Mercy Killing: Is It Assisted Suicide or Senseless Suicide?

Part 1 of 2: Does Lost Hope Justify Mercy Killing?

Woman feeling depressed and hopeless.
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The body of a 61 year old woman from Roanoke, Virginia was dropped off at a hospital by Dr. Jack Kevorkian and an associate on Thursday March 5, 1998. (Note: Kevorkian died in June 2011) A note with the body indicated that the Virginia woman suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Just a few hours earlier Kevorkian dropped off the body of a 42 year old Boston man at a different hospital. A note with the man's body indicated he suffered from fibromyalgia.

Both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are chronic pain conditions, but not terminal.

Dr. Kevorkian had admitted to taking part in numerous suicides over the years. Physician-assisted suicide was controversial throughout the span of time Kevorkian helped patients end their lives. Kevorkian found supporters among people who were against the long-suffering of the terminally ill. He also found understanding and empathy among people experiencing unbearable pain, discomfort, and the loss of quality of life.

He found allies among the families of terminally ill patients and among pro-choice advocates. Yet, he was denounced by people who were against his role in assisted suicide and against its legalization. People who felt strongly that there are alternative options to assisted suicide openly argued against Kevorkian's activities.

Kevorkian expanded the criteria of who he was willing to help terminate their life to include non-fatal illnesses.

Shock waves rippled through the community of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia patients when they realized that people with their same disease had lost all sight of hope and chose to end their life. Though certainly the frustration and complete energy drain felt by chronic pain sufferers is corroborated, what might lead some people to believe that their suffering was beyond help and beyond all hope?

Were they headed for the same fate?

Beyond All Hope?

The most vital consideration for chronic pain sufferers is how best to manage their pain. The limitation, imposition, and interference that severe pain places on daily living is what the chronic pain patient confronts day in and day out. The patient living with chronic pain needs:

  • pain management
  • psychological support
  • family support
  • economical support

When a patient feels their situation is hopeless, has every avenue of support failed them?

Patients look to their physicians for help with controlling pain. The undertreatment of chronic pain has become a genuine concern. Physicians have been accused of withholding narcotic pain medications for reasons that include the fear of patient addiction and fear of lawsuits. Solutions must be found among all the treatment options so that a patient never has to feel hopeless from uncontrolled pain.

There are Pain Management Centers throughout the country that exist for the purpose of helping people manage and cope with chronic pain.

The search for relief may be a long and winding road but what would justify the end of the search and the deliberate end of a life?

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Support

Psychological support and emotional support is essential -- as essential as controlling the physical pain. The strength needed to cope with chronic pain may be unsustainable if it is not fortified by the support from family and friends, caregivers, and health care professionals. A patient must be able to reach out and communicate and receive the support needed to overcome feelings of hopelessness.

Coping Skills

It has been recognized that people with similar illnesses cope in different ways. Some patients seem to have an innate strength which allows them to cope more easily. Other people seem overwhelmed and devastated by similar circumstances. Beyond the physical pain is something that burns within some people that disallows their coping skills. It is as important to nurture the coping mechanism as it is to treat the physical pain.

There are far reaching consequences when a patient opts for suicide. Their choice impacts their own family and also impacts the morale and spirit of patients suffering with the same or similar illnesses. A message is sent that there is no purpose to continue with life.

The Future

There is a concern about abuse, if physician-assisted suicide is legalized in more states. It is legal in 4 states as of 2015 -- Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana -- with strict guidelines.

Will it become acceptable to opt for assisted suicide if a person loses their will to live for any reason? Unlikely. Should it be considered appropriate only if a medical condition is terminal? Should pain and suffering, without the presence of a terminal condition, be a consideration?

Current States With Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide

Sources:

"Kevorkian's Known Victims." International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. 6 Nov 2006.

"Kevorkian Chronology." Posted on February 21, 2005. The Nightingale Alliance. 6 Nov 2006 <http://www.nightingalealliance.org/cgi-bin/home.pl?article=120>

"Life at Risk A Chronicle of Euthanasia Trends in America." Vol. 8, No. 2 March 1998. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 6 Nov 2006; <http://www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/publicat/liferisk/mar98.htm>.

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