O P I N I O N
Bleak outlook for aid-in-dying for the mentally ill and clinically depressed
Time was when right-to-die groups were looked to for help exclusively by terminally ill, and sometimes hopelessly ill, persons. But nowadays with our greater public visibility, credibility and legislative progress, many mentally ill persons are approaching us expecting positive help.
From their point of view, the suffering is as great as a person dying of a physical illness. And it probably is. They argue that a terminal patient knows that soon death will bring about the end of pain, whilst they are condemned to a lifetime of suffering. They report that they have endured long hours of therapy, and used mountains of prescribed medications. Still they would prefer death, they say.
Medical assisted suicide for persons with mental health problems, including severe depression, is nearly impossible to get, even in the countries where it is legal to do so. That’s the reality today.
Doctors find it raises too many red flags publicly because it is not socially acceptable, whereas for the terminally ill it is widely, if not wholly, accepted. And sometimes there are deceptions by the patient and misunderstandings with a doctor. Stressful, drawn-out court cases often follow.
For example, a psychiatrist in Switzerland, Dr. Peter Baumann, nearly went to prison for four years for help in dying which he thought was a humane act. But the patient had deceived him. ( http://assistedsuicide.org/blog/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=625 ) At the last minute, Dr. Baumann was pardoned.
Family members of a troubled person who has killed themselves often become very upset, and look for scapegoats to blame for what they see as an avoidable tragedy.
Suicide remains a taboo and a stigma worldwide. We are breaking through — against determined opposition — to achieving physician-assisted dying for the terminal and hopelessly ill. Maybe in 50 years time there will also be tolerance for help to die for the mentally ill. That’s in the future.
Society seems not ready at this time to reach out with love and understanding for those who are mentally ill and wish to die.
My general advice to victims of mental health problems who want to check-out is that the harsh reality today is that the only avenue for them is do-it-yourself. Suicide is not a crime, but assisted suicide by a non doctor is a crime everywhere, except in Switzerland, and even there it is rare.
Hardly a day goes by without a non-terminal, suffering person approaching me for advice on how to die. I hear that other groups get similar approaches.
All I can offer in return is reading my 22-year-old book, ‘Final Exit’ (3rd edition) and carefully considering the right choice for themselves.
—- Derek Humphry