Planning your own death is dignity for some and anathema to others. When the organization Final Exit advertised their “right to die” services recently, the controversy ignited a firestorm from both sides of the issue.
“My Life … My Death … My Choice” reads a billboard on a New Jersey highway, giving the website of Final Exit, who touts their mission as “Supporting the Human Right to Death with Dignity.” While they do not physically assist someone who wants to end their life, they will instruct them on the best means to their demise and give them support. The elderly vice-president of this organization, Bob Levine, saw his first wife die a painful death from cancer.
Whether or not you agree with the euthanasia philosophy, some are concerned that just advertising for the right to take your own life could be the last straw for those who are on the edge and thinking about suicide. These billboards are supposedly directed toward the elderly who are suffering from painful diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, they are in plain view for everyone to see.
Columnist Brett Singer called the ads “irresponsible,” and is concerned for the fifteen percent of high school students who considered suicide last year. With a suicidal mentality, the power of suggestion could be huge. Dr. Judith Singer, a board member of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, concurs and said she is “horrified” with the billboards.
The Catholic church has been vocal in this count. Jim Goodness of the Newark Archdiocese stated “The Catholic Church teaches, and has always taught, that all human life has dignity and all human life is precious.”
Emotional stories abound; agonizing deaths with loving family members looking on. One story in the Final Exit newsletter detailed the painful death of a loving mom. She kept saying she was ready to die. Looking back, this son would have ended his mom’s pain sooner if he could. Here’s another perspective from a psychiatrist who counseled a terminally ill young man:
“A few years ago, a young professional in his early 30’s who had acute myelocytic leukemia was referred to me for consultation. With medical treatment, he was given a 25 percent chance of survival; without it, he was told, he would die in a few months.
“His immediate reaction was a desperate preoccupation with suicide and a request for support in carrying it out. he was worried about becoming dependent and feared both the symptoms of his disease and the side effects of treatment. His anxieties about the painful circumstances that would surround his death were not irrational, but all his fears about dying amplified them.
“Many patients and physicians displace anxieties about death onto the circumstances of dying – pain, dependence, loss of dignity, the unpleasant side effects resulting from medical treatment. Once the young man and I could talk about the possibility or likelihood of his dying – what separation from his family and the destruction of his body meant to him – his desperation subsided. He accepted medical treatment and used the remaining months of his life to become closer to his wife and parents. Two days before he died, he talked about what he would have missed without the opportunity for a loving parting.”
—Psychiatrist Dr. Herbert Hendin, Executive Director of the American Suicide Foundation. This statement is an excerpt from Lifesavers, a quarterly newsletter of the American Suicide Foundation, Spring 1995.
Heartwrenching cases, like Terri Schiavo of Florida, have been played out in the public eye. Schiavo’s husband fought against her parents to end the life of Schiavo. Although breathing on her own, this young woman needed a feeding tube for sustenance. Even with Governor Jeb Bush’s intervention, the court ordered the feeding tube withdrawn, ending her life.
Dr. Thomas E. Goodwin founded Final Exit in Florida in 2004. He has been charged in Georgia with the crime of assisted suicide along with other members. At the time of their arrest in 2009, Dr. Mark Mostert of Regent University remarked, “This is the most radical of the groups.” Apparently groups like Final Exit are commonplace. Dr. Mostert warned that if assisted suicide became the norm, the United States could end up like the Netherlands, where “assisted suicide is available on demand.”
Reaching out to the elderly, the infamous billboard has been placed in San Francisco and one is planned for Florida.
“If we treat their depression and we treat their pain, I’ve never had a patient who wanted to die.”
~ William Wood, M.D., clinical director of the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University in Atlanta, as published in Time, April 15, 1996, p. 82.