A 58-year-old woman in Scotland starved herself to death in 2014 after learning she had lung cancer and had been given six months left to live. Politician Elena Whitham, who supports assisted suicide, shared the heartbreaking story of her mother’s death in an effort to lend support for the Assisted Dying Bill being presented to the Scottish Parliament.
“My mum often said to us, partly in jest, that if something very bad happens to her, ‘just give me the big blue pill,’ whatever that might be,” said Whitham. “She didn’t know what the future held for her, but she held a firm belief that people should not have to hang on at the end with no life open to them other than suffering.”
The Daily Record reported that since assisted suicide wasn’t available to Irene, Whitham’s mother, she decided to starve herself to death, “rather than have her family endure weeks of torture as cancer claimed her life.” This is a common reason people seek assisted suicide or euthanasia. It isn’t that they want to die, or even avoid suffering, but that they don’t want to be a burden on their families.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that people seeking assisted suicide frequently do so out of the fear of being a burden on others, and not being able to enjoy life. Separate research from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing found that people over age 50 who expressed a desire to die were suffering from depression and loneliness. Of those who wished to die, within two years, 72% said they no longer felt that way, and this coincided with a decrease in their depression.
Irene originally was going to live out her days at home, but her breathing had become so difficult that she went to the hospital. While there, she stopped eating and drinking.
“In the hospital she had no control of medication,” said Whitham. “The only control she had was to starve herself and to not drink. She did it secretly, to protect us.” After not eating or drinking for two weeks, Irene slipped into unconsciousness. But she survived for four more days. Whitham still carries guilt over how her mother died.
People suffering from depression and who fear being a burden on their loved ones do not deserve to die by suicide. They deserve to be taken care of, loved, and provided with help for their depression — but governments have shown a willingness to pay for them to die rather than to help them to live. And families are feeling that pressure.
“We convert our homes into ICUs without having the help and assistance of qualified health personnel,” said Jordi Sabaté Pons, a Spanish man living with ALS. “They abandon us and if you don’t have money to pay for your vital assistance we have only one option to choose from, death… [f]rom my point of view, passing the ‘euthanasia law’ before guaranteeing a dignified life first is an atrocity. Currently, we cannot choose to live or die freely. We only have aid to die, so we have no alternative other than death. In Spain, 96% of ALS patients cannot afford the cost of the disease and, with the approval of euthanasia, death is already being put on a platter. It is inhuman, the aid to live would have to [take] priority before everything.”
Legalizing assisted suicide is a dangerous move that will invariably lead to a greater devaluing of human life, and will invite loosened restrictions and rules as time goes by. Belgium, for example, now allows euthanasia for children, and the Netherlands is preparing to follow that lead. Even non-terminal individuals are now seeking and being approved for euthanasia. But the answer to these sufferings is support for life, not support into the grave.
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