Since we don’t believe in the promise of paradise after death, many of us take a more pragmatic approach to our mortality. My home state of Oregon was the very first state to legalize assisted death to the terminally ill in 1994. It’s no surprise that since most religions view suicide as a mortal sin that lands you in the pit of hell, it’s not something up for discussion in Tennessee. I recently read an article in the Tennessean written by Kristen Hanson, a community relations advocate with the Patients Rights Action Fund in which she claims that the “death with dignity” movement gives in to despair and preys on terminally ill patients when they are most vulnerable.
Kevin Yule, the author of Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, has an interesting take on this subject that left me with much to consider. In an article he wrote for The Economist entitled, Liberals and Atheists can also Oppose Assisted Dying, he makes the simple point that we are not simply our bodies. He explains that because we currently place equal moral weight on human life and do not measure it by years left or physical ability, instituting assisted dying threatens that moral precept.
I am trying to navigate my thoughts on this issue by exposing myself to the opinions of others. My gut reaction to assisted suicide is that it’s perfectly acceptable. I arrived at this judgment via a simple thought experiment. I asked myself, “What if it were me?” Without downplaying the seriousness of staring down your own mortality and with as much sincerity and empathy as is possible, I would like to think that if I were faced with a terminal illness and suffering was imminent, I would choose to die. At the very least, I would like to know that I had the option to make that choice for myself.
A few questions come to mind and I'd be very interested in your answers:
In circumstances of the terminally ill, is there a difference between killing someone and letting them die?
Should human beings have the right to decide on issues of life and death?
Should assisted suicide apply only to those with a terminal prognosis? What about those suffering from horrible and unremitting illnesses? Should they too have a right to assisted death?
And perhaps the most haunting question that has come to mind for me; once we accept that only life of a certain quality is worth living, where will we stop?
What if it were you?