Massachusetts is currently considering a bill titled “An Act Relative to End of Life Options,” which would legalize assisted suicide in certain circumstances. In a letter, Massachusetts resident Pauline Morris offers an often-overlooked perspective in the debate: the perspective of people who have survived a loved one’s suicide. Morris writes that in considering the legislation, “I cannot help but to think about my experience with suicide.”
Almost five decades ago, Morris’s husband died by suicide at age 31, leaving her and their four young children in shock. She acknowledges that the motivations for her husband’s suicide may seem different than those sanctioned under the proposed bill, but she states “assisted suicide is still suicide.” Pointing to studies of patients’ reasons for seeking assisted suicide, Morris notes that patients seek it not because of physical pain, but due to existential suffering, the same suffering that drove her husband to take his life.
While assisted suicide advocates emphasize it as a “solution” to suffering, it ends a person’s life, and the suffering does not end for a patient’s loved ones. Morris writes, “There is always that empty place where the loved one should be. Time does not heal the wounds of suicide. The act is never over for the loved ones left behind. The pain is forever and has a ripple effect on future generations.” Similar feelings have been expressed by family members left behind by legal assisted suicide.
That ripple effect includes a greater likelihood for those affected by the loss to die by suicide themselves, because suicide is contagious. While advocacy groups claim that legal assisted suicide does not influence the overall suicide rate, others have raised the alarm that the teen suicide rate has doubled in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal and has received extensive media coverage.
Morris, who now has cancer and whose husband suffers from dementia, calls for care to address patients’ depression, instead of presenting assisted suicide as medical care. She writes, “Everyone’s experience with terminal illness is unique, but based on my experience with my husband, suicide is not the answer. Legalizing assisted suicide via a lethal legal overdose sends a message: some lives are not worth living, namely the lives of people with terminal illness and disability.”
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