by Cullen Herout
Trying to make sense out of our country’s thoughts and feelings when it comes to suicide is like trying to decipher a map made up of coded symbols in a language we can’t understand. In some cases we encourage it. In some cases we rally against it. In some cases we protect against it. In some cases we think it should be legal. It is an incoherent mess of poor philosophy and even worse implications.
For starters, in September of this year we had National Suicide Prevention Week. Celebrated from September 7-13th, the week was highlighted by World Suicide Prevention Day, which is held on September 10th each year. People rally together to support those who have lost loved ones, raise awareness of those who might be at risk, and draw attention to resources available to those who might be contemplating suicide. The whole week is a great way to raise awareness of one of our country’s biggest epidemics, especially among those veterans who have served in our country’s military.
Meanwhile, as many as twenty states around the country are introducing bills to legalize euthanasia, or doctor-assisted suicide this year, with more to follow. Several states already allow this practice, and the “right to die” is quite literally replacing the “right to life” right before our very eyes. The movement is sweeping the nation and those who support doctor-assisted suicide continue to rally around the “choice” mantra, claiming that if a person wants to end his or her life, he or she should be able to. If it hasn’t already, this battle against the dignity of life is coming to a town near you.
It’s tough to make sense of why we would want to allow one person to help another person kill himself. One reason, I believe, is the transformation in our understanding of suffering. We have transformed suffering from being a means to something to being an end to be avoided. Suffering used to be seen as a road to virtue, a means to build endurance and character. In a society where virtue and endurance are wholesale disregarded, suffering becomes an end to be avoided. Why suffer when nothing good can come of it? This is what happens when the pursuit of happiness becomes more important than the pursuit of holiness. When suffering prohibits so-called happiness, death becomes the preferable option. Anything to avoid suffering becomes desirable. I’m not saying we should go out of our way to seek and embrace suffering, but to choose death over it is to deny the value that can be found in it.
In any case, there is a disconnect in our philosophy when it comes to suicide. It’s a tough disconnect to figure out. In some cases, we want to prevent our citizens from choosing suicide, and in some cases we encourage it. Sure, advocates will point to doctor-assisted suicide and say that those who choose the practice are mostly elderly folks, terminal patients, those who are suffering with awful physical infirmities. For the most part they might be right, at least for now. But is there any question that if we start allowing people to choose their own deaths, more and more people will claim to have a “right” to choose it?
The biggest issue with this disconnect is that we are trying to nominally separate the two categories of people tempted to suicide, and it cannot be done. We are trying to label those who are “eligible” for suicide, and those who are not. On one hand, we look at a 31-year-old drug-addicted male suffering immensely from depression and give him pamphlets for suicide hotlines, numbers for mental health counselors and treatment centers, and try to make sure he has all the help he needs to stay alive. On the other hand, we have a 78-year-old woman struggling with the pain of brain cancer, and she is given a prescription for life-ending drugs.
The end result is the encouragement of suicide across the board. There is no conceivable way to look at the 31-year-old and treat him differently than the 78-year-old. She has an unbearable amount of physical pain and wishes she could die. He has an unbearable amount of mental and emotional pain and wishes he could die. One of them is “eligible” for doctor-assisted suicide and one is not.
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Cullen Herout is a husband, father, writer, and lover of Truth. He has a Mental Health Practitioner License in the state of Nebraska, and has years of experience working with persons struggling with mental illness and addiction. For the past four years, he has also been involved with Rachel's Vineyard ministry for post-abortive women, serving as the counselor for their weekend retreats. Cullen has a passion for writing about pro-life issues, Marriage, fatherhood, and building a culture of life. He lives in Omaha, NE, with his wife and two sons.