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The freedom to die: “My life, my death!”

Death with Dignity

“Beginning in 1999, Kevorkian served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder…”

On September 17, 1998, Dr. Jack Kevorkian administered a lethal injection to 52-year-old Thomas Youk. Mr. Youk was in the final round of his bout with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He’d provided a fully informed consent.

By the way, this was a different approach for Kevorkian. In previous assisted suicides he had the patient complete the procedure.

Kevorkian was arrested some two months later when a video of Youk’s suicide (murder?) was aired on 60 Minutes.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian

Dr. Jack Kevorkian

Dr. Jack Kevorkian died this past Friday at the age of 83. To some, a principled and compassionate man peacefully left this earthly world. To others, he should have been hooked-up to a defective suicide machine and been forced to suffer a long and tortuous death.

Freedom to Die/Dignity in Death

The purpose of this piece isn’t to debate Kevorkian’s perspective and methodology. Actually, his death (and life) motivated me to organize some long-standing feelings and thoughts – and record them.

We both know this is delicate subject matter for an emotional and mental health blog. The concepts of freedom to die and dignity in death are daily realities in the hearts and minds of many who visit chipur.

The fact of the matter is, the disorders we discuss are potentially terminal illnesses – not unlike ALS, cancer, and other medical situations for which the freedom to die and dignity in death are sought.

“Suicide is Wrong!?”

I can’t tell you the number of times I drafted a petition to involuntary admit a suicidal patient during my E.R. psych days. I did so because in my opinion she posed a threat to her safety.

In the vast majority of cases, it was the right thing to do. Not so much because I believed it was, but because sometime after the admission decision was made the patient thanked me.

Were it always that clear and easy.

There have been cases in which I’ve admitted a suicidal patient against his will, and drove home asking myself what right I had to force him to endure another day.

Now, no matter what I may independently feel or think, my decisions regarding saving someone from their own hand are governed by law.

If I believe you pose a threat to yourself, you’re in!

And if I don’t do it, I go before a judge and lose my license.

The Truest Sense of Responsibility

But what if I didn’t have to answer to the law? What if I assessed someone who was pervasively depressed, had tried every imaginable treatment, was responsible for no one, had a suicide plan, and wanted to put it into action?

And I believed she was “of sound mind.”

Would it be my responsibility to discharge her – allowing her to take her life? More to the point, would I have not lived up to my professional responsibility if I hospitalized her?

Come to think of it – I’m guessing that’s exactly what went through Dr. Kevorkian’s mind all those years ago. And he, in fact, thumbed his nose at the law and did what he – and his patient – believed was right. And he paid an enormous price!

The Wrap-Up

It would be easy to say that these are random mind ramblings – and there’s really no right or wrong answer. But that isn’t true – the answers do exist!

And they’re to be found in the hearts and minds of each of us. After all, the last time I looked at the title, I owned my life.

You can be sure there will be much more to come on freedom to die and dignity in death in the years ahead. The baby boomers will see to that.

In the meantime, it’s my hope that discussing the freedom to die and dignity in death will place greater emphasis upon the freedom to live and dignity in life.

We can use all we can get!