Wednesday, October 18, 2006

[End of Life]

On Death and Suicide.

A post on BlueOregon alerts us that Oregon's assisted suicide law ("Death with Dignity") will no longer be referred to as suicide. It's now "physician assisted death." The title of the post is "Death with dignity: it's not suicide," which is roughly Claire Simon's (the writer) whole point. Ah, but it is suicide, no matter what bureaucratese renders it. From Merriam-Webster:
"Latin sui (genitive) of oneself + English -cide; akin to Old English & Old High German sIn his, Latin suus one's own, sed, se without, Sanskrit sva oneself, one's own."
Suicide is an act, death is an event. Death happens to us all, but the manner of that death is rarely suicide. From a linguistic point of view, "suicide" addresses both the actor and the act. "Death," on the other hand, is a softening of the original meaning, and throws the act into question. It removes the agency of the patient.

End-of-life issues are extremely important, and as we enter this new medically-assisted phase of evolution, we must balance nature's imperative with our ability to stave it off. Oregon was one of the few places on the planet where we had a serious, honest discussion about this issue, and I think calling a suicide a suicide is part of that honesty.

Politically, too, I distrust this distancing. It seems to me like a lack of nerve. I am a fan of the law, though I would never use it. I tend to be very libertarian about people having control over the acts that affect their bodies. I think the serious debate we had about this issue is hidden slightly as we lose the forthrightness of what the law's intention was. It is a suicide law, not a "death" law. We may give citizens the right to control the manner of their own death--via suicide--but I would hate to see the state grant doctors the right to control death.

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