Death is in. Death by choice is a popular idea. Imminent death is a reason for celebration. Invitations are sent out. Let's party--but no tears please. Tears are not allowed. That is the only rule. Do not go home empty handed. Party goers are encouraged to take a souvenir from the soon to be deceased. This is not a parody. This is not some Saturday Night Live spoof. This is what assisted suicide legislation has led to. Countless news outlets are showing the happy face of Betsy Davis "rebirth" celebration. The pinnacle of the two day extravaganza was Davis death. She took a lethal prescription of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate prescribed by her physician. She had trouble obtaining the prescription. Outrageous! Big brother apparently watching physicians and pharmacists. Davis was an artist and one of her friends, a cinematographer, deemed her death as a "final performance". Davis death her friend gushed: "what Betsy did gave her the most beautiful death that any person could ever wish for... By taking charge, she turned her departure into a work of art". Here is photographic evidence, proof I am not writing a satire.
Various low brow news sources such as People and tabloids like the NY Post and others gushed about how beautiful Davis death was. Reputable news outlets were equally effusive. Davis was described as the text book case for assisted suicide. Davis has been diagnosed with ALS and was very clear she did not want to be entombed in her body dependent upon breathing machines. Davis spent months planning her party and had the full support of her family, physician, and friends.
We have arrived at a perverse destination. In states where assisted suicide is legal death has become a life-style choice. Assisted suicide is a life-style choice. Read that again, please. Davis is not alone in her decision to exercise her "right" to die. Yes, death thanks to years of advocacy, successful advocacy, is now popularly framed as the right to die. Individuals who live in states where assisted suicide is legal have the right to die. They can exercise this so called right. I find this hard to comprehend. Led by Compassion and Choices and many well known figures it is popularly assumed all people have the right too die. A host of celebrities have affirmed this and Compassion and Choices in recent years has been wildly effective in manipulating the mainstream press into supporting assisted suicide. NPR's Diane Rhem is outspoken in her championing assisted suicide and is deeply embittered her husband was denied the right to die.
I am stunned by how widely accepted the belief is that we have the right to die. This so called right is human pride and the glorification of a narrow definition of autonomy taken to an extreme. The idea we have the right to die is misleading rhetoric. It is wildly successful misleading rhetoric. For example, every Fall I teach a class at Syracuse University Bioethics and Disability. I take a life cycle approach, starting with ethical dilemmas associated with conception and birth and end with issues associated with end of life care. In the last three years I have learned to expect 100% of my students are firmly in favor of assisted suicide legislation. More generally when I express my opposition to assisted suicide legislation to typical others they are not happy. They assume I am deeply religious for I am repeatedly told there could be no logical reason for being opposed to assisted suicide. I find this distressing and find myself increasingly unlikely to broach the subject. Assisted suicide as popularly framed is a stark dichotomy of yea or nay. There is no middle ground and tempers run hot.
Rraming death as a right conveniently ignores the inherent worth of the individual. The individual in the case of assisted suicide is often terminally ill and the paramount fear is that one will suffer. Suffer is code word for becoming disabled; ALS being the worst case scenario. Hence a diagnosis of ALS now comes with a chilling option: assisted suicide as a life style choice. The decision to choose assisted suicide will be met with universal support. No one wants to be "entombed" in a body that is grossly dysfunctional. Life with ALS is a fate worse than death. Total paralysis, especially locked in syndrome is the greatest fear of all. Davis is the post card image of tragedy. Here I am not denying ALS is a devastating condition. But pardon me for noting that we humans, all humans, should garnish minimal respect. By minimal respect here I believe we have the right to live. Liz Carr recently reframed the right to die being discussed In Britain as the right to live and wrote:
perhaps we should be looking at how we can offer greater choice to all people at the end of their lives and not just the few who want a physician assisted death? The Assisted Dying Bill would establish medically assisted suicide as an acceptable and even expected societal response to pain, disability, life limiting conditions and terminal illness. This is to ignore the social factors, such as poverty and lack of social care that can also create suffering in people’s lives. Denied the support to live – or die - with dignity, is it any surprise that people feel they have no choice but to end their lives? What terminally ill and disabled people need is an Assisted Living not an Assisted Dying Bill. Supporters of assisted suicide will tell you that the current law is broken but the current law is exactly where it needs to be when the consequences of making a mistake would be murder. Safety of the many has to overrule the desires of the few. What is broken, however, are the social and health care support systems which are currently failing us all, both during and at the end of our lives. Whether for or against this law, we all deserve as pain free and comfortable death as possible. Legalising medically assisted suicide is not the solution. Link:http://www.itv.com/news/2015-08-14/actress-liz-carr-we-need-an-assisted-living-bill-not-an-assisted-dying-bill/
I never cease to be amazed at how the wants of a very few privileged people such as Davis garner so much attention. I marvel at how the focus on choice is used to mislead. I recently read Peter Kurti "The Myth of the Right to Die" who eloquently addressed the rhetoric associated with state endorsed euthanasia. In this case, I refuse to use the euphemism "the right to die" for we are really talking about the legality of euthanizing human beings believed to be terminally ill. Let's be clear with our words here. Kurt wrote:
Proponents of the right to die defend this ownership of the “end” and argue that they want to uphold the key principle of individual freedom. Freedom is a basic good, they say... This absolutist view of autonomy comes very close to asserting that the desire or the choice—or even the need—to die must be understood as a right to die. Choice is paramount; but choice has little to do with “rights”. While I can certainly choose to end my life and may desire to do so, the idea that I have a right to do so is not simply erroneous. By harming the web of social relations and obligations comprising community and family life, claiming a “right to die” actually threatens to tear at the fabric of civil society and do irreparable harm to the social roles and attachments constitutive of individual identity. Exercising the freedom to end one’s own life is coming to be seen as a mark of autonomy and independence of mind. But this view, although increasingly widely held, is mistaken because it ignores prevailing social proscriptions about suicide. The “right to die” is a rhetorical device intended to halt further discussion about the acceptability of self-inflicted death. The “right to die”, in other words, is a myth. Link: https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2016/07-08/myth-right-die/