Today Dr David Goodall will be assisted to take his own life in a clinic in Switzerland. David is not suffering a terminal illness, he is not in unbearable pain, he is simply old, and not able to work as he used to.
This is heart breaking. Looking from the outside it appears that David is suffering depression linked to his inability to continue to work as he had done up until two years ago. Now to be clear I am not a clinical psychologist, and my view from the outside is just that - however I do have significant experience with depression, both in a professional and personal context, and what I see is a man who is depressed and has simply given up.
David has received huge support from the community. Just looking at social media briefly soon gives a picture of around 70% support in my estimation. Why? Why are so many people in favour of David committing suicide?
It is because he is old. Over and over again I have seen comments which say things like 'he is 104, he has had a good life' 'he is 104, he has no quality of life', 'he is 104, he has achieved everything he wants to'... and so on...
Age appears to be the sole justification for David killing himself. So the question then becomes - when are we old enough to kill ourselves? What if he was only 90? What about 80? David himself said he believes that people should be able to legally commit suicide with assistance from '50 or 60'. As quoted in the Chicago Tribune:
"I am glad to arrive," Goodall said from a wheelchair. "The message I would like to send is: Once one passes the age of 50 or 60, one should be free to decide for oneself whether one wants to go on living or not."
Now, again from my outside perspective, what that statement tells me is that David may well have been suffering depression for a very long time - that he has needed help and support, for a very long time. It also shows the danger that is opened up with allowing assisted suicide for no reason other than someone deciding they have 'had enough'. If that is a justification for killing yourself then we might as well get rid of all anti-suicide schemes and just open it up - after all what about the 40 year old who has had enough? What about the 30 year old or 20 year old?
Think I am being ridiculous? Currently in Belgium people are able to commit legally assisted suicide because they are suffering depression and other mental health issues - from the age of 18. Children under 18 can commit legally assisted suicide if they have a terminal illness.
From the Washington Post:
In the 2014-2015 period, the report says, 124 of the 3,950 euthanasia cases in Belgium involved persons diagnosed with a “mental and behavioral disorder,” four more than in the previous two years...
Nothing to see here... slippery slope arguments are nonsense remember...
Then of course we have the freedom brigade who declare that it is a fundamental human right for people to choose when and how they die - so that they can die with 'dignity'. Of course this statement is made only by (unconsciously?) deciding that those who are suffering illness, or even the elderly don't have dignity, and thus the only way for them to gain it is through killing themselves. Once they are dead - then they will have dignity again...
This is an appalling view to take. Every single human being on this planet from conception on has the dignity of being made in the image of God. They have the dignity that demands we do everything we can to help them live their lives as best they can. They have the dignity that demands that when they are suffering, that they are given all the care, compassion and support that they need. They have the dignity that says when they are suicidal, we uphold them and tell them that they are valuable, that they are loved, that even in their suffering they have dignity and worth.
What we should not do is say to someone, 'oh your in pain? Well instead of doing everything we can to help and support you, why don't you just die now?' As if dying will somehow restore their 'dignity'. There is no dignity in suicide. It is heartbreaking, it is a tragedy, and we should do all we can to save people from it.
You will note that I have continually used the term suicide, and assisted suicide throughout this piece. I do so intentionally. That is what we are talking about here - and I refuse to use the watered down and desensitising language that others do around this issue.
Instead of lauding suicide as the answer to suffering, and in the case of Dr Goodall, simply old age, let us instead value people in such a way that they are shown that they have dignity, even in suffering, even in heart break, even in old age. Let us show care and compassion through funding adequate palliative care and support. Let us show compassion and that we value peoples dignity through adequate aged care support, and let us show we value the dignity of all by providing proper mental health care.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please speak to someone to get help. No matter what you are facing, you are deeply valued, deeply loved and you have dignity worth saving. You can speak to your GP, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.