Assisted Suicide vs. Assisted Dying

We’re talking about two sides of the same coin. The difference is whether you are for or against. Those who are against use the phrase “assisted suicide” because it is emotionally charged. They consider suicide to be a terrible, unforgivable, sinful, violent act committed by a person who is mentally ill, depressed, tired of living, feels like a failure, and wants to die.

Those who believe it is a humane act of freeing a person from a body or brain that no longer supports them with any quality of life, call it “assisted dying” or “aid-in-dying.” It’s not that the person wants to die; it comes from a desire to be free of suffering and at peace. It refers to an option at the end of one’s life to make one’s transition on one’s own terms, in one’s own way.

Historically, laws against suicide and mercy killing or euthanasia come from religious beliefs that only God has the right to determine the time of our death. What if you don’t believe God has anything to do with the time of our death? What if you don’t belong to a religion that promotes that idea? What if you don’t believe in God?

We all want protection from being murdered arbitrarily. No one wants wholesale killing of any group of people and so we have to protect ourselves against that. There have certainly been enough mass killings and genocides throughout history and we don’t want to see that happen to seniors or disabled people so there is a fine line between murder and suicide at end of life. The old slippery-slope leading to open season on killing certain groups.

Maybe what should be a law is that everyone upon turning age 18 should have an Advance Directive to be reviewed every 5 years and as health conditions change. No one should have to make these decisions for you; neither a parent, a spouse nor a physician. It’s the only way to make your wishes known and be sure they are carried out. Although even that is in question when the mighty Catholic Bishops attempt to assert their will… oh, sorry, God’s Will.

I’m going to talk about the current laws in different countries and states of the U.S. in a subsequent blog, but here I want to discuss some of the issues involved in law-making.

Assisting another person to die usually means providing the person with the means to end his or her life, either drugs or equipment, and being there to help carry it out. Assistance is usually needed because the decision to do so often comes at a time when the person is close to death and is physically or mentally unable to do what needs to be done.

With euthanasia, one person does something to another person to cause their death, as in we take our pet to a veterinarian to be euthanized. This may be called “physician-assisted” dying where a physician, according to Death With Dignity laws, may prescribe a medication, like Nembutal, that will end a patient’s life. That is as far as physician assistance goes. The physician then abandons their patients to do themselves in without regard to the possibility that something could go wrong and their help needed to assure a peaceful death.

Another term, “aid-in-dying” is when help comes from a person other than a M.D. Dying people may consult with an organization like Compassion & Choices to get information about the Death With Dignity law in their state or Final Exit and receive information to help them end their own lives.

It is illegal for another person (e.g. friend or family member) to administer a drug or otherwise end a person’s life. That is still considered murder even if it is a mercy killing and the person wants his or her life to be over.

If one is physically able and mentally competent, it is up to the person to prepare and administer a drug him or her self. This is called self-deliverance. You can now buy a helium kit consisting of a securable plastic bag and tubes, rent a helium tank (hopefully it can be delivered), and do-it-yourself. Death occurs in a few minutes.

The controversy is over who may assist. Physicians raise their Hippocratic Oath, which hasn’t changed much since it was written over 2,000 years ago in Ancient Greece. Physicians swore by Apollo and all the gods and goddesses (Hippocrates also claimed to be a descendent of the god Apollo) that: “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give a woman a pessary to produce abortion.” One can see how closely tied this issue is to the abortion debate.

In all fairness, in the modern version, physicians swear in the presence of the Almighty (which, according to Wikipedia, is an Abrahamic term for God) that: “I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient even if asked nor counsel any such thing nor perform the utmost respect for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.” Interesting that a bunch of scientists (i.e. mostly atheists) swear to God.

And so “With Purity, holiness and beneficence I will pass my life and practice my art… and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief or corruption and further from the seduction of any patient,” we have physicians who pick and choose which parts of their oath they will honor.

It’s not unlike congresspeople and senators who put their hand on a Bible and pledge to uphold the Constitution and then decide to vote themselves a pay raise and complete healthcare coverage, give tax breaks to the rich and cut benefits for the 99%, cater to lobbyists and practice insider trading. And we trust them to make laws regarding our end-of-life decisions?

So we have lawmakers who think they have the right to dictate whether we have the right to die on our own terms and physicians who don’t want to be around when we die and religious people who believe their God decides these things and we have no choice.

Besides agreeing that reasonable Death With Dignity laws are necessary to protect the elderly and disabled, I think a new position could be created, like among nurse practitioners, medical assistants, or spiritual midwives, who could be trained to legally and ethically practice aid-in-dying.

What do you think?

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One comment on “Assisted Suicide vs. Assisted Dying

  1. Pingback: Respect/Dignity Tolerance/Acceptance more than just word choice… « A Robin Hood's Musing

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