Reflections upon suicide

Vermont just became the third state to pass an assisted suicide law—Oregon being first and Washington second. I look forward to the day when such laws go further, to the day when you can designate that your life be ended when you become unable to do so, for instance in the case of a progressively debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s. I would also favor state mandated euthanasia when a person’s condition is severe and hopeless but not terminal; for example, in the case of someone who has profound birth defects or is in a persistent vegetative state. 

Everyone supports euthanasia for ailing pets, yet nearly everyone opposes it for ailing humans. They say that it would make people callous and, along with abortion, create a culture of death. They claim that suffering is an ennobling gift from God, and that only God has the right to end life. Many believe that euthanasia is a slippery slope that would lead to killing for convenience or political gain. I don’t believe any of these things; I believe that suicide is a human right, and euthanasia a societal responsibility. I even believe that, once we have done our best to instill in them a desire to live, we should provide healthy people with the means to end their lives painlessly if they request it. I believe this because no one who chooses to die should be forced to do so in a gruesome or painful manner, and no one who chooses to die should ever wake up in an ER after having sustained horrific injuries in a failed suicide attempt. As much as is humanly possible, we should insure that all sentient beings die peacefully and with dignity, and in the case of humans, we should, where possible, allow them to choose the time.

Some will exclaim with horror: “You don’t believe that the life of a human being is of any more value than the life of a dog?!” No, I don’t. The worth of any life is a subjective judgment. For example, I grieve when one of my houseplants dies, yet I kill dandelions by the score. It’s not because the life of a houseplant has more intrinsic value than the life of a dandelion; it’s because I value the life of a houseplant more than I value the life of a dandelion. So it is with humans versus dogs, or humans versus dandelions for that matter.

I mostly blame religion for people’s insistence that humans hang in there until the bitter end, no matter how much they suffer; no matter how much it costs; no matter how hard it is on their loved ones; and no matter how much they plead to be euthanized. If you’re a believer, you will probably point to my values in this regard as an example of the evils of atheism, just as I would point to yours as an example of the evils of theism. Yet, for all I know, a great many atheists might agree with you about suicide and euthanasia, but since I place no importance upon aligning my beliefs about anything with those of a given group, I don’t care. It is simply my view that if society values compassion, it has an obligation to insure, as much as possible, that every creature die a peaceful and dignified death, and that this death occur, as much as possible, at a time of his or her choosing. I believe this as strongly as I believe anything.


Elephant's Child said...

You will be shocked and surprised to learn I agree with you. Many of the arguments against euthenasia are about other issues. Removing inconvenient people is murder - not euthenasia.
I watched my father die a truly unpleasant death. Each time he surfaced he said 'Why am I still here?' I would much rather not see that again, and I don't want to experience it either. I believe that compassion and respect mean letting people (and other animals) go with dignity and as much comfort as possible.

Snowbrush said...

After I posted this, I played the music from my last post while looking at this post, and I was struck by how well the music accompanied the writing.

In regard to this post, I want you to know that it's not about my plans but about my values. This content of this post is something that I think about a lot. I've posted a lot of controversial stuff, but I wonder if this might not inspire more horror than any of the rest of it because this goes to the heart of how we feel about who we, as a species, are.

Snowbrush said...

"I watched my father die a truly unpleasant death. Each time he surfaced he said 'Why am I still here?'

Why aren't people more affected by that level of misery? Do they think it doesn't really happen, or do they really feel as they do because of how they interpret an ancient book of anonymous origin? I brought home a book on Kevorkian recently, but only Peggy has read it. I fear that it would be too hard for me to read about how he and his patients both suffered, and how, at the end, he was denied the merciful death that he had given to others.

Snowbrush said...


"You will be shocked and surprised to learn I agree with you."

If I had guessed who was the most likely reader to agree, it would have been you. You've seen too much suffering in your life and the life of your partner, and you and I have a history of agreeing about pretty much everything, so, not, I'm not too shocked and surprised.

"I watched my father die a truly unpleasant death."

Counting my parents and my hospital work, I've surely seen 10-20 people die, but my parents died relatively easy, and the others were pretty far gone when I got to them, it being my job to assist in pulling them back from the brink.

ellen abbott said...

I too agree with this. I think it is inhumane not to assist those who are terminal and suffering terribly. I also lay our attitude and laws about euthanasia at the feet of Christianity and it's fear of death...any life being better than no life. What crap. so easily said by someone who is healthy and not suffering. perhaps that attitude also evolved from the commandment against murder. I don't know for sure but I believe that the pagan healers also assisted in the passing of those who asked. and yeah, I do not believe that human beings have more value than any other living creature.

Helen said...

.. 'if society values compassion, it has an obligation to insure, as much as possible, that every creature die a peaceful and dignified death, and that this death occur, as much as possible, at a time of his or her choosing. I believe this as strongly as I believe anything' ~~ on this we both agree.

Snowbrush said...

Gosh, all this agreement is going to my head. I have never read anything that went as far as I do in advocating societally-assisted suicide for healthy people, so I'm quite amazed by so much agreement. I expected some people to go with me part of the way but not all of the way. Maybe I am misunderstanding you in thinking that you do.

Mim said...

i couldn't agree more

Linda said...

I believe that societally assisted suicide has existed for a long time. Well, what else can you call it when an elderly person was allowed to go away from the family or village to die? I am not going to research it, but many civilizations allowed the elderly to make their own decisions about when to die. Only the modern societies have valued human life to the point of torturing the ill. My father lived quite a long time after his body could cope with the pain of pancreatic cancer that he chose not to treat by any means. The morphine rendered him unconscious, totally unaware.

The nurse told my sister that "one of us will give him the shot of morphine that will kill him. We never know who, but we do know one of us will kill him."

I totally agree that suicide should be allowed and assisted. I no longer want to live when I have to be under the control of other people in a nursing home. Pain does not enter the picture, only control.

I have witnessed the abuse of people by CNAs and compassionate, supposedly professional organizations. I never want that for myself. I have plans. But, they always fail to be something that will work when I do decide to go.

I do not want to be sedated into compliance. I will rail against mistreatment. I know me.

Unknown said...

I believe it should be a basic human right, to die when we cant go a step further. Totally for it and for assisted suicide. Have seen too many suffer too much for too long.
Lisa xx

Strayer said...

Totally messed up we can euthanize a suffering kitty or dog, but we are condemned to suffer, lay in our own shit, moaning, if we can even do that, at some "home" where our worldly belongings have been stolen one by one, if of any value, by the "help". (at some no good places) Moans or outcrys are silenced with psyche drugs. It's criminal and sadistic and yes, religion is to blame. I very much would prefer a bullet to the back of the head, as in Of Mice and Men, when I knew not it was coming, when I am nonfunctinoal and unable to off myself. I hereby declare if I become so nonfunctioning and confined, against my conscience will, although I am not so, I would consider it a favor an honor, a loving act, if someone would do just that for me. There, I said it.

Strayer said...

And another thing, the act of pumping all those chemical through dead veins, to preserve a corpse, wtf? A final act of pollution, the final human insult to the earth, sending more chemicals into the ground with you? Who would want that? Formaldehyde, makeup, it's ridiculously egotistical.

The Tusk said...

Dandelions should be collected anbd eaten, The Healthier ones can be left to regrow every year the leaves get bigger and bigger every year. Makes for wonderful salad or food for the rabbit or Guinea Pig.

I'm shocked you kill them so willy nilly, where is that word from?

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree! It's been a gift to take the pain from my struggling dogs! I know in one case, my selfishness made me wait too long!

I've long wished we could offer it to humans, especially ME... I have no children and will be all alone in the world. I don't want to burden anyone; don't want to waste what little I can leave to Godchildren on my care; and I don't want to live in PAIN! It should be MY choice.

And yes, I believe in God. And that has led me to believe he does forgive EVERY sin, even this "supposed" one.

When I first moved to CA, a dear friend's father committed suicide in Mississippi. I remember him yelling at his wife, "You DON'T know what it's like to hurt EVERYWHERE. Even my HAIR hurts!"

His religion was more spiritual...God is in the trees and earth kinda guy. I like to think he found the peace and pain free place he needed to be and so do his kids!

Robin said...

I agree too... (can you believe it) much as I believe in Prayer and Hope...there comes a time - particularly if the person has requested it - when their body should be released....into...well, I'll just say their next chapter...

Love to all three,

♥ Robin ♥

Snowbrush said...

"It's been a gift to take the pain from my struggling dogs! I know in one case, my selfishness made me wait too long!"

I too waited too long on one occasion. It would probably be that way with human euthanasia too, although one would hopefully have better guidelines from the human involved about what he or she wanted. There's so much guesswork involved with dogs, and until I started getting older and living with pain, I really didn't understand what they were going through.

what else can you call it when an elderly person was allowed to go away from the family or village to die?"

As in "Little Big Man." I wonder how often that was practiced. If it's simply a matter of going into the Arctic night and dying with minutes, it's one thing, but to go out and starve! I can't imagine it, and I wouldn't consider it euthanasia but more akin to what we do now, which is to leave the suffering to their own devices, if they still have any.

"the act of pumping all those chemical through dead veins, to preserve a corpse, wtf?"

And then to put the corpse into a concrete vault as my mother requested (and I did despite my horror of it) and as my father willingly did for his parents!

"Dandelions should be collected anbd eaten"

I've eaten them and every other edible wild plant I could get my hands on, but I don't like them in my yard. As Jesus said, "Life is about more than food." Yes, it's about supporting plants that have no food value but a great deal of aesthetic value.

"And yes, I believe in God."

You and Robin who posted after you. She's a Catholic who attends Mass, and you're (I think) a Christian who practices your faith apart from any church. Generalizations are just that. If they spoke for everyone within a given group, they would probably be called something else. Yet, when you look at where the opposition is, it's within religious groups that, irony of ironies, oppose abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, yet support capital punishment and war

stephen Hayes said...

I think that adults should have the right to end their lives, provided they've been given psychiatric counseling and aren't making this decision under duress. If a person doesn't have this right they really aren't free. Should I reach the point where I can no longer enjoy life or serve a meaningful purpose I'll end my life and I really don't care what the state says about it.

PhilipH said...

100% agree with all you've said.

What's the point in denying the basic human right to live and DIE.

Ideally it would be a swift and painless exit from life, with no hassle and within the law. At the very least it should be possible to buy an approved drug that will 'do the trick'. Otherwise it means a person might end up in a very bad way if his/her attempt to depart this world was unsuccessful.

Religion should NOT enter into this topic. It's all bollocks. If there IS a god then his/her/its design of humans is poor. An ABORT button should have been part of the end product!

Helen said...

I am in emphatic agreement:

"And another thing, the act of pumping all those chemical through dead veins, to preserve a corpse, wtf? A final act of pollution, the final human insult to the earth, sending more chemicals into the ground with you? Who would want that? Formaldehyde, makeup, it's ridiculously egotistical."

Joe Pereira said...

I agree with you on the right to choose a dignified death - but I worry about society's ability to deal with something as important as euthanasia. I hope when/if my time comes I am allowed to choose- I just don't want anyone else to choose on my behalf

kylie said...

I am at a a point in my life where I think that for me to suicide or be euthanased would be a failure of my faith. I'm not saying it couldnt happen, just that I hope I would be able to face death with an expectation that it would unfold in the way it should and that I would have peace with that expectation.

Having said that I a not currently in any obvious danger of dying or in any real physical distress so it's not a good time for me to judge.

I also would not presume to make judgement on another person who found it necessary to end their own life or that of somebody they loved, on the request of that person.

I give my full support to a considered and informed "not for resuscitation" order and I also support what I might call enthusiastic palliative pain relief.

The potential for abuse with euthanasia is a concern but I dont oppose it as a principle.

OneOldGoat said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I spend a whole lot of time thinking about my death. And I wish it to be on my own terms. I think it is so much more cruel and disrepectful to allow the suffering than to kindly end it.

Snowbrush said...

A couple of notes. 77 people ended their lives under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act last year, which was a little over half of the number who received prescriptions for lethal doses of barbiturates. Apparently, many people get the drugs because they take comfort in having them on hand. For those who are curious about the Oregon law, here's the link:

I know little about historic attitudes toward suicide. Actually, I think I only know two things. One is that the church has always opposed it, even going so far as to deny burial in its cemeteries; and the second thing is the Stoics praised it as an appropriate action for one who, for whatever reason, felt that it was time to say goodbye to life. Well, of course, there was the thing about Japanese hari-kari (leave it to the Japanese to come up with a gory way to end it all). Anyway, suicide is something that I think about everyday because I consider it a likely possibility for how I will end my life. I see before me ever advancing degeneration as well as the possibility that Peggy will die before I do, thereby taking away my last certain responsibility toward life. When I add these two things together, I would anticipate that it would take away nearly all--if not all--of my incentive to live. I won't know until I get there, but I do know that it is very common for aging men to take their own life, and that the older a male becomes, the more likely he is to kill himself, especially if his wife dies. My view is that if things get bad enough, to not kill oneself would be absurd. Obviously, if you're a person of faith who sees suffering as divinely ordained, you will disagree. I often hear such people say that God never gives anyone a burden that is unbearable, but this seems to me to contradict reality. For one thing, how do you define unbearable? Like many, I have experienced pain that was bearable only because I knew it would soon be over. Had it continued, life would have become unbearable in the sense of being well beyond that which (I believe) anyone could adjust to. Each moment would have become its own hell, making sleeping, eating, and anything other than intense misery impossible. I would consider anything that disrupts life to that extent to be unbearable, and I should think that society could at least agree that, in cases like that, suicide or euthanasia is called for, but, alas, it can't. As things stand, I'm sure there's a great many cases of suicide and euthanasia that occur despite the law. For instance, my father died at home with bottle of liquid morphine by his side. The hospice nurse told me to give him however much he needed without worrying about whether it killed him. I interpreted this as permission to euthanize him if his pain became intractable. Likewise, my doctor told me that he has has patients ask him what would happen if they drank the entire bottle of morphine that he prescribed, and when he told them they would die, they drank it (after he had gone, of course). The fact that he didn't try to prevent them from doing so when their suicidal thoughts were so obvious suggests that he approved. And so it is that we already have support for suicide and euthanasia, but one just has to hope that they have a doctor who will give them the means, unofficially, of course.

Here's a link to facts about suicide among the elderly. The page says that untreated depression is to blame, implying that suicide is a preventable failure on someone's part. If Stoics had written the page, the conclusion would have no doubt been different.

Charles Gramlich said...

Euthanasia would be far kinder than some of the suffering I see going on with people today who will never get better and who have zero quality of life. It's a hard thing to contemplate but I do think it can be a grace.

All Consuming said...

I absolutely one hundred percent agree with you here. An excellent post. x

KC said...

I agree with passion!
This is a timely post. My mother in law lived in an Assisted Living facility in Turlock, California. A couple of weeks ago she tried to commit suicide by stabbing herself in the wrist and hands with the metal arms to her glasses that she had broken off.

The facility called an ambulance even though the wounds were superficial. She was held for a psych evaluation for 6 days in a hospital that did not have any psychiatric treatment available. We could not get her released until we promised to bring her to Utah to get "help". The help has manifested in being in a lock down nightmare for her.

It is very evident that she has a severe mental disorder that may be unable to be helped without drugging her into submission. What kind of a life is this?

Furthermore, to be totally crass....the bill is approaching $100,000.00 that is mostly being paid by Medicare. It is a gross waste of funds for someone that has little chance of a quality life by most anyone's definition.

This comment could be better defined as a "rant" but I appreciate the forum to vent. Thanks for the post, Snow. You hit the nail on the head.

Deb said...

Forgive me for not reading through other comments and perhaps repeating what someone else may have said, but suicide is NOT mentioned in the Bible. Suicide for reasonings of the "heart" -- meaning, not done selfishly. People who are suffering should have the right to have an "assisted suicide" -- that's my honest opinion on that and as a believer, GOD KNOWS what's in every person's heart. It is not a "cop out" and it is not "cowardly". It's brave enough to let go and give other people a piece of mind if they are the caretakers. It's a very hard call and one that I never want to make.

100% agreed.

RNSANE said...

I have been an RN for nearly 50 years now - committed to helping and healing...but I believe patients should have the right to assistance in ending their suffering in terminal illnesses instead of prolonging their lives. I have seen the agony of patients and their families and it has torn me apart. It has also created financial ruin for them, with the patient begging for release from his painful existence.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Just popping in to read the comments and follow up... fascinating.

While euthanasia is not legal in most places, today I'm thinking of the people I know who "decided" it was time and just passed. Not really suicide per se...just a letting go. I guess in some ways we all make that decision when the time comes but to know that suffering would not be necessary would be such a mental relief!

Myrna R. said...

What an intriguing discussion you've instigated Snow. It's going on in my mind and gradually, I'm more and more in agreement with you.

The Blog Fodder said...

SAw the title and was leery of where it might go but decided to read it anyhow. Tend to agree with you about most things. Palliative Care is about making the end of life as dignified as possible. Saskatchewan does not yet have assisted suicide laws but DNR(Do not resuscitate)requests are certainly allowed. I do think assisted suicide or even a living will that says pull the plug when I reach this stage is a good thing.
The problem I have with euthanasia is certainly not moral, it is practical. How do you prevent it from creeping? Aunt Mary is a miserable old bitch and I don't want her around. She goes into hospital for something serious but not necessarily terminal and I arrange to have her put out of my misery. We can do that with "unwanted" dogs, cats or horses but I draw the line at humans as I may be on someone's list.

kj said...

In full agreement while I also think like the blog fodder just expressed . It could be a tough call when it comes down to family members and not the wishes of a lucidly thoughtful person who made her/his wishes clear

Morphine is assisted suicide: thankfully hospice makes it 'respectable' but the body slows and withdraws

My mother entered a nursing home this week, snow. She is 97 with increasing times when she is back in time. I know she will decline in any nursing home. I wish I could prevent that: even at 97 I (and she) fall on the side of more life. But I imagine there will come a time when I (and she) would want to decide.

The way I guess it will happen for my Mom is she will eat less and less and then stop eating. That is a form of assisted suicide too.

And Virginia Wolfe: she just filled her coat pockets with heavy rocks and walked to the ocean...


Snowbrush said...

KC, I really appreciate your story about your mother-in-law.

"suicide is NOT mentioned in the Bible."

I don't know if you're saying that it's not mentioned at all, or that it's not forbidden, or what, but I do recall that Judas either hung himself or jumped from a cliff; and that Saul ordered his armor-bearer to assist him in killing himself. As for it not being forbidden, I think you're right, and I would suspect that many of the same people who would say that it's covered under "do not kill" would exempt war, self-defense, and capital punishment, so if you exempt those, why not suicide?

"I'm thinking of the people I know who "decided" it was time and just passed."

I've heard stories of people "hanging on" until such-and-such got to their bedside, but I look upon the ability to choose (a) to die at will or (b) to defy death for a few hours or days, as being extremely suspect, but even if such things were possible, we probably all know of a great many more suffering people who said time and time again for days, weeks, or even months, "Why am I still here?" or "Why won't God let me die?" and so forth. If people could simply will their bodies to die, there wouldn't be suicide.

"How do you prevent it from creeping?"

The same way a lot of things are prevented from creeping, which is by erecting safeguards to make it unlikely. However, if (in the name of protecting people) you make the requirements for an activity so onerous that people can't get through them all, or you go to the extreme of completely forbidding the activity in order to eliminate any conceivable possibility that it might be misused, where do you stop? Do you ban narcotics so that no one will get addicted, or so that a person's family can't intentionally overdose him, and claim that it was suicide? Do you do away with compulsory commitments to mental hospitals? Do you outlaw binding healthcare directives? Do you not consider a family's wishes about whether to disconnect their loved one from life support? It's my experience that people's motives for almost anything are seldom completely lacking in self-interest. Especially in the case of a loved one whose health is failing (including a loved one who is dog or a cat), people are often torn. For example, I agonized for a long time about whether it was ethical to not take my father to the hospital on the several occasions when it looked like he might be at the point of death. My decision was made one day in the ER when he woke up and cursed the doctors, the nurses, and me, for trying to save his life against his expressed wishes. In order to avoid "creep," the law would have had to require me to take him to the hospital. After all, even if he had filled out ten health care directives and told a hundred people that he didn't waned to be left to die, there would have still been the possibility that he had changed his mind just before becoming unconscious, and that I had withheld care in order to get my inheritance sooner, or simply to get a very difficult man out of my hair. Most good things can be misused, so it behooves us to ask whether the benefit of a law is worth the risk that someone, somewhere, might figure out a way to misuse it.

"And Virginia Wolfe: she just filled her coat pockets with heavy rocks and walked to the ocean..."

For what it's worth, it was the Ousee River (I think I spelled it right). I too had heard that it was the ocean, but I got interested in her daughter, Julia Jackson, and in reading about her, I came across the particulars of her mother's suicide. BTW, a woman here in Oregon filled her coat with rocks, and drove into a lake to drown. The car was submerged, so it took weeks before they found out what had happened to her.

Rob-bear said...

While I agree with you overall, I need to think about some of your details. For people seriously ill, we can force them to keep living, which simply drags out the dying process.

I've done some thinking about this before, when I was working on my post-grad degree in ethics. Time to review some of that stuff.

Blessings and Bear hugs!
Bears Noting
Life in the Urban Forest (poetry

Snowbrush said...

"I'm thinking of the people I know who "decided" it was time and just passed."

I think the following link (Freedberg's story) might relate to this:

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Assisted death makes perfect sense in a world of compassion and humane behaviour. It is deatg by gun point that is crazy and yet we still created massive weapons.
With such a huge ailing senior population it makes even more sense to unburden a system of care where it really serves no added value to the patient.
But fear of losing a loved one still needs to be addressed

Kerry said...

I feel like if you had written this 3 years ago there would have been a blow-out of criticism. What's going on? With all of this agreement I am amazed that there are only 3 states with assisted suicide laws. Looks like that number is bound to go up.

Snowbrush said...

"With all of this agreement I am amazed that there are only 3 states with assisted suicide laws. Looks like that number is bound to go up."

As with gay marriage, the ball is rolling and has already come a long way. I kid you not that when Peggy started nursing in the 1970s, the rationale for not providing adequate pain relief to the dying was that they would become drug addicts. You don't hear that much anymore, but you do hear about hospice care, advanced directives, medical power of attorneys, and the patient's right to refuse resuscitation or to be put on ventilator.

The Blog Fodder said...

Hi, snowbrush. could you comment on this article?
It is on one of those "life" sites so I doubt its lack of bias and would like another opinion. thanks.

Snowbrush said...

"could you comment on this article?"

"There are statistics, and there are damn statistics," as the saying goes, and I don't know what to make of the study.

Its suggestion of callousness (if not an actual eagerness to kill people) brings to mind the Monty Python skit in which the organ harvesters came for a donor's liver while he was still very much alive and healthy, and one of them flirted with the man's wife while the man was screaming in pain and terror on his kitchen table while his blood splatted the walls. I also got a laugh out of the image of mobile euthanasia teams going to the houses of the depressed (there must be at least one in every other household) and killing them ("Let's see, am I more in the mood to order in pizza tonight, or would I prefer euthanasia? I know. I'll order both").

This study looks to me like something about which I would expect there to be a lot of debate regarding (a) how accurate the numbers are; (b) what the numbers mean; and (c) what if anything should be done. One thing that struck me almost immediately is that I have no idea what the population of The Netherlands is or what the average of the population of The Netherlands is. Suicide stats are are meaningless without such information. I mean, sure, if 10% of the population is being euthanized every year, it looks bad, but if it's 1%, maybe not. What is an acceptable number, and who is to say?

Snowbrush said...

In that last paragraph, I left out the word age. It should have read: "I have no idea what the population of The Netherlands is or what the average age of the population of The Netherlands is."