I recently saw Me Before You, the film adaption of Jojo Moyes book of the same name. Having not previously read the book, I was not prepared for the direction that the film took.
Assisted suicide is a major theme in the film. The final scenes show an unbelievable portrayal of the protagonist shopping in Paris, accepting the voluntary death of her paralysed caregiving client-cum-beloved partner.
Like most of the audience, I shed my fair amount of tears. But the ending of the film and the implications of assisted suicide lingered in my mind for days.
I acknowledge the reasoning behind the argument for assisted suicide. It's understandable that one would not want to suffer in great pain and discomfort before death, or to see loved ones endure drawn out end stages of life.
It's an awful reality that many of us are faced with. But does that mean that we should have the authority and ability to intervene in our already ordained number of days? Does it make it ok to help kill somebody, ending their life prematurely?
I read an interview in the weekend where a dying Australian woman voiced her regret that assisted suicide wasn't an option for her in Australia. She didn't believe that there were problems with the control of assisted suicide where it's already legal or that there would be if it was an option made more available.
The slippery slope argument
One of the problems with the case for assisted suicide though, is who would be eligible for it. "Incurable" and "chronic" are loose terms when it comes to illness. If we permit those suffering with advanced cancer to choose when to end their lives, soon we have individuals with a whole range of physical conditions to consider.
How do we measure suffering? And is suffering a reason to aid in the killing of another human? Is limited mobility a reason to die? Does memory loss make a life worthless? Are we of no use once we are not at our physical or mental 'peak'? What about friends and family left behind to grieve? Is their pain then reason enough for them to choose death too?
Here in New Zealand we have staggering suicide rates, particularly in males. Mental illness can be awfully painful and scary for those affected. The stigma around mental health only enhances the problem, with many suffering in isolation because of the shame we've created around the subject. The health care system is not providing these people with the support that they require, with too many hurting people falling through the cracks and resorting to suicide.
Suicide prevention is so crucial. We can educate our youth and our communities about mental health, but what message are we sending to those at risk of suicide when we provide assistance in the suicide of those with physical illness and disabilities?
We undo all that we achieve in our suicide prevention, going back on our word that life is precious and worth fighting for and that there are much better alternatives to choosing death.
Are depressed, anxious and mentally unstable individuals then also going to become candidates, when they argue that their illness is also incurable and the pain unbearable? What are we to do when discrimination becomes an issue in death?
There are so many reasons why assisted suicide would not be good for society, why it would be harmful. The question here is not just how do we maintain order and control, but how much value do we give life? Life given to us as a gift, once deemed sacred and now just considered an option.
Scarlett Jones resides by the seaside and loves reading, films, craft and quality time with friends and family.
Scarlett Jones' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/scarlett-jones.html