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Death Comes Soon Enough, why rush it?

“Should we not try to hang on to life to honour those who could not?”

Introduction

Whilst anyone can attempt suicide, this may become more difficult for those with impaired cognition and physical capacity. Euthanasia may be defined as  medically assisted suicide for those who suffer from incurable conditions and whose suffering is unbearable. It seems compassionate to allow this minority of pitiful folk to end their lives with dignity rather than make some feeble attempt themselves which might not lead to the desired outcome, or involve friends of family members who would then be prosecuted for foul play.

When law makers make such actions permissible, it seems that it will only affect a relative few. Statistics in Canada, the most recent country to enact such a law, saw a 30% rise of cases of euthanasia in 2023 from 2022. The Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation was introduced in 2016. It seems the flood gates have opened, and with plans to extend the law to allow requests from those with incurable mental illness, they will no doubt extend even further.

In 2001 the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise euthanasia. Since then euthanasia has been spreading across the globe, may be not at the pace of wildfire but with a steady certainty. Belgium was the next country to follow in 2002.

No-one is pointing the finger of blame where it is perhaps most due – the healthcare system. It consumes and demands so much funding from taxpayers and patients, that more cures should be available for those who are suffering. Are patients being led down a garden path towards a cliff from which they have no option but to jump?  Those who have the means to explore alternative health treatments, often improve and find more acceptable way of managing their conditions.

Human suffering is undeniable

Where the medical system fails to give people the remedies they seek, the only thing left to offer is euthanasia. Sometimes, treatments leave people feeling worse not better.

When you live with an intractable illness, it seems as if you struggle and struggle and get nowhere. Chronic pain is very physically and emotionally debilitating. There are pain clinics which can help people to manage chronic pain. Yet, this may not work for everyone and may offer diminishing returns over time.

 

Most of us who suffer greatly, do not opt for suicide. We all need examples of those who endured against great odds, and managed to extract some meaning and fulfilment out of life in the midst of their suffering. The internet also allows us to form connections with those who have the same medical conditions we do, to find out how they are coping, and share how we too are coping.

Life is not a game of winners and losers. We are all winning and losing every day. What works for one may not work for another, but this helps to generate hope in a breakthrough and comfort in knowing we are not alone.

The reality is that any of us can have a moment of utter despair when we think that “enough is enough” and we feel like ending it all. This is not an experience limited to those with incurable physical illnesses.

The ricochet effect

If we could live in someone’s body for 24 hours, we might then be in a position to empathise with their suffering.

The intensity of suffering cannot be denied, but let us look at whether such suffering justifies euthanasia without wishing to minimise the suffering. Suffering cannot be objectively quantified, and it would be unfair to dismiss someone’s suffering as manageable when it has been described as unbearable by the person affected. All we can do is given sound reasons why premature death is not the answer.

The human condition

At some level we all suffer something or the other, and for all of us death brings an end to that suffering whether it be psychological or physical. The more relevant question is why should I have to suffer?

We each stand on the shoulders of ancestors who sacrificed and suffered much to enable us to be born.

A hasty exit will mean that the generations who would have been born through our bodies or influenced by our presence, will not be around to avail themselves of such benefits or will miss out. Even if we have no intention of having children, our lives can be an inspirational example in some way to younger generations. Will we leave them a legacy of having given up, for that is no legacy at all.

When we consider the knock-on effect of our decisions on others, we realise that pain and suffering are not private but a collective experience with collective costs and benefits.

When you think about the energy and hope and money that is invested in each child. Each parent forms an unspoken contact with his or her children – I am doing all this for you so that you will love and respect me, but also one day you will do the same for your own children. No parent wants to see a child voluntarily choose death anymore than end up in prison. What of teachers and mentors who also devote many hours to instilling knowledge and understanding, as well as shaping a person for the better.

By making others complicit in your death, you risk their guilt long after you are gone. Doctors and nurses are forced into contradictory roles. Whereas they are meant to save and enhance lives, they will be approving and enabling death. This god-like role can also be abused. It is understandable that many doctors would decline requests for euthanasia for fear of legal action but also a guilty conscience.

There are also those who are desperate to live but have a terminal disease which will rob them of the future they desire. There are those who die by accident who die prematurely with still so much life to live. Should we not try to hang on to life to honour those who could not. This argument is a bit like trying to address world hunger by always clearing your plate; it means you will never go hungry but doesn’t help the people who are hungry.

Sometimes, treatments leave people feeling worse not better. Where the medical system fails to give people the remedies they seek, the only thing left to offer is euthanasia. It is against all natural human instincts to want to end one’s life. So if someone is so inclined, then it’s a red flag that something is seriously wrong.

When you live with an intractable illness, it seems as if you struggle and struggle and get nowhere.

Case in point

Sanne, from the Netherlands,  was all too well aware of the legacy of pain she would be leaving behind. She suffered from borderline personality disorder, chronic depression and insomnia. She chose self-euthanasia in 2014. It seemed that her dad was being put between a rock and a hard place – sign the medical form in support of his daughter’s decision and to attest to her incurable pain or leave her to her own devices. The latter  would have the potential of a car accident where others are involved and not knowing when, where or how she would choose to take her life.

Conclusion

In my restless, ever curious mind, I figure there will always be something to do, to feel, to think, to imagine, to dream. These are the abilities we have as humans in some measure  or other.

As an empath, I am all too well aware that it is easy to be idealistically theoretical about this complex issue when one is well and healthy. I know not what it feels like to be in the body of someone with advanced dementia or Parkinson’s who is suffering agonising loss of physical abilities or brain co-ordination for the simplest of tasks and dreads how they will end up, and the toll it will take on themselves and their loved ones and care-givers.

I always think the disadvantage of being human is that there is not enough time to learn all the  languages I’m interested in, to follow all the sport, to read all the books and watch all the films which interest me. There are also so many people yet to meet and be inspired by. Just when I think my life is choc-full of obligations to my inner circle, I meet new people and am amazed how much I like them. But the sine qua non which makes all this possible is good health. Impaired health makes us turn inwards, we lose confidence; if the illness continues longer than expected, we may also lose hope. Without hope, it becomes very difficult to muster the will to carry on. Reality often clashes with theories; we must fight for life but recognise that there are times and situations when all that is left is to appeal, offer support and pray.

Sources:

Number of assisted deaths jumped more than 30% in 2022, report says’, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/maid-canada-report-2022-1.7009704 (accessed 9 January, 2024)

‘My Death is not my own: the limits of legal euthanasia’, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/10/my-death-is-not-my-own-the-limits-of-legal-euthanasia (accessed January, 2004)

Letting You Go, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QJMrEvKwmI (accessed 5 January 2024).

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