Trying to make sense out of our country’s thoughts and feelings when it comes to suicide is like trying to decipher a map made up of coded symbols in a language we can’t understand. In some cases we encourage it. In some cases we rally against it. In some cases we protect against it. In some cases we think it should be legal. It is an incoherent mess of poor philosophy and even worse implications.
For starters, in September of this year we had National Suicide Prevention Week. Celebrated from September 7-13th, the week was highlighted by World Suicide Prevention Day, which is held on September 10th each year. People rally together to support those who have lost loved ones, raise awareness of those who might be at risk, and draw attention to resources available to those who might be contemplating suicide. The whole week is a great way to raise awareness of one of our country’s biggest epidemics, especially among those veterans who have served in our country’s military.
Another Pro-Choice Mantra
Meanwhile, as many as twenty states around the country are introducing bills to legalize euthanasia, or doctor-assisted suicide this year, with more to follow. Several states already allow this practice, and the “right to die” is quite literally replacing the “right to life” right before our very eyes. The movement is sweeping the nation and those who support doctor-assisted suicide continue to rally around the “choice” mantra, claiming that if a person wants to end his or her life, he or she should be able to. If it hasn’t already, this battle against the dignity of life is coming to a town near you.
It’s tough to make sense of why we would want to allow one person to help another person kill himself. One reason, I believe, is the transformation in our understanding of suffering. We have transformed suffering from being a means to something to being an end to be avoided. Suffering used to be seen as a road to virtue, a means to build endurance and character. In a society where virtue and endurance are wholesale disregarded, suffering becomes an end to be avoided. Why suffer when nothing good can come of it? This is what happens when the pursuit of happiness becomes more important than the pursuit of holiness. When suffering prohibits so-called happiness, death becomes the preferable option. Anything to avoid suffering becomes desirable. I’m not saying we should go out of our way to seek and embrace suffering, but to choose death over it is to deny the value that can be found in it.
In any case, there is a disconnect in our philosophy when it comes to suicide. It’s a tough disconnect to figure out. In some cases, we want to prevent our citizens from choosing suicide, and in some cases we encourage it. Sure, advocates will point to doctor-assisted suicide and say that those who choose the practice are mostly elderly folks, terminal patients, those who are suffering with awful physical infirmities. For the most part they might be right, at least for now. But is there any question that if we start allowing people to choose their own deaths, more and more people will claim to have a “right” to choose it?
The biggest issue with this disconnect is that we are trying to nominally separate the two categories of people tempted to suicide, and it cannot be done. We are trying to label those who are “eligible” for suicide, and those who are not. On one hand, we look at a 31-year-old drug-addicted male suffering immensely from depression and give him pamphlets for suicide hotlines, numbers for mental health counselors and treatment centers, and try to make sure he has all the help he needs to stay alive. On the other hand, we have a 78-year-old woman struggling with the pain of brain cancer, and she is given a prescription for life-ending drugs.
The end result is the encouragement of suicide across the board. There is no conceivable way to look at the 31-year-old and treat him differently than the 78-year-old. She has an unbearable amount of physical pain and wishes she could die. He has an unbearable amount of mental and emotional pain and wishes he could die. One of them is “eligible” for doctor-assisted suicide and one is not.
But it’s simply not possible to separate these two groups of people. In Oregon, suicides have spiked across the board. When we start encouraging suicide in one population, we encourage it in all populations. Jonathon Van Maren notes as much in this article written for LifeSiteNews. He says, “The idea that our government, our health care system, our society, would send such mixed signals to those contemplating suicide is criminally negligent and outright disgusting.” The implication is that it is not possible to allow suicide in one population without encouraging it in others.
On the other hand, what we have successfully and diabolically categorized are those persons who perceive their lives to be worth living and those persons who do not perceive their lives to be worth living. When we start agreeing that some lives are not worth living, we have created that second category into which anyone can throw themselves. Pretty soon that category will not be specific to age, illness, or any other arbitrary principle.
The Incoherence of the “Right To Die”
Gradually, more people will edge themselves into this category and begin demanding the “right to die”. We’ve seen this happen in Belgium, where a 24-year-old woman was granted the right to die without any physical illness, though she eventually changed her mind. As more and more people are granted the “right to die”, we will eventually lose the ability to withhold the “right” from anyone.
For the sake of another example, there is an entire community of people who refer to themselves as trans-abled. These are people, some of whom are perfectly healthy, who believe they have some sort of serious bodily anomaly. Some have already taken to chopping off their own limbs; what happens when a person claims he or she has a terminal illness despite all evidence to the contrary, and therefore should be granted the right to die? Again, there is no way we will be able to present a valid reason why the “right to die” should be withheld from them either.
The underlying implication here is that one person’s life can be more important than another person’s life. If this erroneous premise holds, then who gets to decide the value of a person’s life other than the person himself? And if the person gets to decide, then we won’t be able to determine a valid reason why the “right to die” should be withheld from him.
Nobody wants to talk about the slippery slope, and so I won’t. At least not for long. But I would like to point out that it’s not that big of a jump from deciding that a person should be able to choose to end his or her own life to deciding that a person doesn’t have the capacity to make that choice and someone else should make it instead. We already grant mothers the right to end the lives of their children before they are born; how much longer will it be until we grant the same right after the child is born? In the UK, a set of parents decided that their 12-year-old disabled daughter’s life was no longer worth living, and were granted to right to euthanize her. May God help us if we continue to pretend as though there is nothing wrong with that. And we are blind if we pretend it isn’t coming to the United States.
Encourage, Not Discourage
When we begin to devalue people’s lives, we encourage people to choose suicide, and we discourage hope. People look at others making the suicide choice and wonder why they ought not make the same choice. Assisted suicide in general is based on the premise that doctor’s prognoses are always correct, even though it’s clear they are not. Patients with hope have better prognoses, recover faster, and manage illnesses better. Yet we are ignoring this whole phenomenon by allowing, and in some cases encouraging, people to choose hopelessness and choose death.
When we try to water down the dignity and value of human life, we create a society in which death can become the preferable choice to life. At that point, life has been so devalued that many will forget that it had meaning in the first place. If life is perceived as meaningless, it makes no difference whether a person chooses life or death. And if life is meaningless, why not choose death? A person asking this question will have an incredibly difficult time finding the answer in the very culture of death that created the whole question in the first place.
All the mixed signals, incoherence, and hopelessness produced by assisted suicide and the so-called “right to die” point to the need for a consistent philosophy when it comes to the value and dignity of all human life. An ideology which promotes the dignity and value of all human life does not leave room for one person’s life to be more valuable or meaningful than another person’s life. There is no category of person whose life is not worth living because everyone’s life is worth living. We would encourage all people to choose life because we see the dignity in it.
The advancement of the culture of death will have reached an important milestone if assisted suicide becomes mainstream medical practice. We should pray that the United States turns back to God and we all begin to embrace our identities as His sons and daughters. It is only through an increased understanding of our identities that we begin to fight for a culture of life, showing appreciation for life in all its different stages.