Suicide Isn't a Painless Debate

Kathryn Lopez
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Posted: Apr 17, 2009 2:22 PM
Suicide Isn't a Painless Debate

"Foolproofing Suicide with Euthanasia Test Kits." The matter-of-fact headline should chill you, especially since it didn't appear in some fringe publication or advocacy magazine.

It appeared in Time magazine.

"When someone with a terminal illness decides to end their life by overdosing on barbiturates, they hope the drugs will lull them into a peaceful and permanent sleep," the article began.

But if these drugs have expired or are not dosed properly, "the would-be suicide victim may actually survive," although possibly in a coma.

Thank heavens (yes, that was sarcasm), euthanasia advocates plan "to sell barbiturate-testing kits to confirm that deadly drug cocktails are, in fact, deadly."

The kits debut in Britain in May for $50.

The "seriously ill" don't want to mess around when they're trying to kill themselves, says Dr. Philip Nitschke. "They want to know they have the right concentration of drugs so that if they take them in the suggested way, it will provide them with a peaceful death."

I spoke with Nitschke in 2001. At the time, he was already being referred to as Australia's "Dr. Death," a label he was proud of: "People only start calling you names if and when you become effective."

When I asked him who he aimed to help kill themselves, he explained that if one has the right to live, one should also have the right to die, and have the means to do it. "Someone needs to provide this knowledge, training or recourse necessary to anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved (and) the troubled teen. If we are to remain consistent and we believe that the individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers in the way of sub-groups who don't meet our criteria."

Thanks to the tireless work of Wesley J. Smith, a consumer advocate turned defender of human life, that interview has caused some trouble for Nitschke in his native Australia as he's crusaded to make euthanasia legal. That Time magazine -- a major publication with a national, if not global, reach -- would consider covering a doctor who has advocated the right of troubled teenagers to kill themselves should set off all sorts of alarm bells.

Especially since assisted suicide is not academic theory but a reality. Following in the footsteps of Oregon, Washington State's Dignity with Death Act went into effect in March. Physician-assisted suicide with a lethal dose of medication is now legal there for adults who are expected to die within six months.

Time's expert of choice, Nitschke, counseled an Australian woman named Nancy Crick in her suicide. For purposes of public acceptance, pre-death, Crick was considered a cancer patient. After she killed herself, an autopsy revealed that she was, in fact, cancer-free.

Nitschke is not alone. Dignitas is a euthanasia clinic that operates in Switzerland. Earlier this month, its founder, Ludwig Minelli, a human-rights lawyer, stated clearly that there should simply be no limits on suicide. "It is without conditions," he said. "A human right is without any conditions except capacity."

If we don't question the issue of assisted suicide and its seeming acceptance as an almost casual reality by the media, we're going to realize quickly that we have moved way beyond debating extraordinary care and the legality of assisted suicide in terminal cases. They sure have at Dignitas. Mentally ill patients have been assisted in their suicides there. "Suicide is a very good possibility to escape a situation which you can't alter," Minelli told the BBC.

What's next, an organization with centers in every city dedicated to helping end human life?

If this sounds like an overly dramatized slippery slope, then those who can should recall where we were about a half century ago on the issue of abortion.

Minelli is currently working to help a Canadian woman kill herself alongside her husband. George has heart disease, and she wants to avoid the heartache of losing him.

George's wife will suffer a deep and painful lose when her husband dies (naturally or otherwise). But her life will not be over. And there's something sick -- verging on terminally so -- about a society that instead of working to affirm life's value makes it easier to end it at any and then all stages.