Thursday, July 6, 2023

Suicide prevention is love not "paternalism."

On June 30, 2023 Meghan Schrader published an article entitled: Euthanasia promoter urges disabled people to die by suicide. This is her follow-up article. Meghan is an autistic person who is an instructor at E4 Texas at the University of Texas (Austin) and an EPC-USA board member.

Meghan Schrader

By Meghan Schrader

In his response to me on his blog, Thaddeus Pope says that efforts to prevent suicide, either assisted or otherwise, are “paternalistic,” and that “paternalism” is bad. Now, that’s a very extreme view of individual autonomy. I mean really, if only we could expurgate all vestiges of “paternalism” from society. If only I could skateboard down a freeway, take a crap on my neighbor’s lawn after I had freely made the decision to do those things.

More to the point, most right to die proponents come out the issue of suicide from a very privileged perspective; they see suicide as providing control over their own deaths. But for many of us who have experienced suicidal ideation, their agenda is tantamount to them trying to create a society where recovering heroin addicts have to walk around and see signs urging them to take drugs. That’s really not fair to the people who are trying to stay sober.

I don’t really like talking about my experiences with suicidal ideation. I am actually quite fond of life and I want to live. I am fortunate to have a lot of “protective factors” in my life-there are people, places and things in my life that help pull me back from despair.

Nonetheless, suicidal ideation is something that I have periodically experienced since around age 19. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I have a learning impairment that people usually do not accommodate, and that leads to me frequently having demoralizing experiences. Research that was published in the 1980s indicated that people with my particular learning disorder, NVLD, have an approximately 50% higher risk of suicide than the general population. Suicide is more common among people who are neurodiverse because the stress of living in a hostile and inaccessible society is so intense. I can’t leave the environment that’s causing the suicidal thoughts, so I just sort of have to live with them by coaching myself through them. i.e, “I can’t do that; my poor family, how would they feel?”

(I want to make it clear that I do not mean that people who die by suicide do not love their families; I think that some people are so overcome by their circumstances that they lose the wherewithal to consider how their decision would impact others.)

Other times, the suicidal thoughts have just appeared, sort of like a radio station that was turned on in my head. I didn’t consent to listen to that particular message, nor did it have a particular cause, but there it is.

That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry, and it’s not appropriate to privilege “autonomy” in that context. Rather, one needs to think of the issue in the context of love. If you truly love someone, then you will do what needs to be done to empower them to seek something better than suicide. Love requires that we cede some of our autonomy in the interests of the broader human community.

It appears that 99% of bioethicists like Thaddeus Pope, and other right to die leaders who run around shoving suicide in the faces of other people, have never had a suicidal thought in their lives. They don’t understand the oppressive nature of suicidal ideation, and how much it hurts, sort of like a cloud of hornets stinging the mind. Because of their privilege, they only see the issue through the lense of the theory of “paternalism.”

But, really, the battle between Pope’s cold utilitarian perspective and the civil rights perspective espoused by disabled opponents of assisted suicide is an issue of love verses hate. In order to preserve fundamental human equality, our society’s leaders must resolve that love is more important than “autonomy.”

What Thaddeus Pope and his friends are doing is not providing autonomy for everyone. For many people, what they’re doing is like kicking a rape victim after that person is already shattered and lying on the ground.

1 comment:

Keith Berkshire said...

So heartening to see such a reasoned response. Unfortunately we have too many self-appointed "guardians of virtue" (not real ethicists) who seem, in their own minds at least, to speak for many in desperate circumstances and offer the quick solution. In doing so, they discount the fact that Love is the greatest virtue (trigger alert! one doesn't have to be a Christian to accept this) but it is also the most difficult. Without the second most important virtue, courage, most people give up on love simply because they find it too demanding. Better to offer the easy way out of suffering to the sufferer and at the same time absolve oneself of the responsibilty to show genuine love.