Five Reasons for Assisted Suicide (And Crucial Responses to Each One)
This past weekend I had the chance to personally hear Stephanie Gray of Talks at Google fame. If you have not yet heard her talk “Abortion: From Controversy to Civility” at Google headquarters that went viral last year, stop now and check it out (It’s on abortion. At Google.).
Gray spoke to my worldview class on both euthanasia/assisted suicide and abortion. With Colorado now being one of the few states in which doctor assisted suicide is legal and with my own father residing in a nursing home, her content felt very personal. She challenged the audience to initiate conversations about these issues and so I’m using this blog post to do just that (Gray gets the credit for the content below--I'm merely sharing it.).
Assisted suicide is not far off—it’s a reality for many in the west. We must educate ourselves. Think this through. Be ready. Life is fragile and each of us, or a family member, or friend will likely soon need to be prepared with a solid understanding of end of life issues.
Below I am sharing the five most popular reasons that people think we need assisted suicide (which inevitably leads to euthanasia) and Gray’s five responses to them.
1. Reason: We need assisted suicide because the physical pain is too much to bear.
Response: Let’s find ways to eliminate the suffering without eliminating the sufferer. While physical pain is indeed a horrific reality and while our hearts do indeed break for our loved ones who experience great pain, ending the sufferer’s life is not necessary. In fact, 97% of physical pain can be managed with morphine and similar medicines.
Please watch this video about a child who suffers tremendous physical pain, but is profoundly influencing those around him.
2. Reason: We need assisted suicide because the emotional pain is too much to bear.
Response: Let’s mend the broken heart, rather than ending the life. In the words of Gray, “What kind of community eliminates the irreplaceable and non-repeatable human who is subjected to deep suffering?” Let’s respond to emotional pain with counseling, listening, and love—not death.
3. Reason: We need assisted suicide because the sufferer thinks he or she is a burden.
Response: Let’s change our perspective. Yes, there is a burden, but it is not the sufferer, it is the disease. Let’s bear the burden of the disease with those we love. Let’s communicate with our words and actions that people are not burdens, but sicknesses are. Let’s work to eliminate the sickness, not the people.
4. Reason: We need assisted suicide because the sufferer feels useless.
Response: Let’s change our perspective on the worthiness of life. Worth is inherent in each life, simply because it is the life of a human being, not because of what he or she can do. As Gray says, “Let’s celebrate being, rather than doing.”
5. Reason: We need assisted suicide because the sufferer is afraid of a very painful death.
Response: Let’s pursue excellence in palliative care. Let’s be creative in how we might alleviate the suffering of the dying. Let’s be patient-centered. Let’s help those who are dying experience beauty and joy in present moments. Let’s savor their last days and help them to die well.
BJ Miller is a hospice and palliative care doctor who is committed to helping his patients live out their days well. He himself is acquainted with great pain and this talk is worth the watch.
Gray challenged our class to consider how we might respond to the loneliness and suffering in our own spheres. I was personally convicted that I am not doing all that I can to respond to my own father’s suffering. I confess, outside of routine visits, I have not been very creative in helping to improve his days in his nursing home.
Gray compelled me to brainstorm ways that I might better minister to my dad. I started with one change today, actually. Normally I visit my dad alone. I’ve justified not often including my kids because they’ve never known my dad (a result of his reclusive personality and our life overseas), they’re in school, and the nursing home can be an uncomfortable and even scary setting as many of the residents are aggressive, confrontational, and confused.
The truth, though, is that my dad is not a burden. He’s a precious and irreplaceable life. And he’s not useless. My children and I can learn much from him. So they came with me today. We took him cookies. We brought the puppy. And rather than it being just a quiet visit between me and my dad, we brought him a frenzy of energy.
While my dad was blessed by the kids and the dog and the cookies, my girls were—whether they recognize it now or not—blessed to sit in that space. It’s good and right for them to sit in the midst of the aged, the confused, the ailing. It’s good for them to see the Imago Dei (image of God) in each person there. It’s good for them to wrestle with the end of life too. It’s vital that they invest in their grandpa. He’s worth it.
We’ll be visiting him all together from now on. And I’m going challenge our family to think of some new ways that we can bring light into his life there. Maybe more personal piano recitals on the nursing home piano. Perhaps some new colored pictures for his walls. Some Bible verses next to his bed. Maybe I can get him to share some old stories with us. Thank you, Stephanie Gray, for provoking me to remember that he's not a burden, he's my dad. These last days or years are as important as his healthier ones. It's on me to make them count.