Being myself so near to the Capitol and intimately involved in its protection, I must confess the neigh unbearable sorrow that the District of Columbia is now considering “Death with Dignity” laws. As a member of the American Solidarity Party and therefore unequivocally pro-life for the whole life, I must speak up. There is no denying it: this is state sponsored suicide. In a twisted logic and false compassion, DC is now considering permitting the terminally ill to end their lives via a battery of drugs rather than letting the natural course of their illness take them.
I get the logic and the compassion. I am not some heartless monster who wants people to be writhing in pain and agony. No one wants to see a person in pain. Human beings are like that. But what does suicide offer them; a release or escape from the pain and suffering? No, that is not it. In states where such things are legal, the top reasons people give for wanting to end their lives is not the horror of the pain, but the feelings of being dejected, worthless, or burdensome. That is not a problem that suicide can solve for them. It is a wholly inadequate remedy since, while it removes the feelings, it removes the one who feels. It is like seeing a rose bush overgrown with thorns and, instead of staking care to prune it, you simply wrench it from the ground.
We should be honest with ourselves. We do not push these measures in some sort of compassion. The reality is quite the opposite. We push them because we cannot bear to see pain and death. We hate to see the reality that our own lives will be subject to the same fate in the end. What we consider dignity–physical activity, independence, self-worth–goes out the window when we lay dying, dependent on others for our very survival. We push these measures because we don’t want the sobering reminders and responsibilities that come with death. We see pain as this great obstacle to our happiness and to see another in pain does not make us happy. So we snuff it out before it becomes unbearable for us.
The fundamental problem lies in how we consider life. Pain, we suppose, is the great adversary of our happiness. How could it be otherwise, right? Is not pain and suffering the very definition of what makes us unhappy? In this way, we misunderstand pain and the inherent goodness of a natural death. Tolstoy understood this and expressed it in the experiences of his character Pierre in War and Peace. Pierre has been captured by the French and is a prisoner. He endured immense pain and suffering as a result after having a sumptuous and resplendent life.
While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by life itself, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity. And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth- that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together….
Nothing in this world is terrible, not even pain and death. In fact, through pain and death we learn the lessons of Life through our very lives. Freedom and suffering are two things so intimately linked that we spend our entire lives trying to discern their mysteries. The only thing that illuminates the great truths of Life are the fulfillment of human needs, the chief among them being Love. To love and to be loved is the greatest happiness and the greatest need a human being can know and have respectively. Even in love there is pain, but we are glad of the pain because it is for the sake of something so desirable.
Suicide merely gives into the fears that these patients have i.e. that they are not loved, not wanted, and not worth the consideration of the world. What a great lie that is! What a pernicious falsehood to believe when every human person is so unique, so precious, and so worthy of love that to even consider this as a compassionate course of action just betrays just how cruel it is. When we encourage our sick and elderly that everyone would be better off, including them, if they were dead, we are really just saying that their the last moments of their life are not worth having, that their life needs to be cut short so we can get on with our own.
If we want to give the elderly and infirm true dignity, we give them love, not drugs. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other caregivers do just that: accompany the human person to a natural, peaceful end. The end of their lives will always have dignity, have worth, have meaning if there is someone beside them showing that they love them. We come into this world helpless, afraid, and staring into a vast unknown. We leave in much the same manner. When we came into this world, we were loved and protected and cared for. We should die in the same manner, slipping off our mortal coil in that same love. What else is Life but Love? The greatest triumph mankind can have over death is to love and to be loved in return because love, being life, hinders death and even utterly destroys it. If we have love, in the end, death and pain can hold no horror for us.
So I say this to the District of Columbia: say yes to life, to love, and the beauty of each unique human being in every moment of the wonder that is their life. After all, each human life is an anomaly; there never was anyone like that person, and there never will be again. Simply to behold and better still to live life is perhaps the greatest joy we can have in our brief existence. So why cut it short? Why steal the precious few moments we have left of these numerous miracles we call people away from us forever? Love them instead. It is hard and it is painful, more so for us than for them. But it is the greatest happiness we can know: to love and to be loved in return.