Friday, August 14, 2009

He Said: Suicide

I read a very shocking piece in Time Magazine piece last week by Nancy Gibbs entitled Going Too Far with Assisted Suicide? Nancy Gibbs questioned a growing liberal practice in Switzerland where doctors will assist in the suicide of a person in death on demand saying that it is a person's right to decide the timing of their own death. Gibbs said a prominent British man who had no terminal condition wanted to join his wife who was suffering with cancer in to the next life because he loved her so much and couldn't live without her.

The story of Sir Edward's "death pact" was at first sight an irresistible love story. His wife Joan, 74, a former ballerina, had a diagnosis of terminal liver and pancreatic cancer; because assisted suicide is illegal in Britain, they traveled to a Zurich clinic, where, for a fee of about $7,000 per patient, the group Dignitas arranges for death by barbiturate. "They drank a small quantity of clear liquid and then lay down on the beds next to each other," their son Caractacus said. They fell asleep and died within minutes, he reported, calling it a "very civilized" final act.

Civilized, in this case, is a relative term...

The problem is that Sir Edward, while in failing health at age 85, was not dying. His eyesight was nearly gone, his hearing was weak, and he faced the prospect of life without his soulmate. But sorrow is not grounds for a doctor to assist in a suicide in most places that allow it. Nor is despair. The Netherlands permits euthanasia for those suffering intolerable pain; Oregon requires two doctors to confirm that the patient has less than six months to live.

Some euthanasia activists, including Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, believe in death on demand. "If you accept the idea of personal autonomy," he argues, "you can't make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right." Autonomy and dignity are precious values; the phrase sanctity of life can sound sterile and pious in the face of profound pain and suffering. But Minelli is arguing for much more: that autonomy is an overriding right. This view rejects the idea that society might ever value my life more than I do or derive a larger benefit from treating every life as precious, to the point of protecting me from myself.
I had heard of a few older people feeling that way and even more who gave up the will to live and die shortly after a spouse. But this is the first time in the last couple of decades I ever heard of any openly offing themselves because of the loss of a spouse through assisted suicide. There have probably been a few who secretly committed suicide similarly but it wasn't so openly dicussed as though it is the right of any person to just go and be assisted in drinking poison or other instrument of death.

I went to the Handbook of Instructions and thought that surely the LDS Church leaders must condemn suicide in any form since taking one's life would probably be viewed as murder. I was wrong I didn't find one single mention in the 2006 edition not even a discussion under baptisms for the dead about people who have killed themselves. I think the assisted suicide angle merits at least a mention.

This got me thinking so I went to LDS.Org and did a search on suicide in general. To my surprise this is what I discovered was the policy from the Answers to Questions topic suicide :

Although it is wrong to take one's own life, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:

"Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth.

"When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth" ("Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not," Ensign, Oct. 1987, 8).
I don't think the leaders of the church are by any means supporting suicide they are just saying we shouldn't judge others who do because no one understands what lead to the suicide.

I remember many years ago I read Gary Bergera's Brigham Young University: A House of Faith which tells of the suicide of George Brimhall, who was president of BYU from 1904 until 1921. Brimhall was in a depressed state of mind for many years suffering from chest and adominal pains and finally killed himself with a hunting rifle.

Bergera writes:

A devout Mormon, Brimhall had two wives and fourteen children, although his second wife, Flora Robertson, a former student, lived in seclusion in Spanish Fork after their marriage. Brimhall was afflicted with intense chest and abdominal pain throughout his life, but only his closest associates were aware of the sometimes intense discomfort. Eleven years following his release as president, when the pain had become unbearable, he commited suicide with a hunting rifle. "He did it the hard way, but bless him--he was courageous," commented one colleague following Brimhall's death (Hansen).

I did some further research and read that he used his big toe to pull the trigger. At his funeral one of the general authorities said that we shouldn't judge George Brimhall because only the Lord knew his state of mind and that the Lord would consider Brimhall's life in totality at the judgment bar.

Recently I have been grappling with some serious back pain which rendered me unable to even sit for an extended period of time without having dozens of back spasms which were intense and occurred every time I even moved whether sitting, lying or standing.

I used to think that anyone that wanted to die including terminally ill people didn't have much strength of character and needed to endure to the end. I gained a more empathic feeling and better understanding of their pain when I was in extreme pain. There were a couple times during my ordeal when I couldn't stand the pain and thought who would want to live out their lives with such excruciating agony and maybe death wasn't such a bad option. Having been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis I realize that the quality of my life will diminish over the next twenty to thirty years as my vertebrates fuse together.

Luckily I was able through the use of electrical stimulation to get the muscles in my back to relax and now the pain is bearable although I have a couple of tender spots that will never go away. I told my doctor who is also LDS and a bishop about my recent lapse in feeling. I would never consider it because I saw my father die an agonizing death when they pulled the plug. I learned that we as humans will fight to the end for life.

The doctor said he has a few patients that feel the same way but suicide should never be an option. That is what he is there for to help them improve the quality of their lives and that there were many options short of killing yourself. I told him I personally I would never kill myself but I can now understand better why some would want to end their pain and lives when the quality of their lives was so miserable. It is a sobering thought to consider the ethical and moral implications of suicide and particularly assisted suicide.



    Diet will help.

    Aren't you glad to have access to modern pain meds?? I am!