Helping Them Go Peacefully Into the Night

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Jerry

As the baby boom generation ages with illnesses and depression overtaking them, we need to reevaluate the laws that restrict how they die. There were an estimated 308 million people in the United States in 2010.  There were also over 38,000 suicides or roughly 0.000123% of the population.

The Pew Research Center reports that in 2010 of the over 38,000 suicides, 19,392 were committed with guns.  A Forbes article published in June of 2013 points out that “Suicide is not painless. The lifelong grief and disruptions it causes in other peoples’ lives are unspeakable.  Far too many of us have seen the traumas that suicide wreaks on individual families and communities”.

A 2009 article that was published in The Economist entitled Going gently, stated in part, “In most of the Western world, suicide is not a crime, but helping another to commit it is.  But not all the incapacitated, or terminally ill, or permanently despairing are willing to wait for a natural death, or to take messy and uncertain measures to kill themselves without medical help.”

Switzerland has arguably the most liberal laws covering assisting suicide.  Switzerland only labels assisting suicide as a crime if it is done for gain.  Other countries – Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – have also adopted legislation that permits some form of assisted suicide.

Four states in the U.S. (Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont) have assisted suicide laws.  In all cases, physicians can at least issue a prescription for or prepare a fatal drug cocktail for terminally ill patients under a variety of limitations.  Fears that these laws would spur a rash of assisted suicides have not materialized.

In Oregon in 2012 there were only 77 deaths from prescription cocktails.  Of interest is that the number of prescriptions written for the fatal drug cocktails was 115 in 2012.  This means that 38 people who were approved for assisted suicide decided against it.

In Washington State, during the three years after its law became effective in March of 2009, only 255 prescriptions for the lethal cocktail were written.   A study showed that even in patients with terminal cancer only 24 of forty chose to use the prescription to end their life.

Quoting once more from the article in The Economist, “It is perfectly possible to frame a law that allows suffering people who are close to death to die quickly and peacefully, if they wish, without declaring open season on old folk.  The suicide-seeker declares he is not being pressured to kill himself; two doctors agree, and testify he is terminally ill and of sound mind.  A waiting period before lethal drugs are dispensed ensures that the desire for death is a settled one.”

All that is needed is that we remove the requirement for a person to be terminally ill and we could pass legislation that takes most of the pain out of suicide.  Obviously this is very controversial.  It would however, provide a humane death, procedurally involve others in the decision to end one’s life and insert time to allow a person to change their mind.  This is an issue that needs to be brought out of the closet and debated in public forums.

Use the following links to gain more information or read the source documents for this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html

http://rt.com/usa/us-suicides-crisis-cdc-report-761/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/24/suicides-account-for-most-gun-deaths/

http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/firearms-death-rate-per-100000/#map

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/06/07/what-does-the-exploding-rate-of-boomer-suicide-say-about-us/

http://www.economist.com/node/14034893

http://finalexit.org/assisted_suicide_laws_united_states.html

http://www.lifenews.com/2013/01/30/oregon-assisted-suicide-deaths-hit-record-high-in-2012/

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/04/10/physician-assisted-suicide-program-rarely-used-study-finds

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/03/the-dutch-debate-doctor-assisted-suicide-for-depression.html

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