When people make the argument for why assisted suicide should be legal, it’s often because people believe they should be able to die a “dignified” death. They believe people should die rather than have to suffer horrific pain because of debilitating terminal illnesses. A video was recently released in that vein in an attempt to show people the supposed reality of dying from a terminal disease, and it was so difficult to watch that the video was banned from YouTube.
“Stop the Horror” is a six-minute film released by euthanasia advocates Go Gentle Australia. The film uses actors to portray the death of Greg Sims, who died from brain cancer in 2005 at age 56. The entire film can be viewed here and was yanked from YouTube because the content is so disturbing. Sims’ daughter, Nia, consented to the film’s creation and release. It is meant to be a recreation of her father’s final days.
The actor portraying Sims is seen suffering from extreme pain, convulsing, crying, and screaming. His family spoons water into his chapped lips. And through it all, you see the effect his slow death has on his loved ones, who constantly cry and appear exhausted from the ordeal.
“Stop The Horror is a short, five-minute film dealing with unimaginable pain and despair,” a spokesperson for the organization said. “It has been designed to be virtually unwatchable. The film confronts viewers with a harrowing retelling of the true events surrounding one man’s traumatic death. The film is so confronting it has a stop button on screen so viewers can bail out whenever they want.”
A pro-life advocate, however, slammed the film as “dishonest”.
“To show this person dying without having any comment from doctors who specialise in this sort of thing is really dishonest, isn’t it,” Margaret Tighe of Right to Life Australia told The Age. “The bottom line in all of this is that you shouldn’t change the law to give a small percentage of people in the community the right to have their lives ended because you’re changing dramatically the laws around homicide. We live in communities where you’re not allowed to kill people.”
The film was released just as Australian politicians are set to debate the legalization of assisted suicide.
Interestingly, more attention is paid in the film to the effects on the dying man’s family members, primarily his daughter, as well as his caregivers, than it is to his pain. In doing so, the filmmakers inadvertently hit on one of the major problems with assisted suicide.
Multiple studies have confirmed that most people do not seek assisted suicide because they fear pain or the symptoms of their disease. This includes a recent study, published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, and a study published in the British Medical Journal. Most people who request assisted suicide do so because they are suffering from clinical depression, are hopeless, have a lack of support, and are scared that they will be a burden on their loved ones. When these issues are addressed, people overwhelmingly rescind their request for assisted suicide.
Doctors have openly spoken of their opposition to assisted suicide. Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie explained that today, pain management is more effective and readily available than ever before and that pain is not why most people seek to kill themselves.
“Doctors know that if a terminal patient is hurting so badly that death becomes preferable, what that patient needs is better pain control, not help killing himself,” she said. “Doctors also know that most people who choose suicide do so because they are sad and lonely or don’t wish to be a burden on their families, not because of unbearable physical pain.”
“Stop the Horror”, while albeit on accident, feeds into this. Look how difficult this is for your family members, the film seems to say. Look at how awful your death will be for them to endure. Look how terrible it will be for you. You will suffer, and your family will suffer, too. Better to kill yourself than to live for even one more day. It’s exploitative and, as Tighe said, dishonest. The medical profession seems to overwhelmingly oppose assisted suicide.
“We should never give up on our patients. We should always want to be there for them, we always want to advocate for them and help them, in every way that the medical system can possibly help them,” said Dr. Joseph Marine who is fighting assisted suicide. “I can understand fear, but the way the doctor should respond to fear is not to encourage suicide. It’s to encourage the value of life, to encourage patients to be helped, to help them in any way that we can, in the ethics of our profession.”
Medical groups have likewise come forward to slam the increasing legalization of assisted suicide, including The American College of Physicians, which recently released a statement against assisted suicide, as well as The American Psychiatric Association.
“On the basis of substantive ethics, clinical practice, policy, and other concerns articulated in this position paper, the ACP does not support legalization of physician-assisted suicide. It is problematic given the nature of the patient-physician relationship, affects trust in the relationship and in the profession, and fundamentally alters the medical profession’s role in society,” the American College of Physicians paper reads.
Ultimately, the truth is that this film is exploitative — and dangerous. It preys on the emotions of viewers and trusts in the inherent goodness of people. After all, no one wants to force someone to suffer through horrific pain. But this film obscures the reality of the issue and hides the facts. Legalizing assisted suicide is dangerous. And just because someone has a terminal disease, it doesn’t suddenly make suicide the “dignified” or “gentle” option.