Can we choose our own death and still protect the vulnerable?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know what we need to do to make it even possible.

There was a powerful article in the paper last week which described the author’s involvement in the death of a number of people over the years, who (according to the author) sought his help to end their lives. It was heartfelt I believe and made gripping reading. Especially since it ended with the author’s own journey to Switzerland to end his life.

I’ve been reflecting on this issue quite a bit over the years and I still can’t figure out how the hell to deal with the right of people to a dignified death within their own control and our failure to provide appropriate care that would make such a decision unnecessary in most cases.

I recognize that pain or other factors, especially impending death via suffering would make many want to end their lives. I can even imagine that for myself. But I also see cases like the Tracy Latimer case or the one this week of Cynara Ali where the vulnerable were killed by their caregivers. I am also aware of our failures to provide sufficient palliative care, mental health support, and even pain relief for the dying.

I can’t help but think of the situation of institutionalized care for mental health. It was terrible. It was a mess. We all agreed that care in the community was better than institutions, so we closed the institutions.  But we then failed to provide meaningful care in the community even though it would have been cheaper than what we were doing before. We now have an ongoing and terrible situation in mental health care.

Similarly, we closed the institutions where so many vulnerable and disabled people were warehoused and too often abused. Again, this is good, but we failed again to provide adequate supports to families and schools and communities. It has become a different way of not including and valuing everyone.

Opening the door to assisted dying without dealing with many of the issues that lead people to want such a thing is rather like Logan’s Run or any other dystopian world where the old and inconvenient are expected to put an end to themselves or allow others to do it.

Let us care for each other as best we can and ensure the systems we build serve us, rather than fail us. Let’s keep assisted dying a truly last resort, not an excuse for society to claim it cares for the suffering.