however who is to say that it does not end her meaningful life. Why force Debbie Purdy to suffer her last few months, when they are filled with pain, when she can barely speak to her husband, let alone be able to hold his hand anymore.

    Dignitas to die with dignity, that is all she wants and it is egocentric, condescending people like Smith who would rather see are person life in physical agony with all but death ahead of them, than to allow them to die without pain. This isn’t a time to judge the people but a time to judge the foundation of medicine itself. The Hippocratic Oath, maybe sometimes someone has to do harm to actually relieve someone of pain. I don’t see humanity choosing whether or not someone else had a life worth living or not, but I do see a society that can empathize with a patient who is disabled and in pain and really examining what they’re life was before the disease and what their life is now and see why they may choose the idea of assisted suicide. Not make the choice for the patient, but truly understand their choice. Smith chooses not to empathize and just look at the big picture, the definition of death has a different meaning for every person. So people have called you a “Judgmental moralist!” so you have “heard it all,” and you deserve it all.

  17. Ryan Reham Says:

    I think that most people’s first reaction to euthanasia is, “Well, you have a right to your own life.” But when you truly think about it, someone is deciding to take their own life. I think that the idea of a person wanting to kill themselves, to take everything they have, or will ever have, is nauseating. And the thought that people would tolerate it or even inject the shot themselves makes me even sicker. Between all the things we could do for people or all the things that we fail to do, WHY should we choose to give them the right to commit suicide?

    I know that the main difference between murder and suicide is that one innocent person dies, compared to one who willingly dies. However, in the end, when both people are dead, who is it that suffers? It is the family, friends, and loved ones. Both families would suffer equally, and for that reason neither should be tolerated. If my mother, father, or brother were in the hospital and wanted to be killed it would be like a dagger through my heart. My dad has always taught me to be strong and persevere. He finds the best of every situation and has often been my inspiration to keep going even when times get tough. I can tell you for certain that if he decided he wanted to be killed one day because he couldn’t find it in him to go on anymore, it would have collateral damage far past the ending of his life. What if you were five and your mom had cancer and decided it was time to end it. I imagine it would be horrible beyond belief to lose a parent, but unimaginable if they took it themselves. Any five year old child would feel abandoned and most likely be scarred. I think that people get the “unalienable right” stuff in their head but eventually we do not have a right to do whatever we want. At some point a “right” is not a right, but an abuse of abilities.

    This does not mean that I do not understand the other point of view, nor do I doubt the genuineness of right to die supporters. Both sides are trying to do the right thing but are just at odds in their beliefs. I realize that people are in pain and often feel that death is the only way out. And there probably are a few select times when the only answer to a person’s problem is death, but I think they are outnumbered and that legalizing active euthanasia would be far to drastic a step. The more people use death as the final solution to their problems, the farther humanity goes into the shit hole.

    Now for the slippery slope aspect: I like how you said it. I do not agree with the “holocaust” crap that most people try to pull, but I feel that what you are saying right now is true. Any time exceptions are made, people try to get as much as they can. A good lawyer can always find a loop hole. Now I do believe that there will eventually be a line drawn for euthanasia, but the problem is that there is no way to say where it will be. If it includes quadriplegics then disabilities will be included (like you pointed out) and I think that giving mentally ill patients the right to assisted suicide, like you said Switzerland does, is absolutely disturbing. If there was a way of just taking care of the few select people who truly fall in the category of deserving to die, I would. However, in the long run, the only way of completely solving a problem like this is to give the right to everyone or no one. I would rather no one be allowed to kill themselves.

  18. Liz Says:

    I would like to first start off by saying I respect Mr. Smith’s stance on assisted suicide and the crumbling effect it is having on our society today. It is obvious while reading this article that passion burns deep within you to save people from themselves in a society that sanctions mercy killing rather than attempts to prevent it. I agree with the fact that in terms of assisted suicide we find ourselves on a slippery slope, further allowing death to penetrate our everyday lives and not quite catching hold of any way out. These are in fact people’s “intimate decisions” however what kind of society allows people to kill themselves without first trying to save them? Furthermore, what right do the media have in publicizing these intimate decisions? As Wesley Smith acknowledged in his conclusion, with every new mercy killing story comes further acceptance of death. People in America today are already conditioned to the idea of murder for it is in our movies, television shows, music and nearly all forms of entertainment everyday. Is this really how we want the next few generations to see suicide? I think not.
    This is not to say that I do not condone assisted suicide in the most extreme cases. I do agree with the fact that it should be legal for terminally ill patients. People suffering from debilitating diseases should never be forced to live out their last days with their loved ones in utter pain and absolute misery. Personally, if I were suffering unbearable pain from a disease that would eventually kill me anyway, I would want a peaceful way out. I would want to die with dignity in the presence of those that loved me without fear of putting them in any danger of incarceration. Smith says he cares about people that choose assisted suicide more than those promoting the legalization of it. But wouldn’t someone that claims to care about society wish less pain on suffering people rather than trying to preserve the sanctity of an unbearable life? It seems slightly mixed up to me.
    And what is to be said for quadriplegics? Should they be allowed to seek out aid in an attempt to end their seemingly lifeless lives? With this, we slip even deeper into controversy for who is to decide whether life is worth living or not? Many would say quadriplegics are completely healthy human beings with a future still waiting to be fulfilled and that those that choose to end their lives are merely depressed. The fact of the matter is many feel that once they have lost their ability to do even the most insignificant things for themselves, they have also lost the ability to live a happy and fulfilled life. To be quite honest, I would have to agree with them. Being forced to rely on caretakers and burdened loved ones is no way to live day to day each month for the rest of their natural born lives. Quadriplegics are essentially heads on beds and it should be their right to choose to die peacefully and free themselves from the prison that has become their lifeless bodies. Not every quadriplegic feels this way and for those that are able to adapt to the hardships of losing all feeling below the neck then perhaps they are stronger than those that cannot. However, we cannot force these people to be restrained to a bed for the rest of their lives. It is simply inhumane.
    In our lifetime, death is the only thing that is completely certain; it is the only natural inevitable. Whether we prolong the curse that is the end or reach for a new beginning that is freedom death will always be looming over each and every individual. It should be the choice of the individual to choose assisted suicide only in the most extreme cases.

  19. Kaylen Says:

    Mr. Smith, I do agree that legalizing assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is a slippery slope that would almost certainly lead to more deaths such as that of Daniel James. This is simply human nature, one freedom leads to another, and so on, growing whether right or wrong. However I do not agree that this is a bad thing. As seen in the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans were slowly given rights: first freedom, then voting rights, and so one…This is an example of a great thing that came from one idea turning into a law and so leading into an entire movement that freed and made millions of people equal. I have to believe that this would be the same path that legalizing assisted suicide would take. After people started accepting it and it is made legal, it will slowly become easier for people to allow sick, whether mentally or physically, people to choose their death. What if we are moving in the wrong direction? Well, what if we were moving in the wrong direction with the Civil Rights Movement? It would most likely have been stopped in its tracks. Similarly to the ban on alcohol- the ban was repealed because it was a bad law. I strongly believe that if assisted suicide were wrong, a law legalizing it would be repealed.
    As for hoping your society cares enough to keep you alive against your will in the case of a tragedy, maybe this is how it would workout. But, I think that if you were actually put in this situation, at the very least- it would be on your list of options. Whether or not you actually decide that it would be best to end your life, the option would be considered. I’m quite sure any person would consider it, under the circumstances- and they cannot be rightfully judged for that. Looking back on your own life should be a pleasant thing, as should looking ahead- if you are debilitated from enjoying your life, no one should be forced to continue.
    Now, make believe that assisted suicide was made legal for people with a terminal illness (and subsequently people who have lost their quality of life). How would this actually affect you? If you personally do not believe in it, fine, don’t participate, its your life. But if your neighbor did agree with this, and after being diagnosed with terminal cancer decided his life had been lived to the fullest and went to a clinic to end it, would this really affect you? Maybe it would upset you for a time, but when it is him deciding to end his own life- is it really your business to interfere? A person’s life is all they have; any material goods can always be taken away, but a life is eternally your own. I think a law banning someone to end his or her life is taking away this natural right to life, because it takes away the ownership of said life. If the owner can no longer decide what is to be done with it, it is no longer his.
    Of course human life is the most precious of gifts, but can it really be held as precious if its holder does not love it? In my opinion, it is not okay to force life upon someone who does not want it. In this case, it is unfortunate that the life is not wanted but no ones business to intervene. Sure, a parent may wish to counsel their child to do otherwise, but in the end- if someone wants there life to end, it will.

  20. James Says:

    When it comes to life, and issues regarding life, it is hard to come to more absolute certainties regarding right and wrong. However, I do believe that there is one absolute certainty, that it is never right to end life. It may be from my religious views, but I cannot see the positives of assisted suicide. In the case of Dan James I am disgusted. I agree completely with Mr. Smith that his death was caused by the option of suicide and the complete negligence of his parents. People say they respect what the parents did and quote the parents on how they think that they made the right decision. But let me ask, do you ever think that the parents would think otherwise? When it comes to making major decisions in our lives we never like to believe that we made the wrong choice. So as long as assisted suicide is possible and people take advantage of it the remaining relatives will say that it was the right choice. How else could they live with themselves if they thought that they had made the wrong decision? So in this situation we would be left with an unequal amount of family members who would still back their decision to help their loved one die than those who regret assisting in the suicide of their loved one.

    Advocates for assisted suicide that occurs at such as clinics as the one that assisted Switzerland argue that they are helping patients escape unbearable mental pain and loss of dignity. Who is to say that the pain is unbearable? Our society shapes our views, and I believe that our society is moving away from one that values life as highly as it used too. If we simply acted as if all lives where equal then perhaps people would not be drawn to the over fanaticized, over glorified image that suicide can help you escape from pain that you should deal with. In our society we act selfish; we are depressed if we don’t have that perfect Hollywood life and that perfect Hollywood wife. Most of us would disapprove of letting a depressed person commit suicide, so why is the case of Dan James any different? He was depressed about his situation and his parents made no reference of trying to help him find a higher calling. We are not talking about a terminally ill patient; we are talking about a temporarily depressed patient.

    People would argue that it exclusively an individual’s right to choose to end their lives. No, no its not. I’m not even going to discuss my religious beliefs on this, but rather the earthly reasons for this. We all have family, we all live, we all love. In this world we all have at least one person who loves us; whether it be a parent, sibling or friend we all have someone that we can love who loves us back. To go through with suicide, even an assisted one where the loved knew, would hurt the person deeply. If any of you take the time to read the comments from Dan James’s parents you can hear the pain in their voice. Dan James was selfish in taking his own life; he hurt his parents, and left them with a hurt that will follow them to their graves. One of my friends presented the valid argument that all we are as humans, once we grow past childhood is to grow and become more accomplished self-sufficient man and women who do not need to depend on the charity of others. My friend said that Dan James’s life was rugby and engineering. For those two things to be taken away would make his life not worth living, with his passions gone it makes sense for him to want to die. My friend said that he would do the same in the situation. But I see it in a much more different light. Look at those crippled by disease and accident that made their lives into something extraordinary. Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeves and the list goes on. Some may claim that people like that are special, either extremely smart or extremely wealthy and that being like that simply isn’t in their ability. But I ask why not make your lives extraordinary, why not dare to dream in the face of a nation that is constantly looking down on those with disabilities and pitying them saying how bad they feel for someone and in the process make things all the worse for the person, being that our opinions are shaped by the words and actions of others. Why not dare to change the world when the world says that your life is suddenly less fulfilling? Why do so many of you insist on protecting suicide as an out, a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    I believe that the slippery slope does exist, just not in the way that people think. We are not going to start killing handicapped people, however if we do not establish laws then we will fall into a slippery slope of moral values (as everyone has differing values) but rather a slope of mistrust and bad feelings towards one another for our beliefs over this issue. I have already been scorned by my peers for my response unless ground rules and compromises can be made regarding the issue these misunderstandings will fester into something that will tear our society into factions. It is impossible to lay down ground rules for suicide for an entire nation as either it being right or wrong. As a nation we must come together, in the great American tradition and compromise. We shall all never have the same opinions, the same beliefs; because of this we must understand that there may not be a right answer, or a wrong answer. We should realize that the beginning of knowing what’s right and wrong exists in the idea that as an individual, we know nothing. We must realize that the only way to come to a conclusion on the issue is to keep debating and pondering with one another until humanity ends; this discussion will never end, and the closest that we can come to absolute certainty is to keep fighting and debating over laws, constantly compromising so that we never fall down the slippery slope of the magnitude of the Holocaust.

  21. Kailey H Says:

    Mean or not mean, Mr. Smith has a right to his own opinion. This article makes you think of many situations and form your own opinion. I truly believe only the person in that exact situation knows what is truly like to live their own life. Because of this they should have the right to make the choice of life or death. Terminally ill and certain other cases should have the right to take their lives. I do not believe it should be restricted to terminally ill only. It should be a case by case situation. Why have them suffer more than they already have. For some it is just not the life for them, the pain, the suffering and slipping into a deeper depression. Personally I have experience my Grandmother on Hospice and even that can drag. I believe Hospice is a wonderful program to help the terminally ill get through their final days of life but even this can drag out death when we know is coming. I remember at the end of my own Grandmother’s life the heartbreaking feeling of death dragging out. It was really an eye opener, to sit and watch someone you know suffer so bad waiting to die. You want God to stop the pain and take them sooner if everyone has already dealt with the fact of the loved one dying. You question why is it taking so long. A person on Hospice is given what we think is enough pain medication to stop the pain but then we are stuck on the idea of our we truly drugging them to death? Or are we drugging them so much they can not eat and ultimately dying of starvation? Still I am thankful for programs like Hospice, where you can die at home with friends and family around you.

    In the case of Daniel James, an athlete who has only known the life of being very physical, thriving from his sport and looking at a bright future, to suddenly losing the only life he has known. After a bad accident of playing rugby he will always have to depend on someone else. He will not be able to walk again or do most the things he was used to doing. This was totally a different life than Daniel has ever known, a life he felt he would not be able to adjust to. This is truly a life I wouldn’t want to live, although I could never say at this time what my own outcome would be. I don’t think anyone would know how they would feel themselves until put in that position. We can all give our opinions but if we are in that situation, things might be different. It is not our position to judge. I understand there are many programs to help you learn new ways of living with such disabilities and many people continue to live very happy lives but I think each person should have the choice. Daniel did not believe this was a life he wanted to live. He was very depressed and his family saw his pain and suffering. If he was legally allowed to starve himself why would Daniel and his family want him to go through more suffering when he could end it within a matter of minutes. I don’t believe any legal action should be taken against his parents, they were following Daniel‘s wishes. Although they are grieving from the lost of their son, I agree it is tempered by the knowledge of knowing this is something Daniel truly wanted and is no longer suffering.

    In the case of Debbie Purdy with MS, although she is not terminally ill right now, I believe if the time comes she should have the choice regarding her own life. I agree that knowing there is escape route might comfort her enough that she may never use that option. But knowing that option is hers probably means more to her than any of us know. Debbie is another one who feels she could not live the life of depending on someone else’s care 24 hours a day. When the time comes Debbie might change her mind, the illness might progress so slowly that she learns to adjust to the new life and believes there is still a reason to live. I don’t believe Debbie will be ready to make that decission until the time comes. She may not be able to end her life at home like she was hoping for, she will still have the option of traveling to the Swiss Clinic. For now she is looking ahead and wants to make sure her husband is protecting against any legal punishment.

    Libby Purves is giving her opinion like everyone else. Purves thinks assisted suicide should be legal for terminally ill but I think it should also be legal for other certain cases. I think Purves is also starting to feel that way with her support in the Debbie Purdy case. I do not believe we should have the choice to decide whether someone should have to live a life of pain and suffering. Mr. Smith says he might just care more then those promoting the death agenda but some might argue that fact. Terminally ill and people with major disabilities might feel if we cared so much about them then why are we not following their wishes. They may feel if we cared enough about them we would let them make the final decision regarding their own life. I think most agree we would like to see these people get the proper care and help and try to continue to live a happy life but ultimately I still believe the final choice should be theirs and theirs only.

  22. Erik Schiemann Says:

    Sir, I have read your blog, and I have to say that to outlaw these practices would be to outlaw humanity. I know this may sound strange, but think about it. Allowing euthanasia would not lead to a Holocaust-like situation. Rather, preventing euthanasia would be a Holocaust. The right to control one’s destiny would be taken away from those who need it in their most desperate times. In 1997, Oregon passed the Death with Dignity act. From 1998 – 2003, only 265 people received lethal prescriptions in the state. The Holocaust led to over six million deaths in a time span of about five or six years. This is nowhere near as few as those that have been euthanized in Oregon.
    In the case of Daniel James, I would have done the same. I know that is not what you want to hear, and I respect that. I am an existentialist and I believe that there is no central truth in all cases but one. That one case is with destiny: no one can decide the future of any life save for their own. I’m not saying that everyone who feels like it should be allowed to go out, buy a gun, and kill themselves. Lines must be drawn. Anyone who has a permanent condition that greatly detracts from their life or that will end their life in a short period of time has the right to commit suicide. It is not entirely a matter of life or death; rather, it is more a matter of humanity. About four years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer: one of the deadliest and most painful forms of cancer. Being a Catholic, all she could do was lie in her house and wait to die while being constantly dosed with morphine to somewhat lessen the pain. The medicine did not really help, as she was still in a great amount of pain and would constantly vomit. Again, if I was in her position, I would have wanted to be euthanized after saying my goodbyes and ready myself for death, I would not have waited that painful month and a half to die.
    Sir, I know that you say you care more and not less, and that Daniel James’s suicide was that of a healthy man. I beg to differ. The man had his entire life taken away from him. He lived for Rugby, and in the blink of an eye it was all taken away. You stated he was depressed, and I agree. Daniel did not decide to do this in the heat of the moment. He waited months before finally deciding to make sure his suffering would stop. I believe that neither you nor I have the\power to determine this man’s fate. I do not believe that he should have to suffer seeing his previously life being taken away and being replaced by a life confined to a chair and filled with dependency on others. I am not saying that disabled people have no place in society or that they cannot live fulfilling lives. Steven Hawking, one of the most renowned astrophysicists, can only communicate through blinking. But not everyone is Steven Hawking. Not everyone is able to recuperate from a major disability. I commend those that can, but I do not condemn those that cannot and choose euthanasia. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be placed in those shoes, so I feel as if the choice is best left up to them and no one else. This will not begin down the slippery slope to a “Holocaust”. This will guarantee the right to die for those who are in dire circumstances that will not change.

  23. Laura V. Says:

    I believe that life is sacred. If it weren’t, why would it exist, right? I mean, that was God’s great plan right? Create life so that everything would be fine and dandy on this perfect earth? Well, tell me. If God is so almighty and powerful to create such complex creatures, why didn’t he at least show a little bit of mercy towards us and the perils we have to face? Or was he not thinking of us when he created those little mistakes in our DNA and all those tiny bacteria and infections that can become such a big problem to us? Was he smiling when he realized the suffering that went on in the world, or did he repent his mistake? I’m sorry to say that we don’t have random people roaming the streets who can cure blindness with the palm of their hand…much less cure multiple sclerosis with a scalpel and morphine.

    Now, this was in no way meant to insult anyone’s religious beliefs, it was purely the easiest example I could use. I fully respect every person’s beliefs, and I sincerely apologize if anything I said may have offended anyone.

    Before you completely ignore me because I am some stubborn teenager who knows nothing about life and won’t know anything until I spend years through traumatic events and what not, I am saying this now: I fully understand the other point of view. I understand that life really is sacred because there are so many great things we are capable of. Besides all our worldly knowledge that continues to grow and grow exponentially, some of the greatest things we are capable of are the emotions we exhibit. We have loving families and friends; we live lives full of care and compassion, and one could argue that these feelings, this love that keeps us going is the greatest feeling in the world. Who would EVER want to trade that? I am very fortunate to have a loving family and some really spectacular friends who would support my every decision and help me through any hard times.

    However, I have also been incredibly fortunate to have lived a very diverse life so far. By diverse, I mean that I have had the chance to do so many things in my life that it has really shaped who I want to be later on in my life. That person that I want to be though is a very active person with an adventurous life. Quite frankly, I’ve grown much too accustomed to my lifestyle that I know exactly what I would feel if I were in a situation like that of Daniel James. I know that I would NEVER be able to play my piano ever again. I would never have my independence. I would be stripped of my dignity because of my great dependence on everyone who loves me enough to endure the torture. Those three things right there are enough for me to fear ever being in such a situation because I know I would not be able to survive through the suffering it would put me through. And that fear isn’t a fear of death, but of suffering because those people who love me are not able to let go. As Sophocles once said, “Death is not the worst thing; rather, when one who craves death cannot attain even that wish.” I would never be able to walk again, I would never be able to run and let the concrete devour my footsteps. I would never be able to dance again, never express myself in one of the best ways known to me. I would never be able to write again, my sweet words never becoming solid and immortal on paper but rather be lost to the silent winds of solitude. Personally, I would never survive such torture.

    I have a great respect for those people who are able to tough it out and live happy lives with these kinds of terminal illnesses or debilitating injuries, but the way I see it, life is a privilege. Life is a right, not a requirement.

  24. Allison B. Says:

    It is true, society should care more about other people than they do themselves. If a person is contemplating suicide, society should reach out its helping hand to try and help them, and make that person realize that their life is worthwhile and valuable. However, I feel that we cannot be so one-sided in this argument, and cannot implement a blanket law over every situation, banning assisted suicides every time.
    Daniel James’s situation was surely a tragic one. It is incomprehensible to me how losing the control over even my own body must feel. My only consolation would be that my mind is still intact, I can still make decisions, talk with my loved ones, and think intelligently. As an ethicist, I am assuming that the ability to still reason would be crucial to you, that in Daniel James’s position you could still carry out your work. Daniel James, on the other hand, was a professional athlete. I myself am not athletic, and would not miss as intensely as Daniel surely did the ability to play and complete. The loss of control of his body might have been as important to him as losing the ability to think clearly, and would have had a very different effect on him.
    By this, I am not saying that his death was justified. I am simply trying to understand what he must have been going through, instead of immediately assuming that his decision was wrong. I must admit the first time I heard Daniel’s story, I reacted with compassion and understanding of his actions. I believed that if I was in his position that I too would have asked to die in a dignified manner. However, seeing people’s lives that suffer through life as a quadriplegic yet prosper, I see what his life could have been like and think differently. He did not live his whole life through and decide he could not deal with it any longer; just a year over his accident he decided to end it. He could have been brought from the depression and lived, instead he quickly chose to die.
    But what if Daniel had lived numerous years with his disability and still decided he no longer wanted to live? Here is where it gets more complicated, and as you said, may lead down a road of ‘death on demand.’ On one hand, I would rather someone die in a peaceful painless manner surrounded by their family, than trying to commit suicide themselves, and causing more pain. But if the option to die at clinics such as Dignitas was unavailable, perhaps the notion of wanting to die wouldn’t be so common. Perhaps people, without the option to die so peacefully, wouldn’t want to die at all and be forced to cope.
    What if a patient terminally ill, wants to end it as painlessly as they can? In a different category by themselves, I believe that the right to die if one is close to a painful death is just. If I am suffering from a painful illness and no longer wanted to be kept alive, by only option would be to request my feeding tube be removed and starve to death. This is hardly a dignified approach to death. I would rather be able to die peacefully before the anguish and suffering begin, rather than go through weeks of having my family members watch me waste away.
    If this kind of death is legal though, how can I deny the same right to Dan James? He might have argued that the pain and anguish that he is going through is of the same intensity if that person on their deathbed, starving to death. Yet again, a person who is suffering from a bad breakup could then say that their emotionally pain is equal to that of Dan James, and demand the same right.
    Where would it end? This is where the concept of your ‘slippery slope’ comes into play. The answer? I believe there is none. It is a hard thing to regulate life, regulate standards of life and regulate who should be forced to live, and who should be allowed to die. All we can do is try and move away from this ‘culture of death,’ and try to positively influence those considering the worst.


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

View results

Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

View results

Bioethics Websites
home |  about |  contact |   
your global information source on bioethics news and issues