Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Right to Death - my response

In Jeremy's blog he proposed an interesting question that I thought I would share with readers of my blog whom may not read his blog as well.

"The old man suffering from a terminal lung disease went on television tonight to announce that tonight he was going to take his own life, after having a "Living Wake" with friends and family. Then he was to have a steak dinner, go home, sit in his favourite chair, and suffocate himself with gas, while his family stood by and watched. The man had decided that his life of pain was going to come to an end, on his term at a time of his choosing... The report made the 6pm and 11 pm CTV news here in Montreal. I suppose that at this time he is dead already... I understand that it is legal here to take ones own life. Do you agree? or don't you agree? Do you think that taking ones life should be allowed, and if you were asked to support someone who decides to make this decision, would you and could you? What is your view of suicide and or assisted suicide?"

Here is my response: I definitely support the right to die. However, I think suicide should be treated very simiilarly (interestingly enough) to gender reassignment. People who are terminally ill could go through a similar process of psychiatric evaluation. Ensure that their desire to end their life is not based in biochemical imbalances or suffering that there may be alternative solutions for. Take the time to go through each of the reasons the person wants to end their life. Give a whole-hearted attempt to find alternative answers to those concerns. But if the end of the journey still winds up at the same crossroads, the person's wishes should be respected. I think it is ironic in American society it is considered ethically acceptable to take someone else's life via the electric chair and then declare suicide illegal. I had a great aunt whom I've blogged about who had Lou Gehrig's disease and wanted to commit suicide, but her disease process actually took her plans away from her and then her husband put her on a respirator against her wishes, prolonging her life even further beyond what she wanted. Then I had a great-grandfather who got deported from the US because he'd attempted suicide. He probably did need some major psychiatric interventions, but was instead kicked out of the country. I see no compassion in that US law - well, nor many of our laws - the truth be told.

I would ask for you to tell me your thoughts on this ethical dilemma, but I think it would be only fair for you to post them on Jeremy's site where this discussion began. I will go there to hear what other people had to say.


I recently learned that in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, they actually follow similar guidelines to the ones I have suggested - must go through a second opinion by another doctor, must go through a psychiatric evaluation if either of the doctors think it is necessary, etc. I will likely post a summary of those guidelines at a later date.

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