Earlier this month, Canadian Dan Laramie threw a party for about 50 friends in his home. As the evening began to wind down, a doctor arrived and administered a lethal injection, killing Laramie. In any other circumstance this would be seen as tragic and deeply disturbing. However, the headline on the story of Laramie’s suicide is “Partying until the end!” because Laramie’s life ended as part of state-sanctioned assisted suicide.
According to the Daily Mail, Laramie requested single malt whiskey and cigars for the “party” and friends played a “haunting” rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.” Laramie, who was 68, had diabetes since childhood. In recent years he suffered complications that would have required further amputation and he had issues with his blood pressure, kidneys and heart. Just two months prior to his suicide, his wife says, his doctor discussed the possibility of assisted suicide along with his medical diagnosis and treatment options. In the time since then, the family planned a party, which was attended by Laramie’s son, daughter, and grandchildren, in addition to friends and even some of his nurses.
Laramie’s is not the only “euthanasia party” lauded by the media. Other Canadians have chosen to end their lives with fanfare favorably covered by sympathetic news outlets.
Even so, the glowing descriptions of euthanasia parties cannot mask the strange and tragic nature of these new social gatherings. In an article about another euthanasia party, an attendee said, “The idea to go and spend a beautiful weekend that culminates in their suicide — that is not a normal thing, not a normal, everyday occurrence. In the background of the lovely fun, smiles and laughter that we had that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming.”
While many might object that these parties are not bad because assisted suicide is reserved for the terminally ill, most people do not realize how terminal illness is defined in the law — and how that definition is expanding. The average person might think that assisted suicide is only for those whose lives are hopeless and devoid of meaning as they face a certain death involving great pain. This is incorrect; as euthanasia expands, people are now being killed for suffering from sexual abuse, depression, and even for autism. Additionally, studies show that terminally ill patients who choose assisted suicide do so not because of pain but due to feelings of hopelessness, lack of support, and fear of becoming a burden.
Assisted suicide advocates insist it is not “suicide,” but “medical aid in dying,” or even “death with dignity.” Not only do these semantics imply that somehow assisted suicide is not the deliberate killing of a human person, which it is, but they also suggest that enduring a chronic medical condition or living until natural death is undignified.
Celebrating assisted suicide is even more disturbing as preliminary data suggest legalizing assisted suicide is correlated with a rise in suicide generally. The suicide rate has risen more than 30 percent this century, with teen suicides rising at twice that rate. Ethicist Wesley J. Smith points out that the very same news outlets decrying the increase in suicides laud euthanasia parties like Laramie’s. We cannot call death an exercise in “autonomy” and a “solution to suffering” in one circumstance and a tragedy in another.
As a society, we must also consider those left behind. In the immediate aftermath of Laramie’s death, his wife Stef claimed, “I don’t really feel loss, we don’t need any sorrow at this time and I don’t know if that sounds rude.” In her view, the party and assisted suicide “was such a clean way to end life.”
A growing number of families who have experienced the trauma of losing loved ones to assisted suicide feel quite differently. In 2015, Deborah Binner’s husband ended his life in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic. She said, “Campaigners for assisted dying underestimate how terrible it is for those of us left behind. I didn’t care what state he was or might be in, he was my husband – as valuable in a wheelchair as anyone out of it.” Other families have also spoken out against assisted suicide following the death of a loved one.
Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case of Tom Mortier, whose mother was euthanized without any of her children finding out until after her death. Godelieva De Troyer, 68, was physically healthy but was killed by lethal injection because of “untreatable depression.”
“The big problem in our society is that, apparently, we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other,” said Mortier in a press release. “My mother had a severe mental problem. She had to cope with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and eventually the contact between us was broken. A year later, she received a lethal injection. Neither the oncologist, who administered the injection, nor the hospital had informed me or any of my siblings that our mother was even considering euthanasia.”
Paul Coleman, international executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom, which will represent Mortier, said, “According to the most recent government report [in Belgium], more than six people per day are killed in this way, and that may yet be the tip of the iceberg. The figures expose the truth that, once these laws are passed, the impact of euthanasia cannot be controlled. Belgium has set itself on a trajectory that, at best, implicitly tells its most vulnerable that their lives are not worth living.”
While Dan Laramie’s euthanasia party is praised as a great way to go, the coverage ignores the implications of a society that celebrates suicide. Mr. Laramie should have received legitimate options, not a lethal injection; his family deserves condolences, not a high five.
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