Assisted Suicide and Mental Illness: Broaching The Topic
I want to commit suicide using assisted suicide when I turn 56 because I have severe Multiple Sclerosis and major depression, my life is over.
Being the recipient of such a statement changed my perspective of older individuals with severe or untreated mental and medical diagnoses. What is a therapist to do? Even more, how is another human being who understands just how unbearable life can become to respond? I still don’t know.
Severe or untreated illness can push individuals into the most unlikely areas of life. Many end up homeless, incarcerated, dead, or hanging on by a thread often hoping for a way out. For families or caregivers of a loved one with severe illness, it can be difficult to change the mind of one so confident in suicide as a remedy. Due to social and moral constraints on suicide, many incorrectly believe that physician assisted suicide is a better way to accomplish their goal.
Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is the act of hastening someone’s death using a lethal drug upon request. Recently, a British Columbia Court has considered making PAS more accessible. In the US, PAS is only legal in Oregon, Montana, and Washington and has strict criteria. In other countries, criteria for the mentally ill is quite liberal.
A patient expressing desire to take his life is attempting to alleviate pain. This desire is often replete with psychological and emotional components that should be discussed at length in families. For therapists, it is our moral obligation to help patients find a better quality of life to the best of our ability.
The assisted suicide argument takes multiple angles. There are 3 major arguments that I believe are important to discuss:
The argument of whether an individual has the right to hasten death dates back to the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath supposedly states that no doctor will give a lethal drug to anyone if asked nor will they advise such a plan.
Part of this moral argument also stems from biblical truths, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). This view is that God gives life and the act of taking life is acting as God. God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent. Therefore, to take one’s life is to act as God, which is something mortal humans can never be. But also, there is a judgement for killing.
This argument varies among Christian Believers and takes many angles when terminal illness and other human atrocities are the reason for suicidal ideation. Most Christians are compassionate and reasonable about suicidal thoughts.
Humans do not like discomfort and are naturally inclined to act in ways that reduce inevitable pain. Humans attempt to avoid pain at all costs, perhaps to the point of not considering the pain their “relief” could inflict on others. Some believe adults should have the right to make decisions regarding death and dying. Others believe PAS is a “safer” way to help individuals complete what they would otherwise complete anyway. Others, however, believe taking one’s life is an impulsive behavior that should be stopped.
Most doctors are against PAS and have ensured laws do not become universally accepted. Some believe PAS to be criminally-based and immoral. In Oregon, individuals interested in PAS receive euthanasia so long as they meet certain criteria:
- The patient must make two oral requests of the attending physician, separated by at least 15 days.
- The patient must provide a written request to the attending physician, signed in the presence of two witnesses.
- The attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis.
- The attending physician and a consulting physician must determine whether the patient is capable of making and communicating healthcare decisions for himself or herself.
As one with moral and spiritual/biblical convictions, I hate to see anyone suffer without access to relief. Sometimes we can’t change life or what healthcare providers can do to help. But suicide does not have to be the answer. I believe a higher quality of life is possible. You may ask: “how did you arrive at this conclusion when you are’t the one suffering?” This is difficult.
We, as a society and healthcare providers, need to push for increased services, education, better options, access to treatment, and even spiritual counseling. The real issue for many is the belief that no help is available.
This topic is extremely difficult. But it is a discussion that should be broached, with wisdom, if the topic presents itself in your family.
All the best
National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Greek Medicine: Greek medicine from the Gods to Galen. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html.
Pickert, K. (2009). A brief history of assisted suicide. Time U.S.. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1882684,00.html.
Siminski, L. (2010). Assisted suicide: Get informed. Advice for NPs & Pas. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from http://nurse-practitioners-and-physician-assistants.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/Assisted-Suicide-Get-Informed.aspx.
Hill, T. (2013). Assisted Suicide and Mental Illness: Broaching The Topic. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2013/02/assisted-suicide-the-misconception-of-it-as-remedy/