Mercy or Murder: A Case Against Assisted Suicide

Opinion   |   Matt Hanafin   |   Sep 5, 2013   |   12:30PM   |   Boston, MA

A Kentucky man is now facing murder charges after he admitted to shooting his wife in what he claims was “mercy killing.” His wife was fighting an aggressive battle with breast cancer and she reportedly suffered from immense pain. You can read more on the story by clicking here.

It didn’t take long for the pro-euthanasia crowd to claim the situation could have been avoided if assisted suicide was legally permissible in Kentucky. What the pro-death culture fails to realize is that there is no mercy in ending another person’s life, and there certainly is no dignity with assisted suicide.

Take for a minute this man’s claim that his wife begged him to end her pain and suffering. Pain is often the go-to argument used by the pro-assisted-suicide lobby in an attempt to play at the heartstrings of the individuals they are trying to persuade. Let’s face it, we all know at least one loved one who suffered greatly before their passing. For me, I saw my grandfather suffer from numerous strokes in a nursing home as well as an aunt who passed away too young from breast cancer, leaving behind two very young children. None of us want to see someone suffering, especially at their last moments.

They claim that there are some instances where life is so unbearable that people should be able to choose death as “a way out.” The reality is that in modern medicine, we now have the ability to control and manage physical pain. The problem is that there are too many medical providers who have not acquired the information on advanced pain management. There are untrained and uninformed doctors who do not have the information to manage pain. So the question is, should we legalize assisted suicide because the medical field is not trained in pain management, or do we educated the medical field in pain management? You don’t solve the problems by getting rid of people to whom the problems happen; you address them by solving the problems.

Notice, too, that in the man’s confession he never stated that his wife begged him to take her life. Though I am sure the woman wanted her pain to end, never did he say she begged him to kill her as a means to end her pain. Patients with a terminal illness suffering from pain do not want their lives to be ended, they simply want to end the pain, and rightfully so. The patients who do want to end their lives – seeing it as their only means of escape – are clearly suffering from mental pain, which is far different than the physical pain cited by the assisted suicide crowd.

A study of terminally-ill patients was conducted and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry which found that 24% of the patients tested claimed they would commit suicide if doctor-prescribed suicide was legalized. The study went further and discovered that all of the 24% suffered from clinical depression*. Depression is a disease that has biochemical effects on the brain and it is often described as the worst kind of pain. Depression also causes irrational thoughts and behaviors including suicide, but more importantly, depression is a treatable disease. Being terminally ill means one has a disease that is a prediction or probability that someone will live for a certain period of time. Depression is not a terminal illness. With current medical technology we have the capability to treat depression, and as a result, ease mental pain and suffering.

It’s a shame that depression is often mistaken for physical pain. Too many physicians are not trained in diagnosing depression, which leaves patients believing their pain cannot be controlled when other drugs fail to alleviate their suffering.

It is important to point out that the legalization of doctor-prescribed suicide is far more dangerous than the euthanasia lobby wants you to believe. Take the attempted ballot initiative the Death with Dignity group, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, tried to pass here in Massachusetts last November. First, they were attempting to pass the bill in a state that allowed voters to vote on a question that the public knew virtually nothing about, requiring a simple majority to pass into law.

It was amazing to me how many people said they were planning to vote in favor of the bill after admitting they knew nothing about it. After explaining to them in detail the numerous – and there were many – flaws, almost every single person I talked to vowed they would vote against it. In fact, I wrote a seven page letter detailing the major flaws and outcomes if the initiative were to pass, and after sending it to everyone I know, it was more than enough to get them to vote against the ballot question.

In Massachusetts, if the ballot initiative had passed, patients would have been allowed to take their own life without a doctor present. No doctor check-ups, mental evaluations, or oversights would be required even though ninety – yes ninety – pills were to be ingested, which usually induced vomiting. No family interventions or family involvement was required, not even a phone call. In fact, a terminally ill patient could have two complete strangers sign as witnesses as long as one of them was not an heir. The bill was crafted in such a way that all that was required was a doctor’s signature and a six-month life expectancy due to terminal illness – never mind that doctors are often wrong in their estimates since they are based on predictions.

Some claim that the Massachusetts ballot initiative may have passed had there been stronger safeguards. It is important to understand that the assisted-suicide lobby does not want safeguards. They want a model similar to that of the Netherlands where parents can euthanize their babies who have disabilities, twin brothers can kill themselves because they start losing their sight, or a girl in her mid-twenties can end her life because she has anorexia. Yes, that is the model the death lobby wishes upon us. They want everyone to be able to take their life because they see us all as having a duty to die, not a duty to live.

It’s a scary world we live in!

Sadly, some believe that a person’s value and dignity are only rooted in what they are physically and mentally capable of. It’s scary to think that there are people out there campaigning for others to be able to kill themselves and somehow claim that they are being merciful. It’s sad that the man in this news report did not listen to his children who later told police in a separate report that their mother never wanted to die, but instead, she had a willingness, and determination, to beat her cancer and live her life.

Having a terminally ill prognosis does not mean an individual cannot live a happy life, and it certainly does not mean one’s life is valueless, worthless, or undignified. My aunt died after a five-year battle with cancer. She was confined to her bed in her last days, unable to do the most basic of tasks. I believe the rest of my family would agree that she died with more dignity and respect than anyone else we know because she never gave up on herself or her family. She was determined to fight to see her children grow. I remember her telling my father at her daughter’s First Holy Communion – which took place in their living room since my aunt couldn’t leave the house – that she was going to see her daughter walk down the aisle one day. Sadly, my aunt passed away a few weeks later surrounded by her family. Our family learned a lot from her in those last days, and we will always cherish those last moments with her.

Human dignity is not rooted in our physical or mental capability. Dignity is rooted in who we are as human beings, and how we live our lives. Just because you think death will be earlier instead of a little later does not mean you should make it even earlier still. We are all going to die – it’s inevitable. So in a way, we are all terminal, and that is why we must protect life, from conception to natural death.

* James H. Brown, Paul Henteleff, Samla Barakat, and CherylJ. Rowe, “Is It Normal for Terminally Ill Patients to Desire Death?” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 143, No. 2 (February 1986): p. 210.

LifeNews Note: Matt Hanafin is the director of outreach and development for of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.