Proponents of assisted suicide say it should be legal so terminally ill people can die peaceful deaths, as opposed to long, painful ones. The reality, however, is quite different; in increasing numbers, people who are not dying are choosing to undergo euthanasia. The latest example may be one of the most disturbing: Briton Anthony Hayes, who lives in Worcester, is seeking euthanasia at Swiss assisted suicide facility Dignitas because he has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In the meantime, he is campaigning for assisted suicide to be legalized in the United Kingdom, saying:
Euthanasia definitely should be made legal. We are far too politically correct and not liberal enough…. I am sometimes in unbearable and uncontrollable pain. I feel so passionate about this and I am being penalized…. [F]or me to hang myself, or throw myself in front of a train, which I have thought about, would be more trauma for my family.
Hayes says he has never been happy, and suffers from long periods of depression. The fact that he suffers from a mental health disorder and is suicidal should disqualify him, but the opposite tends to happen.
Across Europe, people are euthanized for suffering from sexual abuse, depression, and even for autism. A person’s ability to make the decision rationally seems to matter less and less. It isn’t surprising that a suicidal man suffering from depression would seek a painless death. What is surprising is that these suicides are increasingly being seen as something to be accommodated rather than avoided.
But one mother is pleading with him to not take his life. Liz de Oliveira’s 22-year-old daughter, Lucy, committed suicide, leaving her heartbroken. People like Hayes do not need to die, de Oliveira argued. “What’s really needed is much more treatment of mental health conditions and being able to speak up about them without being stigmatised,” she said. “All of us will suffer from poor mental health at some point in our lives…. We need to be much more open about it.” de Oliveira said:
Having seen the impact my daughter’s death has had on literally hundreds of people – and believe me, Mr Hayes, yours will too – there is absolutely no way I could ever put others through the hell I go through every single minute of my day.
… You are just bringing forward the suffering, but it’s inevitable…. It’s the fallout that he doesn’t appreciate. His family may be supporting him, but they don’t understand what they will go through once he’s died. They can’t understand – only people like me, who have been through it can understand.
… There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about Lucy and it’s destroyed me.
Studies show that assisted suicide increases the number of suicides. A 2015 study published in the Southern Medical Journal found that “legalising assisted suicide is associated with a 6.3 per cent increase in the total suicide rate – including both assisted and non-assisted suicides. For the over-65 age group, the increase is 14.5 per cent.”
Multiple other studies, including some published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal, found that people pursue assisted suicide because they feel hopeless, are struggling with depression (as Hayes is), are afraid they are a burden on their loved ones, or don’t have support. When these issues are addressed, the request for assisted suicide is often withdrawn.
Kristen Hanson, wife of “Man of Steel” JJ Hanson, echoes this sentiment. JJ Hanson was a former Marine and aide to two New York governors, as well as a staunch opponent of assisted suicide. He chose to fight for his life after being diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the same aggressive brain cancer as Brittany Maynard, who took her own life through assisted suicide.
“I was told you don’t have an option,” he said in an interview. “You can die dignified if you commit suicide…. The whole terminology is flipping on its head. If you give up and you don’t fight, somehow you’re compassionate and dignified. But if you want to fight and you want to live, you lack compassion and dignity. To me it just doesn’t make sense. It’s kind of a reflection of where our society is.”
He was also an outspoken critic of Brittany Maynard, because he saw her campaign as exploiting their illness and preventing a possible cure from being found. “I saw it as a bad example for others who had this form of brain cancer,” Hanson said. “When you see people choosing not to fight and choosing to go toward the alternative, it removes a large part of the ability to fight against disease because there are fewer people going into clinical trials.”
He died on December 30, 2017, and his widow has taken up his mantle. She admitted that in his lowest moments, Hanson had “felt such despair that he may have taken a lethal prescription had it been legal in New York, where we lived, and if he had it in his nightstand during his darkest days” and thought at times “ending his life would relieve the burden on his caretakers and allow him to bypass the experience of illness-induced disability that the disease would otherwise cause.”
Her husband’s experience is not an anomaly. “Many people who consider or go through with assisted suicide have similar fears.” She added:
Data from Oregon — where assisted suicide first became legal — show the main end-of-life concerns that people considering assisted suicide report relate to existential suffering, such as becoming burdensome to caretakers and facing disability. In fact, ‘inadequate pain control’ or concern of physical pain isn’t even in the top five reported reasons.
Instead of living with the fear and pain of her husband’s suicide, the Hanson family got to enjoy years of love and hope. Yet as assisted suicide grows, more people succumb to their despair and fears… and families left behind are forced to live in anguish. Now, they’re starting to speak out. Will we listen?