My concern with the legalization of assisted suicide is the psychological impact on the rest of society. I am writing from my personal experience.
I have dealt with depression for almost 50 of my 63 years. I have been suicidal on numerous occasions and at one point, within the past ten years, I experienced active suicidal ideation for a continuous six-month period almost 24 hours per day. I even carried a knife in my handbag, just waiting for the right moment to stab myself.
When I learned of the assisted suicide story of the Canadian woman who went to Switzerland, I personally heard the message that my life was not worth living. That assisted suicide death gave me the message that when things get really bad and there doesn’t seem to be any hope, I should give up my struggle. Being actively suicidal is often a terminal illness.
I have been struggling during the past 35 years, in particular, through multiple varieties of therapy and medication and through hospitalizations.
Adults are role models. No amount of denial will change that fact of human nature. Children imitate what they see their parents, teachers, idols and even their peers doing.
I am a parent and I want to show my children that one can grow through the struggle. I watched my own parents leading very unhappy lives and living in an unhappy marriage. They were not good role models for me, but I also understand that they tried their best, in spite of their limitations. My father was diagnosed with a ‘nervous disorder’ in the 1950’s and was treated with barbiturates. Looking back, I can see that he was seriously depressed much of the time and he was unable to work because of his illness. My mother’s depression was never diagnosed, nor acknowledged by anyone, but I saw her endless tears. When one is ill or depressed, one is very often also angry, even if the anger is involuntary, and I witnessed for many years my parents’ anger, especially towards each other. My own depression developed in my early teenage years and I modeled my parents’ anger during the next decades of my life.
I am a role model for my children, even though they are now adults. I have warned them of the strong family history of depression and that they should be alert to its signs and symptoms in themselves, in order to get help early. I want my children to see and believe that life involves struggle, pain, grief, illness and growing old. I need to grow old with dignity and even with joy, just to prove to my children that it is possible to do so. I want them to grieve for me at my natural death. If I were to die by my own hand or with the intentional involvement of someone else, I know that my children would have a much more difficult time not taking their own lives when facing a serious trial in life.
With the prevalence of suicide in our society, especially among the young, how can we endorse this truly devastating role-modeling of assisted suicide? How can we dare to call it anything other than suicide?
The idea of “dying with dignity” is being deliberately presented in a romantic manner to the public, as suggested by the image of a person dying in the arms of a loving spouse. Those who are contemplating suicide are most often very depressed, feeling hopeless, alone, isolated, and often unloved.
When the suicidal thoughts overtake me, I feel completely alone, unable to communicate, I lose any sense of personal identity and I want to scream from the severity of the mental pain.
The image of dying in the arms of one who loves you is very painful to behold by one who is suicidal and feeling unloved, and increases their feelings of worthlessness. If someone wants to die who is loved, how much more does one want to die who is not loved.
Those with serious depression and suicidal tendencies need encouragement to live and grow into healthier attitudes. They do not need societal inducement to give it all up. Unfortunately, they are also usually unable to speak publicly on their own behalf.
Patricia Russo writes for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.