Euthanasia and assisted suicide: not a brave choice

I watched the YouTube videos and read the articles of Susan Griffiths’ final week of life with a mixture of sadness, discouragement, and anger. Susan Griffiths was the Canadian woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba who committed assisted suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland on 25 April 2013.

She was in the early stages of Multiple Systems Atrophy, a rare condition of the involuntary nervous system. As the name implies, it attacks all organ systems, thereby affecting everything from muscular control, sweating, heart, lungs, bowel and bladder control, digestion, vision, and mental function. The decline is gradual and patients live seven to nine years after diagnosis, losing all the bodily functions we take for granted and living a totally dependent life full of pain and discomfort. Treatment and medications address the symptoms. There is no cure and no hope of remission. It is, in fact, a horrible way to die.

What is even more horrible is the widespread support of Susan Griffiths’ suicide from on-line commenters and society in general. It saddens me that we live in a time and place where the mantra is “my body, my choice.” It’s not just pro-abortion proponents chanting this. Now euthanasia/assisted suicide advocates have picked up the cry. Ms. Griffiths expressed what all right-to-die proponents believe: “I want to die on my own terms.” In her last video before drinking a lethal cocktail, she urged Canadians to push for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

In many people’s eyes, committing assisted suicide is a brave choice. What I see as brave is the elderly woman with a chronic debilitating disease who cries out in pain at something so simple as having her leg lifted but tells the nurse to lift it anyway. She fights for a dignified life each day. What’s brave is the person whose body, ravaged by cancer, is unrecognizable even to family members. In her lucid moments she continues to offer up to God her pain and suffering. Brave is the family of the terminally ill child who lovingly ministers to his needs until his final breath. Brave is the family of a disabled child who sacrifice finances, time, and career in order to provide the best quality-of-life for their child.

We live in a society where convenience, autonomy, and self-centeredness govern behaviour, attitude, laws, philosophies; a world where man is god and the trinity consists of wealth-power-prestige. There’s no room for mercy and even less room for suffering. Suffering, pain, and losing bodily functions is not convenient for the sick or for their families and so out of a misguided sense of values, many people believe that legal suicide is the merciful option. Society has lost or perhaps never understood or believed in the redemptive value of suffering. Nor does society value the total self-giving required in caring for our vulnerable brothers and sisters.

Committing medically-sanctioned suicide is not a private choice, no matter what anyone says. The ramifications have a ripple effect and they are frightening. Don’t be fooled by claims that only people who want to die are given assistance. According to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, in Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, a study of 3623 assisted suicide deaths revealed that 32% of the assisted deaths were carried out without explicit request. Lawyer Isaac Jackson wrote that the assisted suicide law in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, is not transparent and therefore not safe. For further data and more examples, read this Euthanasia Prevention Coalition article.

I’m angry, but not at Susan Griffiths. People who opt for assisted suicide and euthanasia don’t see any other viable option. If they were assured of proper, compassionate, comprehensive palliative care and a societal attitude of charity and respect for life, it follows that they and their families would feel less frightened and more hopeful. I’m angry at a medical system that let her down and at advocates who continue to say that we should all have the right to kill ourselves with assistance.

Lest anyone think they can wash their hands of any involvement, think again. Assisted suicide opponents, what have you done lately to speak out and try to stop the progress of suicide-on-demand? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pray.
  2. Write letters and send petitions to your provincial, state, and federal medical associations. In Canada we have provincial Medical Associations and the Canadian Medical Association. The American counterpart is the American Medical Association and state Health Authorities.
  3. Write letters to your nation’s professional nursing associations. Canadians have the Canadian Nurses Association as well as provincial Associations. Americans can write to the American Nurses Association as well as individual state Nursing Associations.
  4. Write letters to the editor.
  5. Speak up in charity and truth even if you think no one’s listening.
  6. Lobby government to improve the delivery of medical services for palliative care patients and people with disabilities.
  7. Develop a compassionate heart for those afflicted with pain and suffering. Put yourself in their situation.

When I read an article about someone who has committed assisted suicide, I become discouraged, but only for a little while. These incidents, which are too numerous, should only strengthen our resolve to keep fighting for better care and support for the terminally ill and those suffering from debilitating conditions. We really are our brothers’ keeper and what affects them will eventually affect us.

The acceptance of this heinous practice is growing. For that reason alone we need to be a stronger, more convicted voice of reason, compassion and life.

@Photo courtesy of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

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