The Delaware Legislature recently passed suicide prevention legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Baumbach. Of course, this measure had unanimous support, as suicide is always a tragedy. But this begs a question about another piece of legislation Rep. Baumbach also sponsored: H.B. 150. This bill did not prevent suicide- it would have assisted with suicide.
Such blatant hypocrisy is common and clear with assisted suicide. When Brittany Maynard decided to kill herself, Compassion and Choices encouraged people to send a sent card to support her choice to commit suicide. But in a recent case, a 17-year-old is being charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging another teenager suffering from depression to kill himself. Who do we talk down off the ledge and who do we support in their supposedly courageous choice?
Suicide is always a tragedy, regardless of circumstance. At the very least, suicide is a sign that something is very wrong, that there is some fate perceived to be worse than death compelling person eschew all the basic instincts for survival in order to escape it. As a society, we protect those that want to harm themselves. We invest in suicide prevention programs, offer counseling and even medication if needed to help alleviate the circumstances that drive people to self-destruction. Our natural inclination is to talk people down from the ledge.
Assisted suicide is a direct affront to this human instinct, requiring that others not only approve a person’s choice to kill themselves- but help them do so. Rather than talking the suicidal person down from the ledge, assisted suicide involves helping them out to the edge so they can jump. This is a thought so abhorrent and inconceivable that euthanasia advocates have gone to excessive lengths to rationalize assisted suicide.
Polling shows that support for assisted suicide can drop by 20 points simply by reminding people that taking a lethal dose of poison to kill oneself is still suicide. To quell the cognitive dissonance created by supporting assisted suicide (while still opposing suicide in general), euthanasia advocates coined the phrase “aid in dying” that presents overdosing on drugs used to execute prisoners something other than suicide. Then they concocted this justification: it’s not suicide as long as a person has a life expectancy of no more than six months.
The justifications created to condone suicide for the terminally ill are rife with illogical conditions that will certainly be challenged to permit legal suicide in other cases. What is supposedly not suicide within six months of death would be suicide at seven months, although the act and motivation are the same. This arbitrary six-month time frame that somehow transforms suicide into “aid in dying” could be challenged on its absurdity to permit suicide for the chronically ill. And some could argue that the terminal diagnosis itself is arbitrary. They could suggest that while the terminally ill can choose death to avoid living no more than six months with their physical illness, those with mental illnesses should have the option of suicide to avoid years with their affliction. This double standard can only be remedied by rejecting suicide as an option for some or embracing it for all.
Society will likely never embrace euthanasia on demand since it affronts our instinctual aversion to self-destruction, yet opening the door to suicide for some People Magazine celebrates the one person with the physical illness who took her life as a courageous advocate of “aid in dying” and grieves the one with the mental illness as a tragedy, a victim of suicide who should have been saved from himself. In fact, that article on the suicide of the late comedian Robin Williams even concludes with an appeal for those contemplating suicide to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
After heated debate in committee, Delaware’s assisted suicide bill H.B. 150 was tabled at Rep. Baumbach’s request while he prepares to introduce legislation to form a task force that will examine broader end-of-life issues. Given Delaware’s commitment to prevent suicide for those without a life-ending prognosis, legislators will have an opportunity to affirm that the lives of the ill are equal and worthy of protection to those without terminal disease. To achieve equality, society either allows suicide for all or determines all life has value. Otherwise, Delaware embraces a dangerous double-standard that declares the most vulnerable people to be disposable, second-class citizens when some get talked down from the ledge—and others get a push.