Sunday, December 6, 2015

For whom does the bell toll?

It is said that misery loves company. At least in my experience, misery always threatens to spread like a highly contagious virus. With the major push towards the passage of an assisted suicide law here in Utah and elsewhere, in the name of mercy no less, the truth of this old axiom is becoming more readily apparent all the time. In a recent article for USA Today, "Suicide by any other name," Kirsten Powers did a wonderful job showing the subterfuge used to gain support, even if only of the passive, libertarian variety, which is perhaps best articulated by the James Bond slogan, "live and let die."

Let's face reality, if a person is intent on killing himself, I mean really committed to ending his life, there is little, if anything anyone can do. In a very real sense, a person intent on ending his life is "free" to do so. In fact, far too many people exercise this existential option at an accelerated pace each day, enlisting no help whatsoever. Not being a legal positivist, I still favor laws against suicide because I think one of the purposes of law is to express what we value. If we value human life as much we claim, then any intentional taking of a person's life (self-defense is a reaction, not an intentional taking) should be forbidden by law. This brings up the inevitable question of how to treat someone who attempted suicide and failed. Certainly not by throwing them in the state pen, just to throw any conclusions off that trajectory.

Today I read a story in Great Britain's Guardian: "Court grants woman right to die after 'losing her sparkle.'". Keep in mind, to the country's great credit, Great Britain's parliament rejected an assisted suicide bill this past September (see "Right to die: MPs reject assisted dying law").

This particular case is somewhat complicated, but the woman's desire to die stems from what she described as life losing its "sparkle." This woman's request does not permit her to obtain assistance in directly ending her life because assisted suicide remains illegal in Great Britain. But the court granted her permission to forego kidney dialysis, a treatment necessary for her survive due to an apparently near-fatal alcohol binge she went on after being diagnosed with breast cancer. It seems to me that in a jurisdiction in which assisted suicide is permitted, even if such requests are initially limited to, say, people who are diagnosed with a terminal illnesses, there would be no rational basis on which the courts could deny requests from anyone who wanted "medical" assistance ending his life.

What prevents such assertions from being dismissed as slippery slope fallacies are what might be called identifying a causal nexus. I will use the case of "Laura" in Belgium from this past July to make this point. While her case stops well-short of euthanasia, which I believe surely follows closely on the heels of assisted suicide (another issue for perhaps another day), it is disturbing nonetheless (see "Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life"). As with redefining marriage, legally permitting assisted suicide put us on an inherently regressive course the end of which ought to frighten everyone.

Getting back to misery: Why do people who want to end their lives seek to make others, in this case doctors and other medical professionals, as well as friends and family members, complicit in their metaphysical rebellion? Beyond those effects, why seek to coerce everyone in society to not only tolerate, which concept in such matters is only ever employed as a Trojan Horse, but to positively accept as moral and even good something they hold to be evil? For physicians who oppose assisted suicide, even when granted a conscience clause that exempts them from directly assisting someone to commit suicide, they are usually required by the law to refer the suicidal person to a doctor who will assist him. While this certainly lessens moral culpability by making their cooperation with evil more remote, it does not eliminate it altogether. Of course, refusal to make a referral would open a doctor up to ruinous liability.

As John Donne observed in his timeless poem "No Man Is An Island"

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, Deacon Scott. For a number of years, I would say to my colleagues in the mental health professions that we (the professionals) were being intellectually dishonest about how we were approaching the human person in our work. By this I mean we were disregarding so much of what we know from the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology, theology, philosophy, and so much more, and becoming more and more depersonalized in our care for human beings.

    The reality of suicide in our society, a reality on the increase in terms of numbers and social acceptability, is directly related to depression. Rarely does someone take his or her life unless he or she is depressed. This is a profound disorder to which the term "depression" does not adequately describe. It is a spiritual, psychological, cognitive, biological, sociological, political disorder.

    Ultimately, I believe, how we approach it will be determined by how we look at suffering, how we value it, how we confront it, or conversely, how we seem to wanting to rid ourselves of all and everyone that presents it in our lives.

    Might I suggest a book I am beginning to read, and it seems to be excellent? The title is "The Catholic Guide to Depression" written by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak.

    Blessings and Peace!
    Deacon Bob Yerhot


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