Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assisted Suicide

I know this is a huge contraversial issue but I think it is one that needs to be examined further and all sides debated.

When my father was suffering/dying of lung cancer, my cousins 8 year old son said something so profound it made me change my views on this topic all together. He said, "We will put our animals down so they don't suffer but we won't put humans down so they don't suffer?? Why??"

And it's true. Why are we more humane to our animals than we are to our people?? Now I'm not saying that someone who has the shit end of the stick in life and is down and depressed should be allowed to have an assisted suicide. But I do think that someone who is suffering from a disease that there is no cure for, that is terminal, one that the inevitable end is death no matter how much medication you take, should be allowed, if they so choose, to go to sleep peaceful and just not wake up in that state of suffering again.

Here is the article that inspired me to write this post:

Britain In Shock After Film Showing Man Committing Suicide Is Broadcast On TV
Thursday December 11, 2008 Staff

Reality TV has been heavily criticized over the years for its increasing willingness to take things to graphic extremes.

But a show that aired on Wednesday night in the U.K. has brought a new focus to the debate over how far is too far. And it was viewed by millions of people who likely weren't sure whether they should even be watching it in the first place.

This wasn't some game show with a million dollar prize. Instead, it was a sombre opus about life - and most especially, death. It involved the televised suicide of a computer scientist from Chicago named Craig Ewert.

The 59-year-old, who suffered from an incurable and degenerative motor neuron disease, had decided to end his life in an assisted suicide at a clinic in Switzerland. But he didn't want to go out without spreading the word about his ultimate solution to ending his pain.

So he agreed to have his final act be part of a documentary that traced his life and death. His goal: to show that assisted suicide is a humane act that ends needless suffering.

The documentary, originally called the "Suicide Tourist," was made by Canadian filmmaker John Zaritsky in 2006. It features Ewert's struggling to cope with a disease that has left him feeling like "an empty shell."

As it follows him on his journey from Britain - where assisted suicide is illegal - to Switzerland, he explains he wanted to have it filmed to ensure authorities reconsidered their stance against the act.

"If I go through with it, I die as I must at some point," he recounts in the film. "If I don't go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer, and to inflict suffering on my family, and then die."

"I think I can take my bow, and say: Thanks, it's been fun," he notes later.

As for the moral aspect of what he's doing? Ewert is blunt. "Some people might say: "No, suicide is wrong, God has forbidden it. Fine, but you know what? This ventilator is God."

He also sends an emotional message to his adult son and daughter, hoping they'll understand why he cut his life short.

"I would hope that this is not a cause of major distress to those who love me," he indicates through a voice activated computer, having lost the power of speech. "This is a journey I must make."

In the final scene, Ewert is seen lying in bed, wearing a ventilator. As the documentary nears its end, and with his wife by his side and Beethoven's ninth symphony playing in the background, the subject takes some pills, asks for a glass of apple juice and struggles to swallow the bitter barbiturates.

His wife of 37 years is seen holding his hand as his life slips away. "Have a safe journey," she tells him through tears. "See you sometime."

He uses his teeth to turn off his ventilator and in front of the unblinking eye of the camera, he dies on screen.

The Oscar-winning documentary has been shown on TV in Canada before to little reaction. But it stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy in England about reality television finally going too far.
Many religious groups are condemning the concept of taking one's own life and others are shocked that it was allowed to air at all.

The debate has been so great it has even come up in the British Parliament, where the opposition has been demanding to know why Prime Minister Gordon Brown didn't step in to stop it from being shown.

The P.M. claims the federal watchdog in the country will be reviewing whether the show should have aired.

Zaritsky has explained it would not have been honest to the film's mission if he hadn't shown its true ending. But the program, aired on a normally little watched cable channel, appears to have had the effect Ewert was hoping for.

Opinion polls now say that 80 per cent of the British public believes assisted suicide should be allowed in the country if there's no chance a patient will recover and if it will stop someone from suffering.

Article from City News, Toronto


Bohemian Single Mom said...

I didn't know about this. While I disagree with it being openly televised, I don't disagree with his choice to die comfortably and peacefully in his own time.

I have been at the bedside of four, FOUR of my relatives at their time of death from cancer. There is nothing more hopeless or more devastating.
My mother couldn't be given any more painkillers, because her liver & kidneys would have shut down, being unable to process any more medication. She had to suck it up until death came.

The progressive deterioration from cancer and the effects of chemotherapy are sometimes so intense that too many people are left to suffer it die with no quality of life left whatsoever.
It's horrible to watch someone you love dying, knowing you can do nothing to help them.

I believe if a person is of sound mind and makes the choice that he/she doesn't want to prolong the horrific suffering, and if there's no cure or comfort in sight, then by all means, they should be allowed to end their own lives in whichever way they choose.

Like your brillant son said, we are not cruel enough to put our animals through that suffering, so why shouldn't people be treated with the same compassion and respect.
Great post!

Jennifer said...

i'm not sure, to be quite honest, how i feel about all this. i think that people shouldn't suffer... that is very true. i watched my 23 yr old SIL die from cancer... it was horrible... for her and for all of us. But the selfish side of me doesn't think i could ever let or help someone that I love die any sooner... although it would take them out of pain and suffering.

i guess i'm just a really selfish person. to have an extra month, week, day, hour or minute with them... i would just want that. i'd give almost anything to have time back with the people in my life that have passed away.

i do NOT deal with death well at all. i have experienced a LOT of it and it never gets any easier. it just seems to suck more and more.

but i do see the point in trying to be more humane and caring to someone that is terminal and suffering... i do see it. i just am not sure i could rationalize it when it came to someone i loved. i of course would NOT want anyone to suffer... poeple I LOVE, like, know, have meet, don't know at all, I just wouldn't want anyone to suffer... but it would be hard for me to have to say goodbye any sooner...

i'm probably not making any sense here, but this is something great to think about and definitely discuss. :)