NRL News

The not-so-subtle coercions that surround “assisted suicide”

by | Nov 1, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

“My problem, ultimately, is this: I’ve lived so close to death for so long that I know how thin and porous the border between coercion and free choice is, how easy it is for someone to inadvertently influence you to feel devalued and hopeless — to pressure you ever so slightly but decidedly into being ‘reasonable,’ to unburdening others, to ‘letting go.’”
             —  From “Suicide by Choice? Not so fast,” by Ben Mattlin which ran in Wednesday’s New York Times.

It’s been my privilege to read literally hundreds of different op-eds, policy statements, and advocacy pieces–some pro, mostly con—about the impending vote on Ballot Question 2, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On November 6th we will know whether Massachusetts joins Oregon and Washington in explicitly recognizing that an “alternative” role for doctors  is to “help” people kill themselves.

As is typically the case, the early numbers were heavily in favor. And—as it typically the case—the advantage enjoyed by proponents is shrinking, as measured by polls. (See But whether that momentum is enough to defeat Question 2 is still very much in doubt.

Ben Mattlin, author of “Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity,” has written as persuasive a case against “assisted suicide” as you are likely to read.

He survived being born with spinal muscular atrophy. “I’ve never walked or stood or had much use of my hands,” he writes. “Roughly half the babies who exhibit symptoms as I did don’t live past age 2. Not only did I survive, but the progression of my disease slowed dramatically when I was about 6 years’ old, astounding doctors. Today, at nearly 50, I’m a husband, father, journalist and author.”

But he has grown progressively weaker (“fragile”). “No longer able to hold a pencil, I’m writing this with a voice-controlled computer,” Battlin explains. “Every swallow of food, sometimes every breath, can become a battle. And a few years ago, when a surgical blunder put me into a coma from septic shock, the doctors seriously questioned whether it was worth trying to extend my life. My existence seemed pretty tenuous anyway, they figured. They didn’t know about my family, my career, my aspirations.”

I don’t want to spoil what is a real eye-opener, so let me end with this.

Over the last couple of years I have been around medically fragile people, one with advancing Alzheimer’s. I am not trying to turn physicians or support staff into cardboard villains when I say that over time they tend to get REAL tired of people who don’t improve.

That’s why I so readily understood what Mattlin said he learned from that “surgical blunder”: just “how easy it is to be perceived as someone whose quality of life is untenable, even or perhaps especially by doctors.”

His explanation of what he calls the “many invisible forces of coercion” should be must reading for anyone who has the slightest doubts about “assisted suicide.”

Take five minutes of your time to read “Suicide by Choice? Not so fast” and pass it (and this story) along using Facebook and Twitter.

You’ll be glad you did.

Categories: Assisted Suicide