Philosopher: Denying assisted suicide to people with mental illness is discrimination

assisted suicide, Oregon

When it comes to assisted suicide, advocates always promise that safeguards will be put in place to strictly limit to those who are dying a potentially painful death. These supposed safeguards are meant to prevent people who are merely elderly, disabled, or mentally ill from being killed. Yet these people inevitably end up victimized, and as support for assisted suicide grows, activists become more comfortable proposing things that would otherwise have horrified people. Take, for example, a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. In it, Australian philosopher Joshua James Hatherley argues that it’s discrimination to deprive people with mental illness the ability to kill themselves in assisted suicide.

While Hatherley acknowledges that mental illness can diminish someone’s ability to freely choose to die, he also claims that excluding someone solely because they have a mental illness is discriminatory. “If it is true that mental illnesses do not always result in a person’s decision-making capacity being compromised, then the argument cannot demonstrate that it is always morally impermissible for persons with mental illnesses to receive PAS,” he said, adding, “[s]tudies that have been conducted into mental illness and decision-making capacity have shown that mental illness is insufficient to demonstrate incompetency.”

READ: American Medical Association again officially opposes assisted suicide

Hatherley further argues that people suffering from mental illnesses like depression should be able to elect for assisted suicide — because treatment doesn’t always work, while death (or “relief from suffering, as he refers to it) is a certainty.

“The certainty of relief from suffering that a patient would receive from PAS may be far preferable to them than an indefinite future of continued suffering, despite the possibility that they may make a spontaneous recovery years or decades down the line,” he wrote.

Ultimately, Hatherley concluded that denying patients with mental illness access to assisted suicide would “[c]onstitute an instance of unjustifiable discrimination against those suffering from psychiatric conditions.”

What Hatherley largely ignores is the fact that people are already being euthanized for having mental illnesses. In countries across Europe, people are being euthanized because they are victims of sexual abuse, are suffering from depression, or even are autistic. Studies have likewise shown that legalizing assisted suicide increases the overall number of suicides, and it’s not hard to see why. Once a society begins to stop seeing life as something to be saved, and that feelings of being a burden and of hopelessness are no longer a lie but are valid, that mindset will spread.

Assisted suicide encourages people to give in to their worst thoughts and fears. Instead of reassuring someone with depression that his life is valuable and has meaning, the assisted suicide movement tells him that his life is not worth saving. Opposing such a horrific mindset is not discrimination; it’s compassion and common sense.

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