TRIGGER WARNING: HEAVILY DETAILED TALK OF SUICIDE AND SUFFERING
I proudly support assisted suicide as an option for end of life care. It’s an important part of bodily autonomy. I can not mentally justify taking that option away and forcing someone to suffer needlessly to suffice some whim of living exceptionalism.
I want to talk about how assisted suicide as a whole is viewed, some ways we currently handle terminally ill individuals, and why assisted suicide is important, ethical and compassionate.
There are many areas of the world, including a good portion of the U.S., where assisted suicide is looked upon like some sort of deformed beast. A monster to be held back and slain as quickly as possible. It’s evil and reckless! It’s immoral! It makes doctors death dealers instead of healers!
It isn’t any of those things, and it doesn’t make doctors death dealers. It allows them to more compassionately care for their patient to the end, which is what they are supposed to do.
Instead, something we do currently allow is “pulling the plug.”
There are multiple things that this statement covers, and it is extremely important to note that while, on a larger public scale this is definitely considered acceptable, there is considerable debate amongst physicians and ethics boards with any of these methods.
This pull the plug idea of course stems from the want to not prolong their suffering, and as an idea is noble enough, that’s where the push to legalize assisted suicide comes in but…
If a person needs mechanical ventilation, and the decision is made to stop the ventilation, they fucking suffocate. Regardless of if they can feel it or not, it still bothers me that this is considered acceptable.
If a person requires a feeding tube, and you take it out, they get to die of either dehydration or starvation. Again, though they may not be able to feel this, why the hell is this considered acceptable by the population as a whole?
The best available way to help people who are suffering chronic pain as the approach their death is to keep them comfortable with pain medications. Well, I can tell you after a good dose of Percocet when I got my wisdom teeth pulled – I was high out of my mind. Everything was a haze and there wasn’t much functioning with anyone. I can’t even imagine the power of those drugs.
And yet, assisted suicide is considered terrible! I can’t understand this…
There’s another, even more concerning point though. This is the giant elephant in the room that so many people are unwilling to talk about: when you take away someone’s ability to do something safely, then if they are desperate enough, they are going to do it in an unsafe fashion.
Heads up sunshines. This is taking an even darker turn. This is where we start talking about “traditional” suicide methods. Please keep yourself safe.
There’s a myriad of reasons why one might consider suicide, but for the sake of this post, I am omitting mental health reasons. The ways in which people kill themselves isn’t pleasant, we all know this to one extent or another, but I think those that survive, but don’t come out unscathed are glossed over. I don’t know how many times I’ve read or heard “at least they survived.” That’s not always true though. With assisted suicide, you don’t really have maiming side effects.
Some of the reasons “at least they survived” can be a very untrue statement:
Guns – Though the failure rate is small, it’s still there. Which often leads to a comatose or vegetative state, slight to severe deformity, constant headaches, being left with an intellectual disability, paralysis, brain infection and more.
Pills – They have a massive failure rate that often ends up with little short or long term side effects, but there are still many times that lead to things like stomach pumping and side effects such as: extreme physical pain, puking your brains well past dehydration, hallucinations, panic attacks, blindness, hearing loss, destruction of the kidneys, liver, stomach, bladder, and GI tract, internal hemorrhaging, and many other pleasantries.
Blade to wrist – The failure rate on this is incredibly high as well. Side effects include: Severe pain, loss of sensation in wrists and/or arms, partial to full loss of use of the hands and/or arms (understand that you cut through tendons when you do this.), large scars, constant pain, infection at the wound site.
There are many other ways that people commit suicide, and all of them include lots of pain.
So now that we’ve gotten the most disturbing part of this out of the way, let’s talk specifically about assisted suicide and why it is a compassionate thing to do, and not a terrible thing.
Assisted suicide is done by using several different chemicals, but I want to talk about seconal sodium, otherwise known as secobarbital, which is most often used in Oregon. it is prescribed at roughly 100 times the amount that you would normally take. It very quickly induces sleep and death comes in about 25 minutes.
Let’s look at the side effects and understand what it does and can do, because, as with every thing else in the entire fucking world it is not 100% safe, nor is it 100% effective (though it’s pretty damn close)
note: I did indeed link to WebMD as a source for the side effects. I also linked to drugs.com. I understand that WebMD is where cancer’s the answer, and the bane of doctor’s existences, but they do have pretty good information about the various drugs that are out there, just don’t look up what your headache might be.
Side effects can include: mental/mood changes (such as agitation, confusion, depression, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, nightmares), slurred speech, staggering walk/clumsiness, double vision, memory problems, fainting, dizziness, excitation, headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
Sometimes people sleepwalk, cook, eat, call, drive and some people even play a round of find the genitals, all while totally unconscious.
There’s also the sides that are most important to this talk: slow/shallow breathing, slow heartbeat, sleepiness, and trouble waking up. These are the things that people are counting on when they utilize this end of life method.
Finally, there is also nausea and vomiting, which is really important to know about, because it’s never good if you take a bunch of medication and puke it all up. Doctors generally prescribe an anti-emetic (in non-science, the don’t puke your brains out pill) along with the prescribed dose of secobarbital.
This is also one of the same drugs used in lethal injections and animal euthanasia, so there is quite a bit of background for it’s use for this purpose.
It’s not necessarily entirely painless. There are reports of a burning sensation across the entire body after taking it, which definitely sounds like it sucks.
There is also some serious debate over how humane it is (this is talking about pentobarbital, but this debate covers barbiturates for assisted suicide, period.) There’s also, of course, ethical debates amongst physicians and pharmacists, with no shortage of voices on either side.
At the end of the day, the debate is not settled, and while I absolutely think that assisted suicide should be an available option, I do think that this debate is very reasonable and necessary.
What do you think about assisted suicide? Are you for it? Why or why not?