Three years ago, I was shocked by the double suicide of a well-to-do retired couple and even more so by the reactions of readers. It was reported that the husband, a retired physician in excellent health, grew concerned that his wife was in an early stage of Alzheimer’s. They still enjoyed their wealth and independence, but didn’t like the prospect of eventually having to lead “lesser” lives in a nursing home when that day came. After a final gourmet meal at their country club, they committed suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of their luxurious home.
Many would find this a tragic end and a terrible example to set for one’s children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends and former patients. Their suicide reflected the utilitarian view that life has value only when it is productive, free of illness, free of suffering, free of unpleasantness. Yet their own children and scores of readers extolled them as models of courage for ending their lives on their own terms and timetable.
Laws against suicide reflect certain secular values, for example, to protect the interests of innocent third parties and to maintain the integrity of the medical profession, as Intensive Care Specialist and ethicist Peter Saul has pointed out.
For society, and especially for those in the medical profession, to accede to a person’s decision to kill himself violates the duty we owe to our fellow human beings. It contradicts and undermines our fundamental relational nature as persons created to love and be loved. The acceptance of rational suicide as a morally neutral human act denies the intrinsic value of every human life, as well as the existence of a loving God who suffered for us and suffers with us even today.
As the priceless value of each irreplaceable human life is under attack today from terrorists, population controllers, abortion advocates and certain philosophers, the last thing we need is the advocacy and assistance of Philip Nitschke, nudging people to commit “rational suicide.” What we need today is more people who think like John Donne:
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
Susan Wills is Spirituality Editor of Aleteia’s English edition.