Brittany Maynard’s choice to kill herself thrust assisted suicide into headlines around North America. It’s horribly tragic for a beautiful, engaging, and active 29-year-old woman to face a painful death. Her husband, suddenly a widower, is grieving both her illness and death.
Maynard’s choice was presented through videos which used music and photos to convey her decision as freeing and dignified. While we can empathize with the difficult situation, behind the poignant advocacy for assisted suicide lie deeper questions: Can we declare that someone is better off dead? If so, who determines when a person reaches that point?
No one likes to think about living life at a reduced capacity. But suggesting a certain quality of life is not worth living infringes on those who may experience such a life.
People with disabilities hear others proclaim the “better off dead” opinion regularly. “I’d rather be dead than be in a wheelchair,” or “I’d rather die than have someone wipe my bum.” Maybe even: “I’d rather be dead than need a respirator to help me breathe.”
It’s a shame when someone thinks of themselves this way. It’s even scarier when individuals declare another person “better off dead” on the basis of their situation. Assisted suicide requires a doctor to agree, “you’re better off dead.” Consider the Belgian doctor who killed a transgendered person who couldn’t live with the outcome of a botched sex change operation, or the deaf twin brothers who couldn’t bear the diagnosis that they were also going blind.
The Dutch now kill seriously ill infants with parental consent. Alzheimer’s patients who are no longer capable of making the decision have been euthanized in that country.
This belief that some humans are better off dead is part of the reason why, once the option to kill (euthanasia) or help commit suicide (assisted suicide) is legal, there is always pressure to expand the criteria for who qualifies.
In the Netherlands, the expansion of euthanasia is striking. Mobile euthanasia units were initiated in 2012, so doctors could do home visits to kill patients whose own doctors wouldn’t kill them. The Dutch recently killed a woman who was “suffering unbearably” because she was going blind.
The Belgian Parliament has made it legal for a child to choose euthanasia if their parents agree, and a psychologist has verified that the child knew what he or she was doing.
The Maynard case presents the choice as the patient’s alone, but these decisions are not immune from outside influence. In Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal and euthanasia not, letter writers responded to a newspaper article’s discussion on paying for care in old age by suggesting that euthanasia could be a solution. Could such a suggestion be made in a place without a history of legal assisted suicide?
It may seem a huge leap from Maynard’s videos to that attitude, but all that’s required is the acceptance that death is a compassionate and good solution to suffering.
It’s one thing for individuals like Brittany Maynard to accept this. It’s another for her doctor to do the same. Don’t forget that where assisted suicide is legal, doctors, not patients, have the final choice of who dies this way. This does not empower individual choice. It empowers doctors.
Imagine for a moment that you were diagnosed with cancer. How would you feel if your doctor suggested, as an option other than chemotherapy, that you might just kill yourself instead? He would be, intentionally or not, stating that you’d be better off dead because you’d avoid the suffering and save the health system lots of money.
Is this what we want for our grandparents or parents as they age? Do we want our children to grow up in a society that views people this way?
This isn’t, I’m sure, what Brittany Maynard wanted. It is, however, the truth behind the change she advocated. When society defines increasing numbers of people as better off dead, and these people themselves agree, giving doctors the right to help them commit suicide makes our society a toxic soup for the vulnerable among us.
Derek Miedema is a researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.
See the full article online at http://panampost.com/editor/2014/11/26/right-to-die-should-euthanasia-and-assisted-suicide-be-legal/