Suicide is Never Painless

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on March 27, 2015

“One day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying.”

These jarring words come from the open letter a woman named Kara Tippetts wrote to Brittany Maynard, the young woman suffering with brain cancer who ended her life late last year in Oregon, where medically assisted suicide is legal. Tippets was dying of cancer, too. But she wasn’t moving from Colorado to Oregon in order to legally kill herself, as Maynard did. She was fighting to live every last breath she could muster with her family and friends around her.

Many of the people who oppose assisted suicide and who care for the weakest and most vulnerable and overlooked — the sick, the handicapped, the elderly, the poor — were called to their work by the dictates of their faith. But religion does not have to be your reason to say no to suicide. Solidarity with all who suffer might be one reason; vigilant protection of the vulnerable might be another. It’s not just those of deep religious faith who are sounding alarms about our growing culture of death.

Tippets died on March 22, just days before Maynard would posthumously testify, in the California statehouse via a video that assisted-suicide activists had made before her death, in favor of legislation that would bring assisted suicide to the Golden State.

But is more suicide something we really need?

Suicide is a “public-health crisis” in the United States, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, wrote recently. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults and the 10th leading cause of death overall for individuals over the age of 10,” his article for the Catholic journal First Things stated.

Kheriaty points out that in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, suicide rates are now 35 percent higher than the national average.

“Refusing to legitimate suicide helps those in need,” Dr. Kheriaty writes. “The practice of physician-assisted suicide — by whatever name one calls it — sends a message that some lives are not worth living … this message will be heard by everyone who is afflicted by suicidal thoughts or tendencies.”

He’s also worried that legal assisted suicide won’t stop at only “mercy” for the terminally ill. He refers to a “relentlessly logical slide from a cancer patient with six months to live to people who are merely unhappy, demoralized, dejected, depressed, or desperate.” This trend has been seen in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium.

Ryan T. Anderson, in a paper for the Heritage Foundation, agrees. Medically assisted suicide “corrupts the practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship,” he writes. “Human life need not be extended by every medical means possible, but a person should never be intentionally killed. Doctors may help their patients to die a dignified death from natural causes, but they should not kill their patients or help them to kill themselves.”

In her letter to Brittany Maynard, Tippets illustrated the opportunities that suicide erases: “In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with … such tenderness … the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.”

It’s interesting that Tippets used the word “tenderness.” I’m not the first to quote Flannery O’Connor in this context: “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and the fumes of the gas chamber.”

Assisted suicide is under consideration in about 20 places around the country now (including Washington, D.C.). Dr. Kheriaty points out: “Suicidal individuals typically do not want to die; they want to escape what they perceive as intolerable suffering.” He adds: “When comfort or relief is offered, in the form of more-adequate treatment for depression, better pain management, or more-comprehensive palliative care, the desire for suicide wanes.” He then highlights that under Oregon’s assisted suicide law, “less than 6 percent of the 752 reported cases of individuals who have died by assisted suicide under Oregon’s law were referred for psychiatric evaluation prior to their death.”  This despite knowing “that the vast majority of suicides are associated with clinical depression or other treatable mental disorders.” He calls this “gross medical negligence.” And we’re considering making it mainstream.

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known,” Kara Tippetts wrote in her letter to Brittany Maynard. It would be good to carry out this debate with minds open to the possibilities that the mysteries of life bring with them, and with rigorous attention to ensuring that those who suffer have the support they need to live. Assisted suicide doesn’t leave room for regrets.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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COPYRIGHT 2015 United Feature Syndicate

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