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Suicide is painless, or should be

Normally, here at “I’m With Stupid,” we make a point of avoiding deeper issues such as politics and murder and war and so forth. Sure, politicians and murderers and wars are generally pretty stupid, but they’re usually not terribly funny, so they don’t make for the most entertaining column fodder. Every once in a while, though, a story comes along that demands some sort of comment, regardless of how contentious an issue it might involve.

Such was the case last week with a widely reported story about a British couple who passed away at a voluntary euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. The couple, Peter and Penelope Duff, were both suffering from terminal cancer and made the decision to end their lives in what they considered a dignified manner. Unfortunately, as England doesn’t allow that sort of thing, they had to travel to Switzerland to do so.

This is an issue that has confounded me ever since the days of Dr. Kevorkian and his so-called “death machine.” I find it very strange that when our pets get old and sick and have to deal with pain every day, we put them to sleep because it’s the humane thing to do, yet when humans are in the same state we demand that they stay alive as long as possible for no other reason than to keep them alive.

I realize this is an issue that evokes strong feelings on both sides, particularly among people who think that all life should be protected, whatever the physical, mental and financial costs may be. I accept that those people’s hearts are in the right place, but I think they’re overlooking one very important question, which is: Why should their opinions matter at all in cases like this?

If you have terminal cancer, and you’re in a great deal of pain and just want the pain to stop, I would imagine the last thing you would worry about would be appeasing the folks who think you should suck it up and deal with it until the pain finally kills you. I know some may disagree with me, but that just strikes me as a sick, twisted form of sado-masochism. Why would anyone want to put up with that?

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins with the following passage: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Given that, I find it impossible to justify the “stay alive until you die” position.

If every person has the right to their own life, I take that to mean that you can do what you want with your life, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. And as far as the pursuit of happiness is concerned, if you’re in pain every waking minute and you’d be happier if you were dead, you should be allowed to pursue that option.

The final unalienable right, liberty, is the one that has always tripped me up, because, to be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I had a pretty good idea; I’m not a complete moron. But I was never sure how liberty differed from freedom, so I looked it up.

Dictionary.com had the following No. 1 among its nine definitions of liberty: “Freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” Definition No. 3 had this to add: “Power of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.” So right there, again, I can’t see how someone can arbitrarily dictate how someone else should be allowed to end their own life. That seems awfully despotic to me.

The really idiotic part of the debate, as far as I’m concerned, is the argument that if euthanasia were legal, old people would be pressured into doing it. Phyllis Bowman, executive director of the anti-euthanasia group Right to Life, had this to say in the wake of the Duffs’ decision: “I think that with the euthanasia lobby, they feed on despair and encourage despair rather than hope.”

I’m not sure what hope we’re supposed to encourage in people with terminal cancer, but for Ms. Bowman to claim that anyone is encouraging despair is ludicrous. There is no euthanasia “lobby,” Phyllis. Nobody other than perhaps Blue Öyster Cult is pressuring people to commit suicide. There just happen to be a lot of people who feel that if you decide suicide is your only option, you should be able to do it in a way that is dignified and, yes, painless.

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Todd Hartley

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