The gift of death
Current and past cinematic pieces covering end of life issues, such as “Plan 75,” are making their way back into cultural and political conversations. Regardless of belief in an “afterlife,” death and suffering are concepts most humans struggle to grasp.
Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering, and generally also includes assisted suicide or assisted dying. Euthanasia was legalized less than two weeks ago in Portugal. Canada is set to loosen their standards surrounding the procedure in 2024 and Spain recently upheld its euthanasia law. Versions are in effect in 10 out of 50 U.S. states, and pending in the New York state Legislature since 2015 as Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) (A995, S2445).
Countless individuals are riddled by seemingly irreversible chronic pain, illness, disease and disability. Some believe the costs of life outweigh the benefits for themselves, their families and communities, daily donating money, time and energy at large inconvenience.
However, there is a growing movement that embraces peaceful solutions for personal and societal harms, no matter how difficult or tragic. Non-violent advocates recognize age, infirmity and disability as gifts, laden with opportunities to forge and enjoy enhanced connections and interpersonal relationships with all those around them.
Another euthanasia-related mainstream film, “Me Before You,” was met with an uproar of criticism from the disabled community. Representatives claimed that the film promotes the notion that “disability is tragedy, and disabled people are better off dead.”
The relevant question is: Does an increase in suffering equal a decrease in value? I saw first-hand the beauty of embracing suffering and natural death while watching my parents, aunts and uncles give basic care, with patience and gentleness, to their beloved mother, even when severe Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia made them unrecognizable to her. They came together to affirm her intrinsic dignity and to return love to the woman they depended on as children.
In a different light, natural death need not be a burden, but a gift and an opportunity for loved ones to give of themselves.
Not everyone has support or loving, kind and thoughtful families. Advocates of non-violence understand this and support services for families wrought with pain. For example, a bill that aims to provide better support for those with life-threatening illness is currently pending in our state legislature and deserves support regardless of political affiliation.
Sadly, the MAID bills, also currently pending, smothers suffering’s potential redemptive richness, most poignantly for those vulnerable to exploitation.
MAID allows for “mentally competent terminally ill” people, beginning at age 18, to request and consume deadly medication that will end their lives. While MAID forbids calling death by MAID a “suicide,” “assisted suicide” or “mercy killing,” it involves the intentional taking of life.
Powerful evidence from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre depicts the total number of suicides rising significantly where euthanasia is legal, especially impacting older women. Suicide is a leading cause of death in states were MAID is legal, including Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana where suicide is a leading cause of death, including among youth.
A burgeoning body of research demonstrates that a significant portion of terminally ill patients consider themselves a burden to family and others, a relevant factor in making death-hastening decisions.
Gallup polling demonstrates that support for euthanasia is declining. Numerous professional associations and organizations oppose euthanasia, including, American Medical Association, World Medical Association, and American Association of People with Disabilities.
Progressive societies promote life-affirming solutions, not the violent destruction of human life. What will come of our society if inconvenience becomes a death sentence?
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Emily Cappello is the operations manager and outreach coordinator for Feminists Choosing Life of New York in Rochester, which describes itself as a statewide human rights coalition.