Editor’s Note: Maybe I just have an ethical blind spot here, but I don’t think the issue of doctor-assisted suicide is even debatable. I can understand how people can differ on the other two life issues — abortion and the death penalty. If you honestly believe life begins at conception (which I don’t), then I can see how you might believe abortion is murder. And, although I’m pro-death penalty, I’m for it in the weakest possible way. I don’t even consider a candidate’s position on it when it’s time to vote, so I can see both sides to this issue. However, since suicide involves only the person exercising control of only his or her own life, I don’t see how it’s anyone’s business if, when or how a person opts for the big dirt nap. I think there should be pleasantly decorated and reasonably priced suicide centers in every populated area, so that those who want out don’t have to travel too far ... and they should have pleasant-sounding names like “Homeward Bound” or “Getting Off.”
“Suicide is man’s way of saying to god, “You can’t fire me. I quit.”
— Bill Maher
Have you ever felt like you’re living in a science-fiction movie? I feel that way when someone holds up a phone/computer barely larger than a credit card that can identify any of 8 million songs just by sampling a few seconds of music in the air. I also feel that way when a talking GPS tells me how to find the nearest kung pao chicken.
Of course, at other times, I feel a little bit cheated: Where are those hovering cars the Jetsons flew around in and the electronic dogs that never mess on the carpet? And, by now, shouldn’t we be rocketing around the galaxy like they did in the “Star Wars” movies?
Another advance that’s missing is a humane way out for people who choose to end their lives, as was shown in the classic sci-fi film “Soylent Green.” In that depressing movie, Edward G. Robinson opted out of his relentlessly dystopian life by checking into an assisted-suicide center, where he was mercifully put to sleep in one of the movie’s few uplifting scenes.
I thought of this when I read the recent obituary of assisted-suicide crusader Jack Kevorkian. In a more enlightened and compassionate society, Dr. Jack would have been lionized for his work, rather than imprisoned like a criminal. However, in our current “Nanny State,” the quaint notion of controlling your own life is out of favor.
In 1997, Oregon passed a Death With Dignity law, and, despite repeated efforts by the Bush Administration to overrule the state’s rights, the statute has operated without any problems ever since. Nonetheless, although the Supreme Court has twice ruled the Oregon law constitutional, physician-assisted suicide is still illegal in 47 states.
Paradoxically, it’s fashionable these days to call yourself a libertarian. Yet neither the Tea Partiers, who rant about getting government out of our lives (a stance conservatives have pretended to embrace for decades), nor most liberals, who limit their reverence for choice to the beginnings of life, show any inclination to end our government’s overbearing interference with the right to control the way we end our lives.
It’s surreal that, even without a doctor’s assistance, suicide is a crime. The only way this would make any sense would be if the penalty were execution. Oddly, the same people who favor capital punishment also tend to be the most vehemently opposed to assisted suicide. Evidently, it’s okay for doctors to kill condemned men who don’t want to die, but if you do want to die, they can’t lift a finger to help you, because, in most places, any doctors who do so could be imprisoned.
Assisted suicide isn’t like stem-cell research or being pro-choice, which, for those who are convinced life begins at conception, threatens innocent human lives. People who want to end their own lives threaten no one but themselves; however, politicians, intimidated by overbearingly intrusive religious groups, feel the need for laws restricting the freedom of those who want to die. Supporting the “right to life” should include the owner’s right to end that life when it’s no longer worth maintaining.
You’d think this attitude would be as American as the flag. When life has become so unbearable that it no longer allows for the pursuit of happiness, we should have the liberty to end it. And, insisting that bone cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease be allowed to play itself out naturally is cruel and unusual punishment. We don’t get to choose the circumstances of our birth, but how we end our lives could be the last real decision any of us gets to make, so criminalizing such a fundamental right is tyranny pure and simple.
Like so many things that deny free will and defy common sense, such tyranny is often faith-based. For many of the devout, the bottom line is you don’t own your own life; it belongs to God (whether you believe in their God or not). Hence, people who want to take control of their own lives are “playing God.” Yet God is supposed to be a good thing, so you’d think striving to be godly would be something to aspire to.
Most medical treatments involve playing God, because they’re aimed at preventing, delaying or curing the bad things He’s doing to us. Playing God is part of the advance of civilization, from straightening the buck teeth God gave us to shrinking the tumors that He grows in our lungs to end our lives prematurely. So, why is playing God by extending our lives a good thing, while exercising our God-given free will to shorten an excruciating death so reviled?
Dr. Kevorkian offered patients with Alzheimer’s disease, MS and cancer what he correctly referred to as their “civil rights.” Dr. Jack was clearly ahead of his time, because we aren’t yet comfortable in a future that permits that much freedom. Sadly, the “Soylent Green” suicide center, which would provide a humane alternative to soul-crushing suffering, is — like vacations on Mars and flying cars — still just science fiction.
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