QUESTION: Talk about assisted suicide.
The term “assisted suicide” carries a couple of meanings. It can refer to the laws that Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana have enacted which allow people with a terminal illness to apply to a medical program and, if approved, be given medication that they can personally take that will end their life.
Another reference to assisted suicide could be to individually help someone you know end their life.
In regard to the legality of Assisted Suicide in the United States, 39 states have laws prohibiting assisted suicide, three states have common law precedent showing it is illegal and four states, Nevada, Utah, North Carolina and Wyoming, have no laws or reference to the legality of assisted suicide. So basically if you help someone end their life it is against the law and you can be prosecuted for that assistance.
Aside from the legality of the act we, as human beings, are generally not emotionally strong enough to live with the knowledge that we have helped kill someone we care about. Helping someone we care about end their life can create guilt and turmoil in our own life, forever.
There are a lot of feelings, judgements and opinions (often strong and intense) about the morality of assisted suicide. Because that area is such a mine field I will only say that until we have walked in a person’s shoes we cannot possibly know or understand their wanting to skip the experience of dying and move right into death.
Most people having a life threatening illness think about suicide, very few actually do it. Even in the states where it is legal the response for the assistance has been less than anticipated and those getting approval often do not carry through and take the medication.
In the months before death, when we have been told we can’t be fixed, our fear of what will happen between now and death, the lost of control, the fear of pain, all contribute to the “I just want to die now and get this over with” thoughts.
As the dying process begins, a person slowly, over three to four months, begins to withdraw from the world around them. They become less interested in everything and become introspective: fear and thoughts of control recede. The desire to end life becomes less important, hence even those that have expressed strong feelings about ending their life often don’t.
For those that do carry through with the plan to end their life whether legally or take their own life without help we, the survivors, need to remember that sometimes it is just too hard to stay alive. Living is hard work (we all experience that part of life). We also know that death will find each of us at some time. How death comes needn’t be the issue. Let compassion and caring be the gift we bring to ease the fear of this final act of living.
A TIME TO LIVE Living with a Life-Threatening Illness is a publication that offers some guidelines to help you/loved one live with a life-threatening illness.