On Morning Edition today, NPR had a brief segment on California’s “End of Life Option Act” which legalizes physician assisted suicide in California.
If find this part of the “death with dignity” movement to be very interesting because in some ways the players seem to be on the wrong sides. Many of the opponents of these types of laws do so on religious grounds. Which I find very ironic. It would seem to me that if you are anticipating a glorious after life, knocking a few minutes of deep suffering off of this life seems like a very rational thing to do. And yet they are opposed.
On the other hand proponents of such laws are often non-religious and presumably are like me in that they feel that we only have one shot at life. It would seem that any shortening of our all too brief and hastening our trip into the void of non-existence is illogical. And yet, that is how it often lines up.
But what really caught my ear from this report was the
interview with Dr. Carin van Zyl, a Palliative Care doctor from Keck Medicine of USC. She spoke from the heart about the ethical and other conflicts she would feel upon getting a request from a patient for assistance with a suicide. If you think that people will be cavalier about such decisions, I urge you to listen to her thoughts.
One of the most important things she said is that now having this option in California is that it opens up a conversation in a whole new way. She said that if someone were to make this request of her, she would first want to explore exactly why the person wants to do this. The person is obviously having what they consider to be insoluable problems, but identifying those problems specifically might also indicate possible solutions.
As a humanist, I see suicide as a permanent solution to temporary problems, even at the end of life. I am in favor of laws like California’s, even as I hope they will not often be used, at least in the final sense. I hope that having options will spur many, many conversations.
I agree with Dr. van Zyl that modern palliative care can reduce the suffering of the dying to a great degree. I feel that many more people should take advantage of the services that hospice programs offer.
I find it ironic in such a highly religious country that Americans have such a strong denial of death, even to the point where we can barely discuss it.
While physician assisted suicide laws are by no means perfect, I agree with Dr. van Zyl that they can open conversations, not only between patients and doctors but also in society at large as to what “death with dignity” really means.