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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Baxter and Assisted Suicide: A Nuanced Conclusion

Last January in discussing the Baxter case in Montana I argued that nuance is utterly absent from the debate about assisted suicide. Indeed, I find the entire tenor of most discussions about assisted suicide deeply depressing. I have come to the dismal conclusion it is not possible to sway people--that is views with regard to assisted suicide are too entrenched to ever substantially change. The result is we get two camps or schools of thought--those for and those against assisted suicide. I am opposed to legalizing assisted suicide as I believe it sets a dangerous president for at risk populations: elderly, disabled and terminally ill. Instead I wish we could develop a vibrant and widely accepted hospice movement throughout American society. Death is not the enemy, rather it is part of life. It is an experience we will all come to at some point. Of course this is easy for me to write as I am not facing imminent death and as such this is an abstract discussion. But why I wonder do so many push for laws that I think are not necessary, even dangerous? This is where that absent nuanced debate is needed and remarkably I came cross a fascinating quote that has kept me thinking for the past few days. Here I refer to John Robinson, an associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. In "Baxter and the Return of Physician Assisted Suicide published in the Hastings Center Report he wrote:

We should encourage states to see that the state neutrality toward suicide built into the Baxter decision is both illusory and dangerous. If we accept that death is, at some lvel, terrifying, and that the institutional extinction of human life is, at some level, even more terrifying, then we should not seek to facilitate suicide by insulating doctors who assist it from criminal or civil liability. We should seek instead to create in our communities values, practices, and institutions that will assure each of us the sort of care--familial, social, and medical--that will make the resort to assistance in suicide unnecessary. And we should go one step further, encouraging the state, through its public policy, to reduce to a minimum the conditions that make suicide, with or without a doctor's assistance, appear to be a a choice worthy of consideration".

When I read these words I thought of the mother daughter suicide that took place in White Plains, New York. To me that was a social and familial tragedy that could and should have been prevented. I hold American society responsible for that failure and by extension its people, including me. Just as I argue we need a social revolution to change the perception of disability we need a similar revolution when it comes to assisted suicide.


Claire said...

Excellent quote...the man is right on, as is your observation of the family tragedy.

Eric Fischer said...

In Holland this is all a fairly moot point. The choice is there if you want it. The major difference here, why inference to the US is not possible, IMO, is the difference of cultures.
Case in point; highest level of teenage pregnancies: USA, highest case of teenage abortions (they are not actually connected): USA, lowest for both situations: Holland.
Why? Because of different cultural perceptions. A place as big as the US will have to find it's voice on the issue of assisted suicide, state by state.
Interpretation is always going to be a problem. My mother has ALS and has firmly stated that she does not want to be on a respirator. In Holland she should have no problem carrying out her wishes.
By the way, when you spoke of the man who said he would rather be dead than in a wheelchair, it has nothing to do with you personally -he just couldn't see himself enjoying life in that position, probably in part because of the bias against disabled.