Justifying suicide

A few days ago I reported on two articles that appeared in the pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide Melbourne newspaper, The Age that attempted to 'rationalise' suicide.In short, it was a sales pitch. 

There's nothing redeeming at all in suicide or self-killing. Certainly, we should grieve for the lives lost and remember the person and comfort the family. But there's no sense at all in glossing over what took place. As bleak and as painful as it is and without any sense of judging the motives or state of mind of the person concerned and, while we may even come to understand something of what lead to that death, we must not make it seem that it is all somehow okay.

But that's precisely what The Age article on the death of the Victorian couple Pat and Peter Shaw focussed upon. While the vaulted ideal of 'choice' in one sense demands that we accept what they did, to condone it from that same ideal and then justify it with a false appeal to supposed rationality is something entirely different and inherently dangerous.

Author Julia Medew doesn't seem to understand. This became all the more evident in a follow up article published yesterday. Perhaps that's a little harsh because this new article could also be understood as an attempt to justify the earlier piece following significant criticism.

Medew seems to take great pleasure in reporting that her article had generated significant interest. What begins in a self-congratulatory back-pat then develops into a predictable litany of supportive comments. The claim that the article has probably been read by 'a million Australians' is impossible to prove or disprove but is clearly intended to not only justify the indefensible but also to push the death agenda. It gets worse.

After creating a clear impression that those congratulating her on the story and those sharing 'hard cases' were amongst 'hundreds more in a similar vein' we find the obligatory yet entirely unconvincing attempt at 'balance', because, as we are told, 'Not everybody agreed that the Shaws' story should have been told.'

'One person on Facebook accused The Age of glamorising suicide; another tweeted that it would encourage people to take their own lives...One man with a history of depression wrote...' There you have it. Medew doesn't even attempt to suggest that these three are a sample of those who dissented as she did with those that represented the 'hundreds'.

There are but three. One is quoted: "Knowing how suicidal people think, I can guarantee your articles have and will lead to people in this frame of mind… taking their own lives." Precisely so. I received emails in response to my last article on this matter along very similar lines.

But even this acknowledgement by Medew is simply a segue to self-justification: 'We were mindful of this before the story was published. In an effort to minimise the risk for vulnerable people, we decided not to detail the methods that Peter and Pat used. We also included help lines for people to call if they were troubled by the story."

Spare us! Withholding information about 'methods' is a bare minimum of consideration, as is the obligatory inclusion of 'help lines'. Perversely, Medew's comments can be read as an acknowledgement that The Age knows that this article has the potential to do harm. Then why publish? Answer: because an ideology has trumped common sense.

There is so much that is dead wrong with this approach. I hope that suicide prevention organisations speak out and join the chorus here; but I'm not holding my breath in anticipation. Why? Simply because the false association of this double suicide with a push for legal euthanasia and assisted suicide compromises many in the suicide prevention organisations who either actively support legal change or who have yet to come to terms with how the euthanasia agenda affects those who are vulnerable to suicidal depression and ideation.

The Shaw's may have been entirely comfortable with their suicides being used to further this and The Age's agenda. Pat and Peter Shaw should be remembered for the amazing lives that they lead and not the manner of their death as now seems more likely.

When the answer to pain and suffering or to the inevitable effects of aging is to endorse and support suicide, something radical will have taken hold in our society. This push for euthanasia and assisted suicide suggests that perhaps it is already here.

That drive for what is seen as the ultimate in autonomy, to wrestle control over death itself, releases each of us from a solemn duty that we hold in equal measure simply because of our common humanity. Duty perhaps suggest a begrudging obligation. I use it to mean a debt of love each to the other that includes obligations that we accept and undertake gladly because of that love.

Difficult as these duties may be they are not a burden, just as those whom we love and who are the focus of these duties are not burdens. When someone suffers from aging or from illness or from any disability or disabling injury, to abandon them or to even create the spectre of abandonment is inhuman. It is a precise reversal of John Dunne's observation that 'no man is an island'. It is denying our very humanity and is an egregious offence against the most basic of human needs and expression, nay; our very essence.

See also: Driving sales in the death market

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