Who Gets to Choose?
If I were in bondage, and I begged to be released, would you be punished for setting me free? Would you tell me to wait until I accepted my fate or until my captor one day chooses to release me from my chains? If I freed myself, you would be safe from punishment, yet the process would have wounded me and left me in tatters. Think of how much simpler things would have been, how much less painful, if you gave me the key. There is no difference for a person feeling oppressed by their own circumstance, for the mind can hold chains that are far stronger than metal.
Choosing to die is not a split second decision; it is something that races through your mind maybe once or twice, then more and more frequently until the thought of death consumes you. Can you imagine being so incredibly hopeless that there seems to be no possibility of escaping the wretched weight of the minds’ aggressive attacks? The terminally ill are often in pain, and what right do we have to continuously subject our loved ones to daily torture in the effort to save just a few more days of their lives.
We are tricked by smiles and laughter. We are deceived into believing that a person is incapable of being both happy and miserable at the same time. Someone may feel pleasure while watching a movie or spending time exchanging witty banter with their friends, but that doesn’t mean that they are any better off when the lights are turned back on and the friends leave for the evening. The most crippling moments are those in private when the joy seems to fade from the air. Staring wide eyed and paralyzed at the ceiling, they dread the moment when their eyes open and the trials of the day await them.
We see our loved ones get up in the morning and go about their day. We don’t see the clockwork in their mind ticking away the time until the next bout of happiness may hit, or wondering whether or not that happiness may come at all. We watch the ill suffer in hopes that they can hang on until a cure is found. That hope both enlightens us and constrains us. We tell the ones we love to keep on moving forward, not necessarily for their benefit, but for ours. We don’t want our loved ones to die. We don’t want to imagine lives without them, but we must understand that at a certain point, those people are already gone. They have been replaced by doppelgangers, shrouded in misery, struggling to keep us believing that they are stronger than they feel.
If it comes to the point when a patient is begging for death, for release from the pain of existence, what is a parent, sibling, or lover to do? Keep the suffering bound in torture, or face the wrath of thousands of strangers who will forever judge them for letting their poor child kill themselves? These strangers believe they are upholding the standards of ethics as they accuse husbands of manslaughter after they’ve sat next to their wives and watched them take a drug that erases all of their pain. The prosecutors rarely have any relation to the deceased, yet they feel compelled to argue on their behalf. Do they not think that a parent, spouse, or sibling understands the desires of their loved ones the best?
If there is mutual consent among all parties, there is no one to blame. Poor widows are unable to grieve with mobs gathered around their doors threatening them with threats and handcuffs. Suicide itself used to be considered a noble sacrifice, a preferable death to dying in battle or being held hostage, why have things changed so much? We criticize terminally ill people for cutting their suffering short and releasing themselves from the prisons of their own minds, and how is this different from what used to be thought of as “justifiable” sacrifice.
Death is by no means a good thing, however it can be preferable to a life of suffering. We need to decide as a community whether we want to scorn the dead for the way they ended their lives or appreciate the positive ways in which they lived.