Mailbag: To be pro-life at the end-of-life is too simplistic, plus what about preserving dignity through assisted suicide?
Yesterday my article Five Reasons for Assisted Suicide (And Crucial Responses to Each One) received a lot of traffic (Many thanks to Tim Challies for sharing it and many thanks to Stephanie Gray who provided me with the content through a class I attended.). If you haven't read that post, please do. The videos included will very likely impact your views on suffering and dying.
I received several comments about the post and I want to share two of them here. They're common responses that I receive whenever I share a pro-life stance on end-of-life issues. Perhaps my answers will give you some food for thought and bolster your own responses when these questions are posed to you. Feel free to bolster my responses, as well, in the comment section.
This is an overly simplistic response to a complicated topic. There are (plenty of) cases where the pain, physical and/or psychological, is insurmountable. More days, months, years of it may not be worth it to the sufferer.
Hi Nathan, thank you for reading and commenting. I agree with you that the physical and psychological pain can be horrific. My own family has endured (and is enduring) Alzheimer's and ALS. These two diseases are excruciating to experience and to watch in the life of a loved one (both exceptionally young in our cases). Your comment, though, highlights my point. You say that "it may not be WORTH it to the sufferer" to continue living. It's my opinion that we need to raise the value--the WORTH--of life in our society. The diseases are the burden. The diseases must be ended. Not the lives. When death is an option, we devalue life, we decrease its worthiness, and we lose our drive to protect and preserve it. Lives are worth protecting because they are inherently valuable--whether someone feels like it or not. It is up to us who are not suffering to elevate their value and walk the road with them. I think, in fact, that assisted suicide is the overly simplistic response.
Hi Jen, Appreciate the article. How would you respond to someone who says that assisted suicide preserves the person's dignity?
Mike, great question. I find that this is the most common pro-suicide argument here in Colorado, which legalized doctor assisted suicide in 2016. A few things to consider:
1. All lives have inherent worth and dignity. Whether a person is fully healthy and able or disabled or anywhere in between, they have dignity and value because they are human. Even if they FEEL undignified or worthless, this is not objectively true.
2. The desire to control one's end of life experience is born out of our current cultural age, which prioritizes the autonomous self. In our day we believe we belong only to ourselves and that our actions only affect ourselves. This is not true. As a people we belong to one another--our actions have impact on those around us. To choose to end your own life sends a ripple effect of devaluing life throughout our communities.
3. We must ask ourselves--if we think it is more dignified to die than to live out our lives to their natural end--at what point do we lose dignity in our sickness and suffering? If it is more dignified to commit suicide than to live with ALS is it also more dignified to commit suicide than to live with Down Syndrome? Paralysis? A broken leg? We must resist the urge to end lives that are not deemed perfect, for there is no reasonable stopping point once this view is believed.
4. As a society, we must strive to do better to help people naturally die with dignity. Because we champion youth and health and productivity, we have erroneously deemed age and sickness and stillness as less than worthy. But there is worth in the aged and sick and still. They have much to teach use. Their lives are valuable. To assent to "death with dignity" is to assent to the view that these lives are useless. We who love those who are suffering must strive to communicate to them that they have worth.
5. As BJ Miller said in the second video I shared, once death is on the table as an option, then all creativity for palliative care goes out the window. If we pursue creativity and passion in helping others die well, then the dignity in death will be elevated.
6. As a society we cannot tell the aged and sick that it is a viable option to end their lives when they suffer if we cannot say the same thing to a teenager who is suffering. We cannot decry and seek to alleviate teen suicide, on one hand, while validating assisted suicide on the other. Suicide is not right in any case.
I hope these thoughts help and spark some brainstorming of your own. There are many deep thinkers out there who have far more and far better things to say than I. You might checkout the Life Training Institute.