Assisted Suicide

Where now should the choice in dying movement go?

November 19, 2015

Opinion by Derek Humphry

We need to be a movement with a future, foreseeing social trends in death and dying and leading the way to achieve them. Yes, in America we now have four states with laws permitting physician-assisted suicide. Worthwhile progress, but where now for other types of suffering? And are those laws good enough, limited as they are by political expediency?

Passing these so-called ‘prescription laws’ is a wonderful start but it is not the complete answer.

The future in the choice in dying movement lies with a deliberate widening of the scope of people for whom we will campaign publicly and whom we will help. (This is already happening in Europe.) Then who?

1. It is time to consider more seriously offering to help persons with long-term, untreatable, serious mental illness. Of course such cases must be most carefully assessed. Only adults with lengthy, unbearable suffering should be considered.

2. Persons with what I call ‘terminal old-age’ whose advanced years and accompanying medical problems no longer make their life worth living. In Britain since 2009 there has been “The Society for Old Age Rational Suicide” run by Dr. Michael Irwin and others which gets an intelligent hearing. You can read their argument for this on their web page. If needed, SOARS takes people to Switzerland for a peaceful ending. Already Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg permit this broader kind of assisted dying. Careful on-the-spot study should be made of how those European countries are handling these sensitive new issues.

3. We should begin to argue for the current Death With Dignity Acts now passed in the four states to be improved. As written now, they may be politically acceptable but do they solve all the problems. Evidence is that they do not. The six month limitation on ‘likely to die’ should be changed to one year. We should also campaign for the law to be modified to allow patients who cannot swallow the lethal dose to be given it by doctor injection.

4. We must think through and tackle the problem of when and how Alzheimer’s patients and persons with long-term degenerative diseases can be helped to die if they have made an advance directive.

5. Long-term, we should consider opening a clinic to help the sort of people I’ve just been talking about. Or devise an escape route to Switzerland or Colombia as they use in Germany and Britain.

The forgoing ideas are my thoughts only. No right-to-die group in America has adopted them as at end 2015. – Derek Humphry

© 2015 Derek Humphry