Should assisted suicide be an option for people in chronic, incurable pain?

The Dakota County attorney is seeking indictments against an organization that provides support to people who want to commit suicide because of incurable and chronic medical conditions. Today’s Question: Should assisted suicide be an option for people in chronic, incurable pain?

  • Laura Luce

    Yes, with well-informed consent of the person AND the family. Of all the freedoms we have in this country, why not the freedom to die if there is no hope of a cure for suffering? Looking into someone’s eyes and telling them that they will have to continue on for years in a state of awful misery is something no family should have to face without options.

  • Kurt

    And if the chronic incurable pain is mental?

  • We treat our animals with more dignity than we do ourselves.

  • Steve the Cynic

    I have three thoughts about this.

    1. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. In cases like the one described in the article, it’s hard to argue that a person should be compelled to continue to exist.

    2. But then, what do you say to a depressed teenager who, unable to imagine how life could ever bring any joy, asks, “It was good enough for Grandma, and I’m looking forward to even more years of suffering than she was.”

    3. Given that suicide is cheaper than good paliative care, and given the way our health care system is structured, family members who fear seeing their inheritance eaten up by medical and nursing home costs are tempted to say, “You know, Dad, you don’t have to suffer if you don’t want to….” We shouldn’t even be talking about a right to die until we recognize a right to medical care.

  • Jim G

    Yes. I don’t believe in torturing any of the God’s creatures.

  • KB

    Health care first, then, yes.

  • John

    I think people who cause chronic incurable pain should be helped to commit suicide, such as the too big to fail banksters.

  • Shana

    Steve: Doctors can tell the difference between teenaged angst and actual chronic pain. I see your point about pushy relatives, but it is true that a ridiculous proportion of healthcare funds are spent in the last year or so of life. We have come to the point where we can live past our bodies, and I’m not sure that’s reasonable.

    As someone who faces the possibility of untreatable worsening chronic pain, I can say for sure that I want the right to choose a humane death if it gets to the point that I can’t stand to live anymore. I do have good healthcare, and I’m doing everything in my power to prevent it getting to that degree, but there’s no guarantee.

  • GregX

    Without question it should be permitted but regulated. There needs to be competency and “public awareness” (ie the courts) so that police have a clear understanding that a death resulted from legal rights and directed wishes – instead of manipulated documents and hidden motives.

    Involving the courts does increase the cost – but surely this is far, far, far less then the cost of health care to prolong, from the prespective of the sufferer, a functionless and painful life.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Shana, you trivialize the issue when you refer to major clinical depression as “teenage angst.” The quotation in my earlier post was part of an imagined internal dialog. The teens I have known who have died by suicide didn’t consult with anyone, though plenty of help would have been available. If society shows by example that suicide is an approved and relatively easy way to escape the pain of life, whether physical or emotional, we make it easier for depressed teens to make that decision. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an option for mature adults who are really suffering, but there’s a danger if it becomes too common.

    And I still say we shouldn’t even be talking about a right to die until we acknowledge a right to health care.

  • suzie

    OK, maybe, but only between the person and his/her personal physician. Then a team of three other pysicians who are specialists in chronic, incurable pain. If they determinie that the pain cannot be eased with other medical intervention, then three phychiatrists who will hopefully be able to determine the full reasons for the person wanting to die and not just overly influenced by family pressure, etc. Who will administer the drugs to end a life – the physician or the person? Also will need laws exempting the physicians and phychiatrists from law suits brought on by family members.

    Major slippery slope issue.

  • Whitney

    I had an extended family member who had brain cancer, while performing the biopsy, the doctors accidentally damaged her brain leaving her paralyzed and unable to speak, there was nothing they could do for her, instead of “euthanizing” her they let her starve to death, how humane is that? We need to have a system in place so people can die with dignity and humanely.

  • First, I’d like to offer a reminder to people who have followed the debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia at all, that pro-assisted suicide groups ridiculed opponents when we said that the practices in Oregon were just a door-opener. That is, once the public accepted ‘helping’ terminally ill people commit suicide, the next move would be to push for acceptance in assisting suicides of nonterminally ill people. Here’s that slope – we were right.

    Second, Chronic pain is a complex issue and successfully living with it depends heavily on finding a physician or medical team that specialized in helping people cope. Unfortunately, there are way too many physicians who are not competent to treat chronic pain but don’t acknowledge they need to make a referral. It’s a sute bet the Final Exit Network didn’t try to find out just how competent and comprehensive this woman’s treatment was.

    Third, (to Chris) “we treat animals with more dignity”? You mean the ones we have put down because they’re peeing on the rug. The ones we put down because the treatable conditions they have are out of our price range? The ones we abandon to shelters because we can’t afford them, knowing that the shelter will just put them down after a week or two of crowded misery? Is that the kind of ‘dignity’ you’re talking about?

  • Steve the Cynic

    A better metaphor than the “slippery slope,” suzie, is the “two ditches.” A stance that is too far in either direction, either making it too easy or too hard, will produce a bad outcome.

  • Joe Schaedler

    Of course it should be allowed for people in chronic & incurable physical pain. To deny it to such folks is more cruel and thus immoral than to allow it.

    Should it also be allowed for people in chronic & incurable psychological pain? Perhaps someday, but only if new medical measurement standards can be developed to quantify psychological suffering first.

  • JasonB

    This is a terrible dilemma in which us healthy people are making decisions about people in a state of extreme physical discomfort and emotional strain, both beyond at least my comprehension. I do believe in easing that discomfort as much as possible. They should have whatever drugs or procedures are available for that.

    I think we’re in a transitional period of development regarding our attitudes on death and dying. Based on other societies we are moving closer to integrating “end of life” decisions into our healthcare plans. Whether that involves some form of suicide planning is unknown, but I hope we are gaining a more practical and true understanding of life in terms of value verses quality.

  • David Poretti

    Yes – assisted death should be a care option. However, there certainly needs to be safeguards.

    The conditions to meet before taking that option should be part of a Living Will. It makes no sense to condem someone to an existance of dibilitating chronic pain or a drug induced stupor, or to a level of incoherant dependance that only serves to prolong the collective suffering of the patient and the family. Currently, one can dictate a level of (non) care under a set of conditionsin their Living Will – if one can define care to include death by starvation or infection without medical care, why not assisted death, saving all involved the needless suffering that so often occurs.

  • Mags

    Okay, Steve the Cynic – since you have twice today asked for a ‘right to healthcare’, where are the doctors of tomorrow going to come from when they are signing up for the life of indentured servitude your ‘right’ is forcing them into?

    Rights are not something you take from someone else. Rights are guarantees that someone else can’t do something to you – that the government can’t take your property without due process, or force you to practice a particular religion, or keep you from expressing your opinion.

    You have the right to life; you have the right to liberty; you have the right to pursue happiness. Granting those rights to everyone doesn’t take those same rights from anyone else. The ‘right’ you’re discussing is the right to take from someone, who trained to practice medicine, the fruits of his labor. Rights don’t work that way. Rights don’t get reduced for some few by putting them in place for everyone.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Would you say Canadian doctors are “indentured servants,” Mags?

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    Yes. We euthanize suffering animals in the name of mercy. So, if a person, an adult of sound mind, is suffering severly, and modern medicine cannot ease the suffering, then a person should be able commit suicide, with assistance, if needed.

    A human is not fully free if he/she has no control over their life.

  • David

    Absolutely. To force a person to endure the pain and anguish of an incurable, debilitating and ultimately fatal illness is inhumane. It is particularly cruel to keep someone alive using expensive medical treatments, which can suck away a person’s lifetime of wealth just as surely as the disease itself can suck away that person’s life. I believe I have a right to choose to leave this world under such circumstances, for I believe there are in fact things worse than death in this world.

  • Ann

    Physical and emotional pain are both very difficult. It is very difficult to have hope when in pain. But sometimes things do change for a person.Sometimes I wonder how people continue, but most people do.There are many things a person can try, including unconventional things like acupuncture.I think it has been shown that people like Jack Kavorkian sometimes go beyond what is reasonable in assisting suicide.

  • Sandra

    Dakota County is out of line in this case. Choosing death indicates the unbearable pain and hopelessness of this and many other situations. There are better things than living when living involves only suffering … when endless peace is possible.

    Individuals deserve to choose to live or not when our Western medical system has completely failed them, as it does all too often. I would hope that sufferers would seek alternative care and Eastern medicine where something called “healing” is at least possible. Give life as many chances as possible.

    This is an issue that is close as my youngest two siblings suffer from unrelenting, severe migraines and rapidly progressing ALS. 🙁 Life can be very cruel indeed.

  • Adam G.

    I have long held the belief that a person has a right to live, and also a right to die. If someone feels that they are ready to terminate their life, that is their prerogative, and should be respected by friends, family, and lawmakers.

  • Marshealy

    Legalizing assisted suicide is too dangerous. It provides a financial incentive for premature deaths. It invites pressure and coercion. It covers up abuse. It makes socially marginalized groups vulnerable.

  • Diane Coleman

    The question is whether the benefits of assisted suicide outweigh the risks. One risk is coercion. Coercion to die is a form of abuse. Assisted suicide “safeguards” call upon doctors to find that there is no coercion before they provide a prescription for lethal drugs. How would a doctor discern if there is coercion?

    There are estimated to be over 99,000 cases of elder abuse in Minnesota annually.

    Statistically, 90% of elder abusers are a family member or trusted other.

    Would doctors observe coercion during a medical appointment? Only if the abuser is stupid. Would a coerced patient complain, when the abuser who brings her to the doctor is the same abuser who takes her home?

    Nothing in the assisted suicide safeguards in Oregon, or anywhere else, prevent an abuser from suggesting assisted suicide, signing as one of the witnesses, or picking up the lethal prescription. Even if the abuser administered the drugs without the person’s consent, no independent witness to the death is required, so who would know?

    The desires of the relatively few people who prefer assisted suicide rather than regular suicide are outweighed by the risks to thousands who are already victims of abuse.

  • Bradley Williams

    According to Williams Toffler, MD: “In Oregon there has never been any documented case of assisted suicide used because there was actual untreatable pain.”

    That is how assisted suicide is promoted but the facts are that a so-called case of of untreatable pain is “an indication of inadequate medical care, not an indication for assisted suicide.”

    See for more details

  • Terence

    Should assisted suicide be an option for people in chronic, incurable pain?

    Yes. Especially if the full range of entheogenic options is made available.

  • suestuben

    I’ve had a chronic disease for 8 years and have done (and continue to do) everything to mitigate the progress of the disease. I have totally changed my diet, I have educated myself so that I can quickly brief a doctor or nurse about my history and pertinent details, I juggle my meds to get the best result on less than recommended, etc. I work with a team of doctors who each oversee one aspect of the disease while I try to coordinate their procedures and medications.

    I know that I will die of complications of this disease, probably cancer. I know that I will be exhausted and probably unable to walk or think straight at that point. I started a small stash of narcotics a while ago and will accumulate enough to pass on quietly and quickly. I will have said all my good-byes, thank-yous, and I love yous, as well have made final decisions for a friends and family get-together. All the bills will be paid and my ‘mess’ (I collect) hopefully cleaned up so my children will not have to bother. I will not use every last penny trying to fight a losing battle, so I will be able to leave a little money to my kids.

    I know most doctors have a ‘stash’ for themselves and their loved ones because they consider our long, drawn-out dying process to be inhumane. Like them, I consider myself perfectly able to make decisions about my life and my death; why should I let a stranger tell me that I’m not allowed to control my last painful breath? I believe my plan is rational and responsible. I hope to enjoy a fine champagne with my fatal meds, watch a favorite movie, and doze off… C’est la vie!

  • Richard Doerflinger

    The fallacy here is the assumption that making assisted suicide an “option” leaves all other options as they were. Able-bodied society would keep doing suicide prevention for all whose lives are seen as worth saving, but officially express indifference on whether some sick people have their suicides prevented or assisted. That policy is a choice in and of itself, and one that could not help but influence vulnerable people who may already tend to feel they are a “burden” on others. Events in Oregon have already shown that once assisted suicide is an “option,” it becomes all too easy for insurers to deny funding for positive treatments for patients in the stated category — after all, we are willing to pay in full for assisted suicide, and that’s an acceptable treatment for people like you. The idea that this would be an individual’s unpressured free choice is an idealist’s illusion.

  • Bill McKenna

    Kill the pain not the person with the pain.

  • Jewel

    Yes, people should be able to decide their destiny. We treat dogs with more compassion than we do people.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The moral complexity of this question makes it distinctly unsuitable for a dueling bumpersticker debate. Comments like “Kill the pain not the person with the pain” and “We treat dogs with more compassion than we do people” are polarizing and unhelpful.

  • Linda Clark ~ Washington

    No. In Oregon and Washington, assisted suicide statutes have significant gaps that put elders at risk. The most obvious gap is a lack of witnesses when the lethal dose is administered. Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or another person who will benefit from the death, to administer the lethal dose to the person against his will. Even if the person struggled, who would know?[

  • William

    Should assisted suicide be an option for people in chronic, incurable pain?

    If we had a proper understanding of medicine this question wouldn’t be necessary. It also don’t remove the option of assisted suicide once all other entheogenic options have been considered.

  • Dave

    I have chronic pain from nerve damage. I have been on oxycontin , I can tell you patients in pain , don’t like being on ever increasing doses of narcotics, it turns you into a zombie . I’m off the narcotics, its horrible. I live in Ohio, where you can’t even get marajuana for pain. I tried it, first time in 30yr, and it does help ease nerve pain . You don’t understand chronic daily pain until it happens to you If I can’t . get assistant from a doctor , I will find something in the streets. A person should not have to shoot themselves in this country, because of pain . Killing yourself , because your terminaly ill or in chronic pain is not an easy way out, its humane.

  • Kathleen McGregor

    I attended the 2011 March for Life in Washington,D.C. In front of a sea of 350,000 mostly young people, a Jewish rabbi on the speaker’s platform gave a stern, anguished and chilling warning to individuals (and society) who discard their children (the unborn)…that they themselves are risking their own fate. I will never forget that! In other words, what goes around, comes around. In my state, a father who needed care, received good care and didn’t want to die was “pushed along” with morphine by his children. Motive-money. (This incident, by the way, totally changed the mind of a man who is running for a statewide office and is now a strong voice against assisted suicide and euthanasia). The answer is in the facts not “idealistic” theorizing. Europe-especially the Netherlands has repeatedly shown that assisted suicide or euthanasia is really, really bad news ( I wouldn’t live in Holland-I’d be scared to go to a doctor! I’m not thrilled with Oregon or Washington, now either) The eugenics component, of course, may seem obscure yet is definitely in the mix, too. Folks who are taking a stand and fighting against

    assisted suicide and euthanasia are not insensitive to suffering-they are just watching everyone’s backside so vulnerable people of any age are not abusively railroaded into their demise or killed unwillingly in this “throw away” culture.