Death is an uncomfortable subject for most. It’s one of those “unknowns” which we just cannot deal with. So we turn towards faith to tell us that there is an afterlife, or that we’ll be reborn. Or we can turn to science which tells us that we’ll just be part of that circle of life, becoming food for insects and fertilizer for plants.
But since it’s an uncomfortable topic it stops us from discussing things we REALLY should be talking about. Like suicide. And euthanasia.
In simple terms, euthanasia is also known as ‘mercy killing’. It’s when someone decides to end to their own life due to a debilitating disease or chronic condition, causing the person to want to die, with the help of medical professionals, instead of living like that for the rest of their (however long) life.
Malta is finally being forced to discuss this topic, thanks to an ALS sufferer who wants to have the option of euthanasia when he becomes completely dependent and paralysed due to his condition.
Recently I was having a discussion with someone, which made me realise that I’m still stuck on this topic. While I’m a firm believer in choices, euthanasia is effectively assisted suicide, so if I’m in favour of assisted suicide, then aren’t I saying that I wouldn’t do my utmost to help a patient or a client who comes to me with problems ? Would I just help them get the paperwork signed for assisted suicide the second they mention it? And with that reasoning, would I do my utmost to stop someone from committing suicide?
I mean the reasons for assisted suicide and suicide are effectively the same – one sees a terrible future/present with no way out of it. In the case of euthanasia the reason is medical – ex. parkinsons, ALS, terminal cancer. In suicide’s case the reason is usually social or psychological – falling into debt, the end of a relationship, mental illness.
So why is it ok for someone to end their life for a medical reason, which is usually visible, but if it’s a psychosocial reason then that’s wrong? It’s like saying that being depressed isn’t a real thing because you can just smile it away, but breaking a leg is a real problem.
It’s like saying that people with terminal or chronic illness feel more pain and suffering than people with severe depression, or someone who has lost their job and have no idea how they’re going to support their family.
I guess my generic opinion is this: I would do everything I can to help that person have a better life, to help them see that they have a future. But at the end of the day the choice is theirs. So no, I won’t help them get the paperwork signed the second they mention the words “assisted suicide”, I would help them process this decision, give them the counselling they need. And then, if they want to go through with it, then I’ll be there, holding their hand.
And while I can’t hold the hand of someone who is committing suicide, I would wish I had. Because I would have done my best to help them have a reason to live, but if that fails, at least they wouldn’t be alone in their final moments.