Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Heart Like A Stone

A nearby woman is the first in Washington State to avail herself of the newly-passed "death with dignity" law. Here's a quote from the article:

One opponent of the law called Fleming's death a "sad day" and criticized her choice as "egotistical... It's saying: 'I want to go out of life on my own terms, even though the vast majority of us accept the natural conclusion of our lives,' " said Chris Carlson, of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide...


EGOTISTICAL! Of all the words to describe the act, that's not one that would have come to my mind. (Looking around a bit on the intertubes, I see it is, in fact, not unique to this person: in a particularly poorly written and grievously edited tract discussing psychology of suicide, the word is mis-equated with "egoistic" and other psychobabble that hardly applies to terminal illness.)

During the campaign against the initiative, the opposition mostly focused on "slippery slope" arguments: it'll be abused; it'll be forced on people to save health care dollars; families will talk their old ones into offing themselves to get the inheritance before it's used up. Self-indulgence wasn't brought up. At least not in reference to the dying.

With good reason: it's deeply offensive, heartless, and condescending. At the very least. And, of course, it's the imposition of a religious ethic on others by people who have no business doing so. Like opposition to same-sex marriage, except that in the latter case, no one dies. In each case, the act does no harm to the protesters, is exquisitely personal, and has only religious or sky-is-falling arguments to be made against it. (The Washington law, like the one in Oregon, has safeguards -- too many, if anything -- against treatable depression and premature invocation.) These are people suffering with terminal illness. Terminal. Suffering. Unable to be experienced (much less judged) by any but the sufferer, the woman's act was, in my view, one of bravery and, in a strange way, of ultimate optimism. Affirming of her humanity.

I don't discount the sincerity of those who oppose assisted suicide, some of my fellow physicians (none of whom can be made to participate) among them. But when I read the above sentences, I thought, is that what it's really been about? Taking a tiny bit of control over the otherwise uncontrollable and intolerable is egotistical? Not by my definition.

"...even though the vast majority of us accept the natural conclusion of our lives." Huh? Natural conclusion? Don't the majority see doctors, take meds, go to hospitals, have operations? What the hell is a "natural conclusion?"

I've not heard of the speaker, but it seems he/she is a spokesperson for an activist group, so I assume it's representative. Of something. Is it a sensible argument in any way? "[M]y own terms." Yes! Of course!! And your point is what, exactly? When I saw the word "egotistical" my reaction was revulsion at the clueless insensitivity, the faux superiority, the EGOTISM. When I read the rest of the quote, I found it laughable.

In a "god help us here we go again" sort of way.


  1. "...even though the vast majority of us accept the natural conclusion of our lives."

    Hmmm - aren't these the selfsame people who're so afraid of death that they insist they'll live forever and ever?

  2. If anyone should wear the moniker of being egotistical is it Mr. Carlson! Exactly who is he to decide that someone must tolerate a miserable, painful and predictable outcome passively,in order to preserve what?

    I am often amazed out how a persons perspetive changes when the issue being discussed moves from a philosophy to a reality.

    Philosophy: I would never end my life, I will live it to the fullest.

    Reality: You have terminal CA, it is in your pancreas, liver, gut and bones. the cancer medications we give you will make you violently ill for the few months you have left.. We can do some surgery, you will be miserable, remain uncured, and perhaps die of an infection as the medicines we are giving you will make you weak and susceptable to infection.

    This is a bit like the difference between a recession and a depression. YOur neighbor loses his job=recession. You lose your job=depression.

    Mr. Carlson imagine this scenario, you are in constant pain, relieved only by drugs that make you hover near coma. You have no contgrol of your bodily functions-diapers are your best friend.. changed by you hope your best friends. As you move closer to death, you can no longer manage your secretions, so...a new best friend is a suction device, you can no longer swallow, so a nice sized tube (think drip irrigation) is inserted into your stomach to feed you. You are alive but you are not living...

  3. No one else should judge how much another person can take, physically or emotionally. It's the "whose life is it, anyway" argument. I believe that I should be allowed to commit suicide whenever I want. I would not make anyone "help" me, so no one else would have to feel guilty about my death or be held legally liable for my death.

    Other than religion, why do we legislate against suicide? Whose business is it besides my own?



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