Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assisted Suicide on the Air

A British TV channel aired a documentary showing a terminally ill man committing assisted suicide.

The film follows retired university professor Craig Ewert during the last four days of his life in 2006, when he visited a Swiss clinic with his wife, Mary, in order to die.

The 59-year-old suffered from motor neurone disease (MND), which deprived him of the use of his arms and legs and caused him to be on a ventilator, Mary Ewert told The Independent.

Naturally the film was controversial. Some felt it was a macabre attempt on the part of the television network to boost ratings, others felt it was a great opportunity to take "death" out of the closet, to make the subject less taboo. What's your opinion?

The man himself was quoted as having said:

"I truly expect that death is the end, that there is no everlasting soul, no afterlife," Ewert says. "This is a journey that we all must make at some time. I would hope that this is not a cause of major distress to those who love me and I expect that my dear sweet wife will have the greatest loss, as we have been together for 37 years in the deepest intimacy."

Does that mean it's easier for an atheist to commit suicide? But, if death is the end, what "journey" is he talking about? He said, "This is a journey that we all must make at some time." This statement makes me wonder about his mental state.

I would think the deeply religious person who is sure of going to his or her everlasting reward would be able to do it easier than the atheist convinced that this is the end. What do you think?

Another consideration is that the Ewerts must be wealthy people to be able to afford this whole thing. What about the poor folks? Is it like abortion in places where it's illegal? Do the poor people have to make due with homemade solutions or clandestine operations? What do you think? Is the need or desire for euthanasia wide spread enough to even worry about?


  1. "I would think the deeply religious person who is sure of going to his or her everlasting reward would be able to do it easier than the atheist convinced that this is the end. What do you think?"

    Unless you're one of the many religious people who believe that ending your own life is a mortal sin and suicide being an express-trip to eternal torment.

    As for "Poor People" I fail to see how this can't be a REALLY cheap procedure done the right way. My personal vote would be a nice morphine drip leading to cardiac arrest. an IV is only a few bucks, how much is a lethal dose of morphine? Can't be very much.

    I've got no issue with assisted suicide, as the doctor is willing to assist, the patient is willing to end their life, what's to get upset about.

    I haven't seen the documentary, but I'm a bit curious at the tastefulness of it.

  2. atheists normally do tend to live as though we only get one chance at it, yes. but what the implications of that are will vary from one person to the next, just as with everything else.

    some folks will pursue personal pleasure or intellectual fulfillment; others will want to build something lasting to survive them. some will be short-sighted hedonists, others will seek the good life in moderation. some of us will have no trouble committing suicide, knowing there's no post-mortem judgment; others will abhor it, wanting to extend the only life they get. it was ever thus.

    but people don't live in a vacuum, and even atheists must need use a language that's been shaped largely by irrational religious people. this gets really annoying when one tries to swear in English --- there's no avoiding the goddammits and the jesus-christs, because sticking to scatology and anatomical references alone leaves you sounding childish before long. you can try cussing in some other language, of course, but most of them have similar problems, and it's just not as satisfactory if nobody but you can understand just how fucking pissed off you are, anyway.

    (Afrikaans is said to be the best language for cussing in. i'd nominate Finnish for a runner-up, at least, myself. English just sucks for invective, unless you have the wit of a Shakespeare, and who does?)

    so, because of that last, even an atheist might find herself describing the process of dying metaphorically as "a journey". that doesn't mean she isn't well aware she's using metaphor, or that she doubts in the least the "journey" will end in her personal, permanent extinction, it's just that she's still constrained by the limits of language and the alternative is to not communicate with others very well at all. it's no sign of mental illness, mike, except perhaps a sign of persistent delusion in those who've shaped this language we're stuck with.

    (although grasping at any straw to classify anyone and everyone who'd ever so much as consider suicide as being insane and incompetent to make that decision is an old, worn-out tactic. go read Joseph Heller and come back once you've soaked your head in a big, cold bucket of catch-22.)

  3. Mike,

    Many people, atheist and religious alike, talk of life being a journey.

    The starting point is the cradle and the end the grave(for some). The description is used to describe the steps in life or often used to talk about how one walks through their life.

    Do they live solitary foot prints in places few venture or do they stay with the crowds?

    During their journey many people leave their foot prints in the sand only to be washed away by the sea of time, others leave them in the hearts, minds and souls of others-forever remembered.

    The journey is an apt metaphor for life regardless of faith or secularism.

    As far as assisted suicide, I think it is on the same level as abortion: Not for me, but I won't deny anyone's right to live their life as they choose, even to how they die.

  4. Unless a person isn't ambulatory, anybody is capable of suicide.

    There were multiple suicides in my family by people that were in end stage cancer back when cancer treatments were as bad, if not worse than cancer (40s-60s). Some hung themselves some shot themselves.

    One of my good friends requested me to fetch him a pistol when he was terminal and in a VA ward and I would have proudly done it for him if there wouldn't have been a likely manslaughter charge against me.

    A friend of mine in a similar circumstance, when his friend requested his .45, provided it. I can't remember the names of any involved in that incident in case anybody wants to question me about it.

    My mother was an oncology nurse and we'd argue round and round about it. She said people always said "if I get "so" bad I'll kill myself" yet they never do. I'd reply that that may be so but usually by the time they got "so bad" they weren't ambulatory and didn't have the option of a non-assisted suicide and were likely on huge dosages of opiate pain killers which tend to preclude formulating plans very well. I've gone round and round with my mom about this for over 30 years.

    Weerd, Lethal dose of morphine or diacetyl morphine to a non-opiate habituated person (as many terminal patients are) is about 335mg. 1.5 grams IV given in a short period of time will kill most any human, habituated or not. 2 grams most certainly would. Likely die of pulmonary failure as primary cause rather than cardiac arrest. Amphetamines or Cocaine would be the way to go for cardiac arrest.

    Dixie cup of selenious acid (available in any metal working shop) will kill anybody and is not reversible but it takes a bit of time for all the organs to fail. Asphyxiation with hydrogen, helium, or nitrogen/NO2 is basically painless and fast and anybody can buy the gases at your average party balloon or welding gas supply store. Then there's always sleeping on railway tracks and jumping out windows. Suicide doesn't have to be a rich man's game.

    Afrikaans is fun to cuss in. My favorite line is "Jou ma skuld my hond nog kleingeld." Your mum owes my dog change (for services rendered).

  5. Slightly off subject, but a couple of you guys mentioned it. Shooting up enough drugs seems to be an easy way to die, right? If a person is addicted, a cancer patient or a heroin addict, they'd need more, but still no big deal. Why then, is the lethal injection procedures seem so complicated? At least as depicted in film, and from what I've read, they have a two or three element cocktail, all of which seem to be large amounts. This is depicted, I assume accurately, as rather large canisters of drugs that flow into the IV. Yet, a tiny syringe with enough pure heroin surely does the trick. Can anyone explain this?

  6. Mike,

    It is complicated because of a mis-interpretation of the Constitution!

    The prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment has been twisted to try to stop the death penalty. People claim it is a prohibition against criminals feeling "excessive" pain at their death.

    The 3 drugs are designed to overcome that objection. Personally, I think the people need to go back and do a little research on what was "cruel and "unusual" at the time it was written.

  7. +1, After one of our discussions here looked up the cocktail used to check out dirtbags, and I was appalled at how bass-ackwards the procedure was.

    Essentially I gather that Doctors did research on lethal dosages of various chemicals...then lawyers decided to write up the procedure.

    It's overly complicated and unnecessary. All they need is an opiate drip in escalating doses to first induce euphoria, then unconsciousness, then arrest breathing. You feel warm and wonderful and drift off to sleep and dream pleasant dreams, then the dreams stop, then your breathing stops, then everything stops.

    Total cost $50 Maybe, probably much less.