The year is 2029. After discussing schedules, I've picked early afternoon April 28 as my day. That works for most of us. My wife will have returned from her conference. My sisters can fly in after their dance recital. My brother rescheduled his interviews.
Cousins can drive in from the coast. Some nieces and nephews can't make it, but that's all right. They're busy. Dr. Landis assured us it would be brief. I'll just take the pill the good doc gives me and fall quickly asleep, peacefully, forever. No pain. I'm doing what's right. It is better for all of us.
As we face dying's three dreads — pain, abandonment, helplessness — what is the practical allure of physician-assisted suicide?
How about efficiency and convenience? It is quick and painless.
Compared to the gauntlet of procedures, specialists, and institutional relocations, dying sooner and at home clearly saves money. We can also accommodate busy schedules. Time is money, and we are hard-pressed for both.
Our state Legislature will at some point revisit whether to legalize assisted suicide, more generously called "physician-aid-in-dying." But rather than tackle arguments for and against, permit me instead to lay out a future scenario. Once we legalize physician-assisted suicide — and I believe we will — this will, over time, radically alter how we think about dying.
To peek into this not-too-distant future, look at ourselves. Now. How we are, socially and culturally, will have an great impact on how we are in the future. As a society, what do we now value as uppermost?
First, ours is a culture of self-absorption. Driven by our private desires, we worship the golden calf of "me." And as we inhabit our screens in isolation, desperately desiring to "connect," we ignore flesh-and-blood interdependency.
Utter dependency, helplessness, when dying, therefore, is taboo. Moreover, throughout our "short-term loan from death," Arthur Schopenhauer's idiom for life, we are slaves to the clock. As our tasks stretch way beyond our reach, we snatch the quick-fix bait. When it comes to dying, the sooner the better. Especially as we undergo economic distress. Within a straightforward cost-benefit calculus, a quick death is cheaper.
Given this social landscape of desire and desperation, physician-assisted suicide will morph from being allowed, to accepted, to expected. Whatever their moral dispositions, physicians already face institutional pressure to lower costs. The same is true for families. Socially sanctioning physician-assisted suicide may emancipate family members from those hidden whispers in their hearts to "get on with it, quickly."
Hospice and palliative care will still be options. Yet, one of the many lessons dying patients have taught me is that, in their dying, they are especially attuned to others' presence, feelings, and anticipations, particularly from family. Hofstra University philosopher Patricia Mann forecasts a similar scenario with a tidy analogy. Just as we now delicately suggest assisted living to our aged parent, we may in time also tenderly hint at physician-assisted suicides.
In our death-denying culture, would all this signal a turning point in which we finally come to terms with death?
I doubt it. Transforming the moral context of caring into one of convenience further intensifies avoiding the unavoidable. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide may enable us to better accept a certain way of dying, timed and controlled. Yet it will neither penetrate nor mend our deeper, root issue — how we view death itself, our ultimate necessity and mystery.
Timing matters. Are we mature enough as a society to embrace the social implications of physician-assisted suicide?
The immediate personal consequences — alleviating intractable suffering and upholding self-determination and personal dignity — are all good things. But in view of our prevailing social values, consider the long-term outcome, the not-so-brave new world our generations will inhabit when we will be pressured as to how and when we honorably bow and step off the stage.
To see more of Dr. Brannigan's work, go to http://www.timesunion.com/brannigan.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.
|Tweet||0 comments | Topics: Bioethics in the Media, Doctor-Patient Relationships, End of Life Care, Ethics and Morality, Patient Autonomy|
SEARCH BIOETHICS TODAY
SUBSCRIBE TO BIOETHICS TODAY
ABOUT BIOETHICS TODAY
BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.