A heartbreaking op-ed published in the Australian edition of the “Huffington Post” claims that the author’s mother, Elayn, should not have died by suicide. The answer to the predicament, according to author Nikki Gemmell, is euthanasia. Gemmell argues that if euthanasia had been available in Australia, her mother’s suicide could have been prevented.
“Elayn had had painful feet for years, after a childhood of ballet classes and decades of wearing the most fashionable high heels,” Gemmell explained. “It all came back to haunt her in her seventies. A year before she died she had an operation to fix her foot agony. It made the situation worse, much worse.” Elayn was in so much pain that she had to rely on a walking stick and could no longer drive; she had lost much of her independence. “She was facing a future of pain, stuck in her flat and relying on all the madly busy people around her with their crazy-busy lives. She was terrified of ending up in a nursing home. Of losing control of her life,” Gemmell wrote.
So Elayn began researching euthanasia, and discovered Exit, the Swiss assisted suicide clinic that profits off of euthanasia tourism. She arranged to receive the fatal cocktail of drugs, and killed herself without telling any of her children of her plans. And yet Grimmell feels that legalizing euthanasia could somehow have prevented her mother’s suicide.
If the euthanasia laws had been different in this country, Mum could have begun a conversation with professionals. They would have pointed her to different methods of chronic pain control. They would have given her peace of mind that people were listening to her euthanasia wishes. My mother could have passed away surrounded by her family, in a room brimming with love and gratitude for an extraordinary life.
Yet it was nothing like that. She found it too hard to have the difficult conversation with her kids; to explain that she was going to euthanise herself. And by doing what she did in utter secrecy, she broke her family. I can hardly even bring myself to say “suicide”. The word implies irrationality, mental fragility; as opposed to euthanasia, which implies a deeply considered, mature and rational death.
When a loved one dies, especially in a manner as painful as suicide, it’s only natural to look back and think of how it could have been prevented. But the idea that legalizing euthanasia — assisted suicide — could prevent suicide is, quite frankly ludicrous, because assisted suicide is still suicide.
In no other circumstance do we encourage people who have become suicidal to go ahead and die on purpose, or say that it’s empowering for them to go through with taking their own life. Yet if someone is elderly, or sick, or disabled, or poor, or mentally ill… suddenly, it becomes the “dignified” thing to do.
What makes it even worse is that, as with people struggling with suicidal tendencies who are not facing terminal or chronic illnesses, requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide can be prevented. Multiple studies have found that people who request assisted suicide often have low family support, are afraid, are struggling with hopelessness, and are fighting clinical depression. When the root issues are treated — such as the clinical depression — the request for assisted suicide is withdrawn.
Gemmell’s mother didn’t need legalized euthanasia to prevent her suicide, because that still would have led to her mother killing herself. And as the frequent abuses of assisted suicide in every single country that has legalized it show, legal euthanasia does not lead to assisted suicide clinics where people are given options beyond killing themselves — such as the chronic pain control methods that Gemmell mentioned. Clinics like Exit, which Elayn used, are perfectly happy to collect money and kill perfectly healthy people, just because they don’t feel like living anymore right now. Other options are not suggested, investigated, or pursued.
People like Elayn need proper health care. They need support and compassion. They don’t need doctors who will tell them that they’re right to kill themselves and hand them a prescription. Euthanasia is not the answer to preventing suicide.