I recently watched an episode of House in which there was the following dialogue:
Patient: I just want to die with a little dignity.
House: There’s not such thing! Our bodies break down, sometimes when we are 90 sometimes before we are even born and there’s never any dignity in it. I don’t care if you can walk, see or wipe your own ass, its always ugly, always! We can live with dignity, we can’t die with it.
I loved this quote and immediately wrote it down when I watched the show. Maybe House was right. Maybe he was on to something. (Don’t worry, I realize he is just a character on tv but I hope you follow.)
I have long held the belief that a person’s right to die is a fundamental right. I am not ‘pro-suicide’ but i am pro-choice to borrow the language of another controversial movement. Why are we so adamant that people live? Every single day of my life I hear people complain about their jobs, other people, the state of the world, and every other thing you can imagine.
Recently a friend shared the story of her father’s suicide and the impact it had on her family. It was a tragic story by all accounts. Britain recently relaxed their laws on the prosecution of those who assist someone in ending their life.
As a Michigan resident I grew up watching Jack Kevorkian be demonized in the media. At one point he was known as ‘death’s angel”.
As a Muslim I believe it is wrong to kill yourself insofar as you believe in God and His message and His orders to us. So, fundamentally I probably shouldn’t be writing this post or spend so much time entertaining these thoughts. But I want to write about it because it begs a larger social issue. Why do we hold the beliefs that we do? How come we ‘value’ life in only such a superficial way? There are conservatives who are staunchly opposed to abortion but then won’t support welfare programs to support low income families and single mothers. They insist that they value life but it is a weak argument when you don’t value helping that same life after birth.
From an article I wrote for our law school newspaper. It illustrates some of my views on this subject:
As I listened to the speakers at the Law Review Symposium, as much as I tried, I couldn’t understand why the state or the federal government has the authority to dictate whether an individual has a right to seek assistance in taking his own life. Perhaps some of you are reading this and have lost a friend or family member to suicide and such a proposition is offensive. That is because we are standing on the side that wants life.
But there are those who are standing on the other side, who have continuous struggles that amount to a sustained desire not to live. They are the ones that parents find dead, and those are the ones that we hear about on the six o’clock news; having driven off the road killing themselves and others. As grotesque a picture as that may be, it is the reality we have created. Ignoring that suicide is a reality in this country and the world, in this age and the ages before it, is turning a blind eye to a serious social issue. Creating a systemized assisted suicide program may be one way of addressing it.
The word dignity was often used at the symposium, and perhaps we don’t want the government to say it is permissible to help someone take his own life because it undermines our conception of the dignity of human life. When we strip individual’s of the autonomy to make personal choices that are best for them, and when the government steps in and dictates morality, that is the true assault on dignity. Just as the symposium could not begin to scratch the surface of the right to an assisted death in the case of terminally ill patients, this note cannot begin to address the various considerations and implications of federally regulated assisted suicide. Instead, as we reflect on the ten-year anniversary of Washington v. Glucksberg I invite you to consider that the choices that are best for you are not those that are the best for everyone and the truths that we take as apparent today were not always so clear.