First … A happy picture to make you smile before diving into the heavy stuff!
Assisted Suicide – No doubt a highly controversial topic in our society today, especially if one is religious! I am going to approach this topic from my personal perspective. I realize this blog may spark some intense feelings just like religion, sex or politics may, but I think it is a topic that needs to be addressed from an ethical, moral, personal, and societal standpoint. I am going to leave the religious argument out of this blog for the time being as I am not personally religious, but spiritual in some sort of sense.
I would be remiss not to start out by talking a little bit about my feelings regarding death as a whole. Before my accident I was terrified of death whether that be because I was in my young 20’s, was super healthy, did not live in pain, etc. The only certain thing in life is that we are all going to die, but in my younger years I just could not bring myself to think about it.
After my accident I was actually killed by several medical professionals and brought back to life as so many other spinal cord injury patients can relate to. Over the course of the last 8 years or so I have not only become comfortable with the idea of death, but actually find a strange comfort in it. This is not meant to sound like a doom and gloom statement, but it gives me peace. In my particular situation and the myriad of medical nightmares I have endured both physically and mentally over the years I have personally been in situations where I wanted to die.
What I prize most in my life is my mind. I have strangely accepted being paralyzed from the chest down with limited hand function years ago because I feel that I am of sound mind, which allows me to create my own reality of happiness if I so choose. We all go through situations of up’s and down’s in life regardless of one’s particular circumstances. If we choose to work hard towards creating mental stability from an internal perspective in our lives – I strongly believe we can create a stable equilibrium for ourselves to live a functional and even happy life. However, this does not come without much hard work, personal journeys into our beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. Much of this can be achieved through meditation, hypnosis, guided visualizations, faith healers, religion, etc. Belief is such a powerful concept that if you find yourself in a negative emotional loop within your life things can spiral quickly downhill affecting your mental and physical state. I for one have personally experienced this multiple times.
I’m not sure if many of you have seen the movie “Me before you,” which sparked an immense amount of controversy in the media. A very well to do young man was paralyzed from the neck down and chose to end his life through assisted suicide after several years. Many might argue that someone who wants to end their life through assisted suicide are not of sound mind, but I actually disagree with this from my point of view.
Clearly I always envisioned my life turning out differently before my accident, but now that I’m paralyzed I do make my best faith effort to live a full life with healthy relationships, support for my family, helping mentor fellow quadriplegics, writing blogs, participating in society, and having fun when I am not dealing with nightmare caregivers or medical disasters. However, there comes a point for me where if I start to lose my mental faculties and I cannot think straight or participate in what I consider a meaningful life due to the intense consistent chronic pain I endure then I feel down the road that it is my right to decide whether I want to die. I want it to be with dignity though.
When I was living in China and had to undergo spinal surgery, which left me with further debilitating chronic pain and many broken bones I was completely incapacitated. I could not think, I could barely get a sentence out, I could do nothing but stay in bed, and think about how I was trapped in my own body living in complete hell. I spoke with my family about it and I told them if this continued for more than a year I wanted to die. While I know my family was not thrilled about the idea I did get support because they couldn’t possibly understand the pain I was living with each day. I think some family members were more receptive to it than others. The physical pain manifested itself so intensely that I could no longer function happily in society at the time. It would’ve been quite easy for me to commit suicide in China as it would not have been challenging for me to get my hands on the appropriate medications to die peacefully. However, before the end of the year I was able to think more clearly despite the lasting chronic pain I am left with today. I decided to table suicide, but since then I have always found such peace in being able to make that decision for myself whether I wanted to continue on in this world.
I am now in a place where I am living a fullish and productive life, but the medical challenges I still face leave me living in such pain every single day despite hiding it most the time from my loved ones. I think I have an extremely strong will and intense dedication to pursuing what I set my mind to, but I realize many do not. However, I decided about a year ago that I never want to be in that situation I was in China again without a plan to die with dignity. This set me on one of my research missions, which I always learn so many lessons from.
I want to set up a plan for if things go completely sideways in my life as they so frequently can when living with a complex issue like spinal cord injury. While everybody could die at the drop of a hat at any moment, living with spinal cord injury presents a unique set of challenges that can kill us even faster. My catheter, for example, could get clogged, raise my blood pressure, cause a stroke or burst by bladder, lead to infection, then sepsis, and then death within a 24-hour period. The list of things that can go wrong in my situation are quite endless. More importantly, as I get older I think about the challenges I will face with declining health and spinal cord injury, and if I get to the point where I’m not living what I consider a happy life then I want to have a responsible plan in place.
There are only several states in the United States that have legalized assisted suicide, but only for terminal illnesses. I researched further and found an organization in Europe in Switzerland (I will let you research the name of the organization as it is not hard to find), which supports assisted suicide for a myriad of reasons. Don’t get me wrong you can’t just apply to die and you are good to go, but rather you have to send a complete life report, dozens of medical reports, psychological evaluations, etc. in order to be considered for assisted suicide. One of the general requirements is (regardless if you have a terminal illness or physical disability) you have to live, and have a record of it, in extreme physical or mental pain for quite some time. There is a panel that reviews your applications, which can take many months.
I have decided to pursue this avenue for the future because if things go downhill quickly I want to have everything in place just as one has a will in place for the unknown. I haven’t actually been accepted yet as I’m still going through the process, but it is also not cheap. If one has been given the green light to pursue assisted suicide you then have to pay a little over $10,000 if you decide to go through with it. To me that almost seems absurd, but I suppose it is a safeguard put in place for those who are very serious, and have thought critically about the decision they’re about to make to end their life. Further, this organization requires that if you do have a support system or family that you have someone accompany you to die to make sure that you are not making a decision of this magnitude lightly. I think this organization is unique in that they accept all different types of applicants, but they don’t actually make it easy for you.
I submitted my application explaining my medical situation to them, the extreme chronic pain I live in on a daily basis, explained to them what I do in my life, and that I’m only interested in trying to make plans for the future for a worst-case scenario.
While I do have very supportive loved ones, and this is a little hard to explain because they are not living through what I do every day, but I spend so much time living in fear for my physical safety. I worry about if things go belly up and a caregiver that abuses me, leaves me alone and there is not somebody there to help physically take care of me, and a whole host of other fears, which are naturally manifested by me. I’m a constant work in progress on working through meditation to find an inner peace, but one aspect that many folks will not be able to relate to unless they may be in a similar situation to mine is if you are unable to take care of yourselves physically and rely on others to not die on a daily basis – this can create overwhelming feelings of hopelessness at times. I do my very best to fight the good fight on a daily basis, but being human, there are days that I just find life incredibly overwhelming. This is definitely not to say I want to participate in assisted suicide because I’m having a bad month, but if life presented me with years of completing an ongoing agony for whatever reason I want to be able to leave this world on my terms and peacefully. I look at it as an act of kindness, not murder.
Assisted Suicide Arguments
I am not going to touch on the topic of religion and assisted suicide as I’m fairly confident through speaking with over 100 folks over the last few months of research that I know their answer. Rather, I keep questioning why assisted suicide is not legal (if religion played no part)? I can see arguments for both sides. What I have trouble wrapping my head around is that if you do want to die and commit suicide, then go right ahead. No one is stopping you, but usually it is going to be quite a painful process and many folks won’t actually succeed if trying to do it peacefully, and not go run into traffic or shoot themselves in the head, etc. You can also certainly go to the grocery store and buy rat poison or housecleaner or another type of chemical product, drink it, and bam you’ve achieved your goal. However, the suffering one has to go through seems pretty cruel to me.
I suppose the key word lies in “Assisted” … This is where a lot of the ethical and moral dilemmas come in for physicians and the general public, too, I think. Naturally one of the most peaceful ways to die is an injection of sodium pentobarbital or high doses of IV morphine, for example, which will generally kill you quickly and painlessly. From a medical physicians point of view you are taught not to harm others in medical school and try to save lives. So, after speaking with many physicians, many of them strongly believe it is against their moral and ethical code to help someone die even if it is a terminal illness. There are the brave view though who will stand up against public opinion to support assisted suicide for the terminally ill, but I’ve yet to find one who supports it for other ailments as well. However, many of these physicians, and many folks who do not live in insurmountable physical or mental pain on a daily basis, cannot really relate. They may have sympathy for someone’s situation, but empathy is an entirely different case.
With respect to spinal cord injury, I generally find many folks are split right down the middle with being for or against it. For those that are for assisted suicide, they can empathize with the concept because they, too, live in some sort of intense mental or physical pain. However, there are many who live in constant pain and are still wildly against it just to be clear!
I never used to be against it before my accident, but I always thought there was a better way. I could sympathize with people’s pain, but I didn’t have to endure it on a daily basis like they did, and I couldn’t possibly understand what they were going through. While I do think we should make our best faith effort to give life ago, if you’ve given death serious thought over a prolonged period of time, and have decided you just don’t want to live this way, and are of sound mind to make a decision like that, then is it not a kindness to support them?
Coming back to physicians for a moment and if it was legal – while this is such a hot button topic, I’m wondering if there’s not some sort of way one could pick up the necessary drug after a proper evaluation as I mentioned above and do it themselves at home? I’m sure you would have to sign a mountain of legal documents to make sure no one gets charged with murder. However, if you do believe that assisted suicide should be legal then should we really have to jump through a long list of hoops to be approved to die when we could just go to the grocery store and buy some rat poison? This leads down a slippery slope of pretty much every product that is not a food product can kill you, but we don’t have to sign a waiver to purchase these products? I start going in circles when I think about these arguments.
On the flipside of this argument if you could just go down to your pharmacy and pick up an injection to kill yourself peacefully would the murder rate start going uphill quickly? I’m serious, you could just pick up an injection stick someone in the middle of the night and it would be much easier, and probably less of a chance of being caught than shooting someone in the head. A random tangent I know, but it does spark an interesting debate. I suppose if these injections were available at CVS you could show your driver’s license for them just like for Claritin-D because the active ingredient in Claritin-D is used to make crystal meth, which would leave physicians out of the picture. This way the physician would not have to be responsible, and the companies could make you sign a liability waiver from a legal perspective. Again, the debate goes on.
As for family members … I often hear people say it would be too selfish of an act to their family, but if you are the one suffering I hope that family and loved ones might be able to see your perspective. Of course this is a hopeful dream I have, but we are born with the ability as human beings to express compassion, empathy, and understanding. We can be so ugly to one another, but I feel that if we give into the ugliness presented in the world on a daily basis we would not evolve as a society. These kind of things take time just as human rights, gay rights, women’s right to vote, etc. Rome was not built in a day as they say, but eventually it was built!
The list of arguments that enthusiasts or avid politicians could make are endless, but suffice to say it is an issue that needs to be debated more and openly discussed. Whenever I bring up this topic to people they can get very negative and rather than engage in a meaningful conversation many just quickly write it off as a selfish act without understanding different perspectives.
Just my 2 cents on the matter 😉