Suicide and Euthanasia

Given the recent post on suicide rates over time and how its changed over various presidential administrations, Reader Dan finds this presentation (warning – PDF file). Its worth a look. Here are its conclusions:

Suicide rates declined over the 20-year period.
• The decline was led largely by declines in firearm
• Elder and youth suicide rates have declined;
suicide among the middle-aged has not.
• Declines have been strongest among Black,
Hispanic, and Asian Americans.
• The declines of the 1990s have stalled or reversed
in the early 2000s for all age groups except elders.
• Recent increases are largely among suffocation suicides.

Not that I’m contemplating suicide myself or anything, but it seems to me that suffocation has got to be one of the least pleasant ways to go.

Unfortunately, many of us will end up going that way – suicide by suffocation… but it won’t make the suicide figures. By that I mean… many of us have medical directives (and have spoken to our loved ones) that if we’re in a vegetative state, we aren’t to be resuscitated and no extraordinary procedures are to be used to keep us alive. Many would pick euthanasia in those circumstances, if given a choice, but the choice doesn’t exist – in large part because people who talk a lot about how important it is for the government to stay out of people’s business seem to think its important for the government to meddle in the most important business a person has. So the choice we’re allowed is whether to linger for a very long time and die in a very undignified fashion, or to linger for a few days and die in a very undignified fashion.

I remember some years back when my grandmother, after years of failing health, was slowly dying in the hospital. On top of it all, she had Alzheimer’s disease, and hadn’t been herself for several years. (On the one or two occasions over the past few years where she had been lucid if only for a moment, her disgust over the Alzheimer’s was palpable.) So she was in a hospital, with tubes down her throat, in pain and discomfort.

My grandfather (they had been married almost 75 years) couldn’t bear the idea of letting her go, and insisted that doctors do everything they could to keep her alive. My mother and my aunt (the two children of that marriage) begged him to let her die – the pain she was in obvious, and heartbreaking.

Finally, my sister spoke to my grandfather. My sister, who had undergone heart surgery several times knew what it was like to have a tube down her throat. She explained that even under sedation, even unconscious, you feel that tube. The tube is un-natural, and every instinct you have is to get that tube out, to claw it out if you have to. But you can’t, because you can’t move.

My sister told him – “You are condemning her to the worst feeling you can impose on her for as long as she lives. Its not like she’s in surgery or recovering from something, in which case it would be justified. She’s never going to come out of this.”

I’m happy to report that my grandfather agreed to have the tube removed. Bad as the choice was – allowing my grandmother to starve or suffocate, whichever came first – the alternative was worse, but those were the only choices the government would allow.