The assisted suicide movement teaches people how to commit suicide by self starvation. To be clear, I am not talking about when people stop eating as a natural part of the natural dying process. That isn’t suicide. But rather, refusing food and water, not because one can’t eat, but because one wants to be dead. (The story discussed below conflates those two concepts, but I don’t want to belabor that issue here.)
In New Mexico, an elderly couple obtained the information they needed to kill themselves together in this way. Their family approved (!!!) and the couple began to starve themselves. But when the assisted living facility management got wind of the plan, the couple was told, in effect, “Not here, you won’t,” and sought their eviction. Administrators also called 911 after the 4th day of self starvation. From the NYT story “Deciding to Die; Then Shown the Door:”
The Rudolphs faced increasing pain and debility. Mr. Rudolph, 92, suffered from spinal stenosis; Dorothy, 90, had become largely immobile. Both showed symptoms of early dementia. So in January, they set in motion their plan to stop eating and drinking. And the facility tried to evict the couple. The administrators, apparently on orders from the corporate legal department in Maryland, told the family the Rudolphs had to leave the next day. Current management would not comment beyond an e-mailed statement that when a resident “requires alternate placement, medical attention, or a level of care beyond the facility’s capabilities, we have an obligation to notify a medical provider.”
I support the facility in general. They had no obligation, it seems to me, to permit suicide by slow motion in their facility. After all, other people live there and the impact of such deaths could be enormous. I also don’t blame them for calling 911. People were dying who could be saved.
Here’s the problem: We have two mutually incompatible value systems co-existing in the culture. One embraces suicide as a freedom issue. The other respects the value of all lives, including those of suicidal people. Again and again, the former group insist that their suicides have to be respected and even facilitated—including by those who hold the latter value system.
But none of us should be required to be complicit in anyone’s self killing—whether a medical professional or a residential care facility. Or to put it another way, the facility’s management wouldn’t have been expected to stand by idly and allow the couple hang themselves. If that is so, why should they have to passively permit them to self starve to death in their facility?
We are getting to the place in which assisted living and similar facilities that do not wish such deaths taking place on their premises may have to publicly declare themselves “suicide free zones,” and let all residents know that all such attempts will be grounds for calling 911 and/or eviction. What a sorry world in which we live, and assisted suicide groups like Compassion and Choices—which was involved here—are very much to blame.