Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dignitas - Death For a Price

Here's a story from across the pond that's a bit chilling. I found this on BBC's website today:

Renowned British conductor Sir Edward Thomas Downes, CBE, has died at the age of 85, after travelling to the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas with his wife.

He and his 74-year-old wife Joan, who was terminally ill, chose to end their lives at the Swiss clinic, their family said in a statement.

Downes was in failing health and his ballerina wife was going to die. They chose to go to Dignitas in Switzerland where they died.

Assisted suicide in the US is synonymous with Dr. Jack Kevorkian. But he's not the only one on a mission to give people a way to end a painful life or avoid an excruciatingly painful or slow death.

Dignitas bills itself as a humane and professional alternative for people with serious physical or mental illnesses. They claim to have an extensive screening process and, right up until the last moment, continue to offer the client the option of changing his or her mind.

A nurse who has since left tells another story - a horrifying saga of attempted suicides gone wrong, lingering deaths, offers to kill family members as well if they'd take the death of a loved one too hard, squalid, sordid conditions and a bottom line profit motivation.

Assisted suicide frightens me. Whenever you take a decision to die out of the direct control of a person and hand it to a 'professional', you've made dying a money maker. Anything done for profit is likely to become corrupt. And it's such a very short step from assisted suicide to murder, isn't it?

I am conflicted about suicide. My Catholic parents were completely against it; they didn't want to spend eternity in Hell. Yet my mother's final six weeks of agony made me seriously wish she (or I) could end it for her. I was shocked at myself, but how can you watch someone you love suffer the equivalent of torture and not want to make it stop?

My uncle has been a Hemlock Society member from way back. I don't know if he'd truly do it or if he's a theoretical supporter of the right to die. I know his view appalled his brother, my dad. It actually made sense to me.

It must take tremendous courage to decide to end your life in a calm, rational state. I think Richard Farnsworth did it right. The actor was in great pain with bone cancer. He knew he faced an increasingly painful life and slow death. He went outside and shot himself. That final choice, that final moment, had him entirely in control. He wasn't in a setting where anyone else could influence him, even unconsciously. He was free at any moment to change his mind.

How do I feel about suicide, assisted or otherwise? I still have ingrained in me the words "selfish", "cowardly", "wrong" when I think about it. But there's a rational part of me that can understand that sometimes death is the more attractive choice. I've seen suffering. I can understand.

But Dignitas is incorporated death. That, I believe, is very, very dangerous. And worthy of discussion, because this is reality and we must, as a human community, decide whether this is what we want in our world.


4wrdthnkndad said...

On the surface, it seems wrong to me that this would be a corporate issue. It seems like such a personal matter. I know people that would not want to be kept alive by machines simply to be kept physically alive. And I know that I would rather not have the burden of deciding whether to keep a family member alive or pull the plug.

Susan said...

It's a totally loaded issue, dad. I agree it's completely personal, and it just gives me the creeps to think of a business based on profiting from human death. We already have military businesses, but this is going a step further.
I don't have a good answer, as anything I think of has a compelling counter argument.
But it does seem barbaric to force people to stay alive when in many instances we can't even manage to eliminate their pain.
With all the advances in science, the best we have to offer terminally ill patients is morphine?
My mother died in a total morphine fog, and yet the expression on her face made it clear she was in pain.
I was angry and I was helpless to do anything at all.
We treat our pets better.