Mental Health and Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide
It is obvious to the TV viewer that under the banners of compassion and autonomy, some are calling for legal recognition of a "right to suicide" and societal acceptance of "physician-assisted suicide." Suicide proponents evoke the image of someone facing unendurable suffering who calmly and rationally decides death is better than life in such a state. They argue that society should respect and defer to the freedom of choice such people exercise in asking to be killed. This essay intends to debunk this point of view on the basis of mental illness among those patients involved.
What would be the consequences of accepting this perspective? Let us examine the facts. Accepting a "right to suicide" would create a legal presumption of sanity, preventing appropriate mental health treatment. If suicide and physician-assisted suicide become legal rights, the presumption that people attempting suicide are deranged and in need of psychological help, borne out by many studies and years of experience, would be reversed. Those seeking suicide would be legally entitled to be left alone (Sullivan) to do something irremediable, based on a distorted assessment of their circumstances, without genuine help.
An attempt at suicide, some psychologists say, is often a challenge to see if anyone out there really cares(Stengel). Indeed, seeking physician assistance in a suicide, rather than just acting to kill oneself, may well be a manifestation, however subconscious, of precisely that challenge. If society creates a "right to suicide" and legalizes "physician-assisted suicide," the message perceived by a suicide attempter is not likely to be, "We respect your wishes," but rather, "we don't care if you live or die."
Almost all who commit suicide have mental health problems. Few people, if any, simply sit down and make a cool, rational decision to commit suicide. In fact, studies have indicated that 93-94% of those committing suicide suffer from some identifiable mental disorder(Barraclough). In one such study, conducted by Dr. Eli Robbins of suicides occurring in St. Louis, Missouri, 47% of those committing suicide were diagnosed as suffering from either schizophrenic panic disorders or from affective disorders such as depressive disorders, dysthymic disorders, or bipolar disorder. An additional 25% suffered from alcoholism while another 15% had some recognizable but undiagnosed psychiatric disorder. 4% were found to have organic brain syndrome, 2% were schizophrenic, and 1% were drug addicts (Robins). The total of those with diagnosable mental disorders was 94%. An independent British study came up with a remarkably similar total figure, finding that 93% of those who commit suicide suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder(Barraclough).
Persons with mental disorders make distorted judgments. Suicide is often a desperate step taken by individuals who consider their problems...