|Seneca the Younger committing|
suicide with the help of his friends,
A.D. 65 (Luca Giordano, 1684)
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a Catholic priest and fierce right-to-lifer who weighed in on the issue in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, plans to vote no.
In "Please Step Back from the Assisted Suicide Ledge," Pacholczyk argues that physicians who provided lethal medications would destroy public trust as surely as policemen who provided guns or lifeguards who provided millstones (millstones?) to despondent people. He then offers two anecdotes: one about a woman who felt betrayed by her grandparents' joint suicide (they did not have a terminal illness, and their deaths were not physician assisted, so her story does not apply), and the other about a friend with multiple sclerosis who is glad he's still alive to enjoy his grandchildren (nobody is suggesting that PAS be mandatory, for Pete's sake, so this story doesn't apply either).
Father Pacholczyk makes me embarrassed to admit that I too would vote No.
I'm not going to make an argument here. I'll just point out that, when it comes to dying, there are more than two or three choices. Some people believe dying people should be kept alive for as long as medically possible, no matter how they or their families feel about it, no matter how much suffering is involved. Other people believe that, in extreme cases, doctors should have the right to administer lethal drugs to dying patients (euthanasia). Physician-assisted suicide lies between these two positions. So do hospice care, palliative care, and other dignified alternatives to either prolonging suffering, on the one hand, or causing death, on the other.
I believe that a lot of people support physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia because they fear they have only one alternative--to be kept alive for days, weeks, months, or even years of misery through painful interventions. Extremism breeds extremism. There are other approaches to terminal illness, however, as Bill Keller's excellent article in Sunday's New York Times points out. Last month Keller's father-in-law, Anthony Gilbey, died in a U.K. hospital of inoperable cancer. In "How to Die," Keller describes the older man's six-day dying process and the decisions--personal, medical, and political--that made his death dignified, loving, and peaceful. "We should all die so well," Keller concludes.
Learn more about how we Americans could choose to die with dignity, if only we were willing to give up our politically exacerbated extremism. Read Bill Keller's moving (and short) article. Click here.