Thursday, June 25, 2009

Opening Pandora's Box: Assisted Suicide


Last night, very very late (I think it was around 4 o'clock in the morning), I was just about to go to bed when I cracked open Pandora's box on Twitter.

I tweeted:

blogofinnocence What is the current state of public opinion on assisted suicide for medical reasons?

And then I tweeted:
blogofinnocenceB/c I feel as though if I become sick and have cancer I should have the right to die.

Unprepared for the deluge of comments on this topic, I shut my computer and went out to the garage to have a cigarette (yes, I'm still smoking). Why was I awake so late? I got back from the bars around 2 am and found myself in a pensive mood. So I began writing. What I wrote down is of no importance, but the realization I had afterward is. I realized that I want the freedom to choose assisted suicide for medical reasons if I ever become terribly sick. This was an entirely personal realization; meaning, the thought was not inspired by anything but my own desire to have this right for myself.

I hadn't heard much of anything about assisted suicide in the news lately, and I began to seriously wonder what the current state of public opinion on the issue was. I wanted to know, "What do people believe?" Because in that moment, I knew deeply what I believed and how I felt.

I'm still exploring the possibilities of Twitter. The ability to tap into a vast and variegated live audience from different locations around the world, and at any hour of the day or night, is a phenomenon that draws my curiosity.

So what did people have to say on this topic? Well, I received a flurry of mixed opinions, but the majority of them leaned toward the individual's freedom to assisted suicide for medical reasons.

I was only interested in one question: "What do you think about assisted suicide for medical reasons?" In my rudimentary approach to sampling public opinion, I seemed to overlook the millions of other questions that went along with my original one; the what-ifs . . .

What if the person is not terminally ill?

What if the person has Alzheimer's and can't decide for themselves?

What if the person is "pressured" into assisted suicide?

While I understood that an abundance of hypothetical situations are enmeshed in the topic itself, I was still looking for some straight answers. These were some of the responses I got:

@salwaansart I agree with assisted suicide for medical reasons.

@dijeratic Depends where you are - some states do allow for it, all states should, in my opinion.

@JamesHancox Still mixed I think. Personally, I support a persons right to choose. Needs to be VERY carefully monitored though.

@buffysquirrel i don't think any of us needs a right to die; dying is going to happen whether we like it or not

@PaulMathers I am inclined to agree although I like to think I would not take that path personally. But as a right I'm inclined to agree

@DavidMunn Yeah, I'm in favor of euthanasia as long as the individual is making the decision without pressure.

@JackAwful You're knocking on an open door here. I was a nurse for 10 years. Kevorkian was a brave man and only the suffering know.

@crazygibbonsorry 140 characters. If someone is in a fit mental to decide state that's fine. Becomes difficult if they aren't.

@desireekoh13 Your responsibility to make decision when in right state of mind, so no one has to be responsible for making it for you.

@NightShiftNurse assisted suicide should be legal. I have seen too many patients suffer.

@StirringTrouble How you can call yourself innocent and promote assisted murder? I'm sorry, but you're off my list.

That last one really caught me off guard. I replied, "I promote the freedom; not murder."

Just as a side note, I call my blog The Blog of Innocence because I cultivate a wonder, an innocence, about the world in my writings. Because, to me, each new experience is a new reality. I feel as though I will always be innocent to life. This naivete is actually something I practice as I attempt to learn more about myself and more about others.

The interesting thing about assisted suicide for medical reasons is how diverse laws are from country to country, and within countries as well. I would like the law in Illinois to reflect my right to die for medical reasons.

I have Hepatitis C, which means there is a 50% chance I will develop liver cancer. In addition, I smoke and smoking is proven to cause lung cancer. Compound these possibilities with my already abused system from years of drug abuse.

And so, these are my concerns. What if I get sick? What if I develop cancer? Can I choose to die?

What baffles me is that people feel they can tell me I don't have that right. But this should be my decision.

My mother died of a degenerative disease. I watched her slowly lose all of her motor abilities, all of her facial expression, her balance, her ability to walk, her ability to speak.

Around forty-five years old, my mother was diagnosed with multi-system atrophy, a variant of Parkinson's. She went strong until everything was taken away from her. Her last three years on earth, she couldn't talk, couldn't walk, couldn't use the restroom by herself.

She never told me she wanted to die. But then again, she couldn't speak. How would I know? It became increasingly difficult to know her thoughts about her situation.

She was completely lucid until her death. Only in the last month, when she was unable to even eat enough food to stay alive, did she show signs of confusion.

The doctors never called my mother's illness "terminal". They called it "degenerative".

I watched my mother suffer. I saw what she had to go through for five agonizing years. And I wonder if such a thing were ever to happen to me, would I want to continue to live?

For more essays by the author, visit Escape into Life.

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12 comments:

Jessica said...

I remember when you posted this.
I had replied to you saying that if you are dieing, and want to die, go ahead.
I know the suffering of people who are sick and if they could just end their pain it would be so much better.

What I also meant was if you are terminally ill, and there is no cure or significant treatment whatsoever (and you are sane) and you would like to end your life, why not?
No one should suffer a terrible sickness that would kill one anyway.

Now you said that you were going over the scenario if it wasn't a terminal disease:
I say taht if it can be cured, I would NOT recommend assisted suicide.

If the person is "pressured" into assisted suicide:
Then no. The person must choose to die or not. Not is the way it should be. With no pressure.

If the person is not in the right state to choose for themselves like your mother, than the family or doctors should be able to choose. The suffering should stop.

dijeratic said...

Gosh, this is such a heavy subject and the pain of your realization (and what you've gone through) is acute. I have a question of choice though in that - with smoking and so forth - you are limiting your own choices (though I know breaking the addiction is not an easy one). Perhaps dwelling on the concern of how to end your life may prevent you from seeing the possibilities of how to enhance your life. We all die and the quality of our death should be as at least as dignified as the quality of our life.

I do hope that such a burden never comes to you, or that, considering your own health issues, you are able to invoke the strength of will to insist on the value of your life and the respect it deserves.

As for that one tweeter who accused you of endorsing murder - it is a shame that there are so many who fall back on ignorance - assisted suicide is not murder: it is ending your life with dignity and all the arguments about what if someone is mentally unfit to decide, etc - are beside the point. Western culture spends so much time focused on material reality that we do not appreciate the fact is that the point of life is for it to end - and how we come to that end must be equally honored and appreciated.

It is a horrifying contemplation - what does it mean to die? Anyone who tries to simplify it with an ignorant and thoughtless remark about murder or such has no respect for how complex, how torturous those feelings are. There are no absolutes.

carlomarx said...

a very tasteful and moving piece. honest and well written... you're very good at opening the dialogue with your posts. and i appreciate the way you tied in the derivation of your site. look forward to more...

Disjecta Membra said...

Well done and well said. I appreciate the weight you clearly feel in this subject, a weightiness I think that the subject warrants.
You are a very thoughtful man and I am very glad to have stumbled upon your blog.

-L said...

Pandora's Box, the perfect metaphor. The sensitivity of the subject really brought out the emotions, didn't it? A shame someone saw your question as tacit approval. That wasn't the point of your tweet at all from what I could tell.

I applaud your broaching the subject in such a wide-open forum. Naive, innocent, bold; call it what you will, you created a vibrant discussion.

May said...

I personally am in favor of it. I also think that just because something is illegal, doesn't mean you don't have the right to do it. Rights aren't given my the government but the human spirit. Or at least that's what I think.

VinaMist said...

As a person with chronic and terminal pain that I deal with every day. I am compelled to give my public opinion.
"Assisted Suicide" should be the right for any "sane" person. I highly recommend a "living will" to everyone.
I have been at deaths door three times and did not want to go. The "flashbacks" are true before your brain shuts down. The scariest thing is feeling your body "turn off" like a machine. There is an unexplainable place I have been. No words to describe. The feeling was more than "utopia". I wanted to stay there forever. But I have a life to live and "heaven" is not for me yet. Call me crazy, but I am just stating my own experience.
I do not wish to experience any of that until I am old, gray and ready.

Cheers!

Mi Thoughts said...

The freedom to do what you want with yourself is paramount. At least, that's how I feel. I'm not mining new territory here, but just wanted to throw my two cents in.

Deciding what you can do with your body is troubling.

Life Explorer said...

Assisted suicide is something that is frowned upon most often because its the same as murder. But I don't think that this is true. I mean yes assisted suicide technically speaking is murder. But If you see someone suffering lot, and they tell you to end their pain then Its not wrong at all actually. Its not morally wrong either. It makes sense to be honest. Why let someone suffer to the end and not do anything about it?

David Munn (Aussiescribbler) said...

I'm very much in favour of the right to assisted suicide in the case of terminal illness. A friend of mine once said he believed people should be allowed to kill themselves for any reason. As someone who has suffered from periods of depression where I begged to be killed or have tried to kill myself I couldn't agree less with his views. I can see where he was coming from - your life is yours and noone should be allowed to tell you what you do with it, but in practice its not a humane policy. Of course that is a totally different matter and not really relevant to the topic under discussion. On the issue of pressure though I think this is a trickier issue than it might at first seem. If a patient says "I don't want to suffer" then the case is clear, but what if he or she says "I don't want my family to see me suffering"? As soon as the feelings of another individual come into the picture we enter a grey area.

Lethe said...

Thank you for all the comments. Truly I'm grateful to have such receptive people reading my essays.

Jessica: I think we're mostly in agreement on this issue.

dijeratic: "Perhaps dwelling on the concern of how to end your life may prevent you from seeing the possibilities of how to enhance your life." I think you raise a good point about living with dignity as well as dying with dignity. Thank you for this perspective.

carlomarx: Thank you. I try to grab a reader's attention and hold their attention throughout the piece. And I try to make my essays tasteful but interesting. Thank you.

Disjecta: Thank you. The subject does warrant a certain weight.

-L: Vibrant discussion is what I was going for. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

May: I agree with what you're saying about the law. But ideally, we would like the law to reflect our personal rights.

VinaMist: Thank you for sharing your experience. I've spoken to you several times over Twitter and barely can fathom the amount of pain and suffering you've endured.

MiThoughts: It doesn't matter if it's new territory or not; this issue needs to be talked about. Thanks.

Life Explorer: Love your screen name. I agree with your comments.

David: Yes, there are many thorny issues around "pressure" and "family". But my only concern was to have the right to die for medical reasons. Thanks for sharing.

Again, I'm so lucky to have these comments.

Lori said...

Interesting discussion, Lethe. Happened upon it via a link-fest from Twitter. Sorry I missed this tweet. I would have had some comments, to be sure.

You're a good writer. I may have to pop in here more often, if you don't mind.

Loripop326