Please Don’t Leave.
7 Jan 2017
One of the statements I hear fairly frequently, in regard to mental health and suicide awareness advocacy, is “I believe in a person’s right to choose.” If a person was only choosing for themselves I would probably agree with that statement, but they’re not. The fact is that when a person dies of suicide, their 6 closest loved ones - probably many more - are doomed to a 2x-8x higher (some research says up to 30x) risk of dying of suicide themselves. Sadly, suicide attempt survivors have never been asked what keeps them alive so we don’t even know why it’s “contagious” - for lack of a better word. Imagine where cancer survival would be if nobody had ever asked cancer survivors what keeps them alive. Anyway, until there’s more data, please don’t leave.
When I hear "I believe in assisted suicide," I always say "So do I. But what we're talking about today is they type of suicide where people die bereft and alone. Is that the same thing?" The other party nearly always concedes that it's not and I normally follow up with the importance of comparing "apples to apples." The thing with assisted suicide is that it's normally not a surprise to loved ones. Family and friends may not agree with it but they know and understand the reason. My own dad wanted to end his life at 55 years and I thought he was within his rights to do so. My sister did not and as a result he decided to stay alive and lived another 22 years.
It's probably somewhat bizarre that I don't feel any moral judgement regarding assisted suicide. Here's what I think about the beauty of being able to ask your doctor about it: It opens the conversation with someone who is in a position to know what to do! Let's say that I go in to the doctor and say I want the doctor to help me die. The doctor - in an area where assisted suicide is legal - is certain to ask why, and respond with an informed decision. Also, the doctor will recognize that a person who is normally in good health may be suffering from an undiagnosed infection or injury or onset of illness. Test results may or may not confirm something that needs to be addressed. Likewise the doctor may discover that a person's long time antidepressant isn't working anymore and suggest a new one. Maybe the doctor will help identify a source of avoidable stress that the person hasn't notices yet - or a need for sunlight or D vitamins. I think it would be a very rare doctor indeed that would just say "ok, let's give you some potion to end your life right now!"