A strong taboo cloaks the subject of suicide even though it is part of the human reality. The subject is complex and judgements on suicide cover the whole range from the judeo-christian position that it is a mortal sin worthy of eternal hell to the the limitless admiration of heroic acts of self sacrifice that are also a form of suicide (think of the Japanese kamikases in WWII and of today's islamic bomb bearers). Suicide is however generally condemned for it often reflects upon a society's inability to integrate all of its members into a harmonious whole.
Personnally, I hold the opinion that taboos and censorship generally serve the interests of manipulators and that we should feel free to explore all aspects of this question. Recent high visibility cases of assisted suicide, voluntary euthanasia and non-voluntary euthanasia have prompted the Humanist Foundation of Québec to set up a commitee to study this question. This page is a first attempt to clarify the matter of responsibility in suicide.
The medical machine
Dominated by the hypocratic oath, medical ethics impose the obligation to prolong life in all circumstances even when the quality of the life remaining is more important to the patient than its duration. The fragmentation of medecine into more and more narrow specialities tends to concentrate the attention of medical personnel on the struggle against the specific illness they are treating at the expense of the general well being of the patient. Finally, the progress of medical science now makes it possible to considerably prolong life by correcting many organic deficiencies that would have previously caused death.
We are all likely to survive medical incidents that would have carried us away a few decades ago. To prolong life constitutes a remarkable acheivement when the quality of life can be maintained at a high level but that is not allways the case.
Only the concerned individual can evaluate the bottom line between the prolongation of his life and the degradation of its quality. It is quite legitimate for a patient to prefer death to unbearable suffering in his prolonged life. It is perfectly reasonable for such an individual to choose a rational suicide when there is no hope of improvement in his condition. Such a liberation is his right and suicide is legal..
Generally however, the exercise of that right is legal only when the subject is capable of carrying it out by himself. Indeed, the laws of most countries prohibit a third party from helping someone to commit suicide. Exceptions are still few, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon, but the list is growing.
And yet, all public opinion polls, and there are many, reveal an overwhelming majority in favour of the availability of assisted suicide when requested by an agonising patient seeking to be freed from unbearable suffering in terminal phase. This contradiction between legislations and the will of the people reveals once more the failure of democraties exposed to the intervention of powerful private interests. In the case of assisted suicide, powerful religious organisations manage to impose their will on the majority in most countries even in those that claim to be secular.
Between suicide and murder
In real life, the specific circumstances of each case introduce a series of greys between the black and white of suicide and murder. The following table seeks to distinguish some broad categories as to the responsibility shared between the concerned individual and the medical profession.
Opponents of assisted suicide (religious groups), give themselves a good conscience by claiming that advanced "palliative care" can now reduce the physical and moral suffering of patients in terminal agony to a sufficient degree that it becomes acceptable to refuse the liberation they request.
These self righteous persons, who rush to deliver the "coup de grâce" to a severely wounded animal, do not find it cruel to prolong the agony of the dying because "suffering is good for the soul" or because "only GOD should choose the moment of death". What a monstrous hypocrisy it is that they impose their creed on everyone else in this manner!
Getting rid of the problem by mentionning "palliative care" is only a red herring because the resources necessary to offer such care efficiently are insufficient to meet the demand. The "palliative care" option will be credible only if it becomes a real alternative to assisted suicide, that is, when both will be equally available.
If at the critical moment, neither assisted suicide nor efficient palliative care are available, then you will become, like so many others, a "case" of a disease that the medical machine will combat to the end (yours), no matter what suffering that will cause you.
The only defense you will have against therapeutic abuse will be of having taken the precaution of signing a biological will before witnesses and distributing it widely enough that the medical machine cannot ignore it.
The thought that I will not be able to ask my doctors to help me put an end to my suffering makes me desperate. I am absolutely terrified by the perspective of being prisonner of a huge medical "machine" programmed to impose on me all kinds of treaments and procedures to prolong my life at all costs without regard for my wish to die.
If we try to imagine ourselves in the patient's shoes, we are forced to realise that forbidding assisted suicide is tantamount to an invitation to commit suicide prematurely to avoid being trapped by the medico-legal machine.
ASSOCIATIONS FAVOURABLE TO ASSISTED SUICIDE
BOOKS ON ASSISTED SUICIDE
TEXTS ON ASSISTED SUICIDE