The current debate about assisted suicide for people who want to die is often framed in terms the right and support people should have to die if they have  ‘unbearable’ suffering.  Anyone with even the minimum capacity for compassion will be empathetic to the plight of people who are terminally ill or so seriously ill that they experience excruciating pain that cannot be controlled.   Also, their families suffer emotionally as they watch their loved ones in the grip of terrible pain.

Yet there are those who would move the entire debate to a question of the right to die when a person chooses to die.  Andrew Coyne points out;

The euthanasia most people have in mind — severely disabled adults, at the end of their lives, making a conscious choice in the absence of other alternatives — is not in fact what is at issue.  Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, we will see that what we are really talking about here is not the rights of the disabled, but the normalization of suicide, as the rational alternative to suffering. No longer something to be discouraged, stigmatized as an act of individual aberrance, it will henceforth be a social act in which others are expected to assist. Just so long as we acknowledge that that is what we are doing.  (National Post)

The idea  of ‘unbearable’ suffering  is difficult to define.  For example, the European Oncology Nursing Society’s study of the term, ‘unbearable’ suffering arrived at this conclusion; “The overall conclusion of the research is that the only thing we know about the definition of unbearable suffering is that we do not know as yet what it is.”   If we set aside even this hard to define condition as a requirement for assisted suicide what are we left with to make a clear distinction between appropriate and inappropriate (abuse) of the application  of ‘assisted suicide’.

If ‘assisted suicide’ is to be seen as a ‘straight forward and reasonable’ alternative to suffering what might the applications of it be?  Andrew Coyne cites a number of examples in his article in the National Post;

  • “the pain could be physical or psychological. . . .  the patient doesn’t actually have to be incapable of killing themselves or even disabled: just in ‘an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability.'”
  • “there is no requirement of terminal illness, either. Again, this is only logical: A disease can cause unbearable suffering without being fatal. Neither would it seem necessary that the suffering be disease-based. For example, Belgium has lately extended the right to euthanasia to prisoners serving life sentences.”
  • “Belgium has shown the way, amending its legislation this year to allow children to seek help in killing themselves, albeit with the consent of their parents or guardians.”

Where would the line be drawn between the appropriate application of assisted suicide and the abuse of it.  Should someone serving life in prison for murdering a child’s father or mother get an ‘easy out’ to suffering the psychological pain of  incarceration given that they have inflicted a life sentence on the child who has to grow up in the emotional pain of being  without their parent?  Perhaps in a brave new world where assisted suicide is a ‘rational alternative to suffering’ – the child could opt out of a life of psychological and emotional suffering due to the absence of their parent as well. Why not?

I’m sure that there will be no shortage of social activists who will champion the child’s right to die, especially when the notion that we might be on a slippery slope has been discredited.

As Andrew Coyne states; “In the debate to come, it will be important to keep in mind that the issue of assisted dying is, at its core, one of personal autonomy, of the right to die with dignity, and not to get caught up in discredited concerns about slippery slopes, inadequate safeguards, and the like.”

Even though social activists are so certain they are right  in all they think, say and do,  can we set aside the Bible’s straightforward warning:  “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”  (Proverbs 16:25)