Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May: A Father’s Thoughts on Physician-Assisted Suicide

For several years after my daughter was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she regularly told me she wanted to die. Or, more accurately put, she wanted to kill herself. At first, the fear of dying in pain kept her in check, and then she fixated on those failed suicides whose lives as quadriplegics or hooked up to machines were even more miserable than her own. (These people could no longer end it even if they wanted to.) However, every once in a while she overcame these fears and confided in me that she saw no end to the emotional turmoil and pain she was in. Treatment was not helping, or was not helping enough. And she saw no life worth living in the future that could possibly justify suffering the pain she was in. She wanted to just end it and finally feel better. And in keeping with this sentiment, she attempted suicide several times.

As her father, how could I disagree with her plaintive cry for freedom from the pain? I just wanted her to feel better too. I had witnessed all her treatments, all her efforts, and her ongoing agony, the only response I could come up with was, “No, I forbid it. I love you. You may not kill yourself. I would miss you too much.”

She rallied by saying that for years she had held herself back because of the pain and trauma she knew this would cause her parents and family. However, enough was enough. She had not asked to be born. She had not asked to suffer. And she had the right to end her pain, no matter how we felt about it. 

I stood my ground. I also gently proclaimed my hope in a future I knew she could not see.

She called me selfish. Selfish to have given birth to her in the first place, and selfish to demand she stay alive now. Selfish to offer a light at the end of the tunnel that she did not believe was there. I responded that I could not have known life would be so hard for her—for most of us it really is not, and I hoped and believed things would change for her. And then I added that I could live with being called selfish, but not with permitting her to kill herself.

Five years later, through a combination of cutting-edge therapy, medication, and an iron will, she is starting university in the Fall. She is eager to finish high school and really start living! She yearns to make new friends on campus and fill her mind up with all the goodies Western culture has to offer. Does she still have anxiety? Yes. Does she still have bad days? Yes. But she has found a balance where her life is really worth living, a life in which she can use her unique talents, skills, and sensitivity to help others and contribute to society.

If There Was Physician-Assisted Suicide…

I shudder to think what would have happened if we had lived in a society where medical assistance in dying (MAID, or, physician-assisted suicide) was legally available to all. Where the notion of living through one’s pain or with a disability is so unacceptable that everyone has the right to choose an easy death instead. Where a person with a chronic mental illness can request legalized euthanasia.

As UN experts have asserted “there is a grave concern that if assisted dying is made available to all persons with a health condition or impairment, regardless of whether they are close to death, a social assumption might follow (or be subtly reinforced) that it is better to be dead than to live with a disability.” And, if this assumption, is coupled with a foolproof and comfortable way of dying, three of the major inhibitions to committing suicide will have been removed: societal approbation, fear of failure and fear of pain. In fact, those who choose not to burden society and their families with the psychological and financial burden of their illnesses may become heroes, thus further tempting both family members and those in pain to subscribe to the suicide option before death is imminent. I might add that as long as death is an option, many patients will find it difficult to do the hard work necessary to get better. And the easier an option death is, the more difficult it is to focus on the hard work needed to live. After all, if death is always perceived to be a possible, simple, and beneficent solution, why search overly hard for another.

When Pain is Made The Problem

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and we need to fix it. Extrapolating outwards, pain and adversity are the world’s way of teaching us to innovate and overcome, so it is painfully ironic that the West is ever more rapidly entertaining and legalizing death-on-demand as the solution to pain. When pain (even intense, unbearable, and chronic pain) itself seems to become the problem and assisted suicide is the solution then something has gone terribly wrong with the human drive to overcome, to repair and better the world. I have learned that while there is life, there really is hope. To suggest otherwise is to give into the overwhelming pain and despair of the sufferer, a pain that the world must certainly acknowledge but need not give in to.

Imagine, if I had lived in such a society, all those therapeutic modalities and technologies designed to help my daughter would never have been invented (what would have been the point, death is cheaper, more likely to succeed, and foolproof). My daughter would have died years ago and instead of entering university this Fall, instead of making her own contribution to the world, she would have been interred in the ground. Another life cut short before it had a chance to blossom, and as a society that encourages those in pain to choose death over life, we would have had her rose-red blood on our hands.

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