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Discussing ‘The Rationals Of Assisted Suicide’

Video by Kris Arciaga

Is suicide ever rational? That's the question the Hemlock Society plans to talk about later this month at a discussion event. Hemlock Society founder and longtime leader Faye Girsh sat down with KPBS Anchor Ebone Monet to talk about assisted suicide.

Q: When is suicide ever rational?

A: When people see no alternatives to their physical suffering. When they had given careful thought, notified their family, discussed it with their doctor, and have a rational way to do it; which is non-violent and doesn't involve more suffering than they already have.

Q: Why is it important to have this discussion as scheduled later this month?

A: People keep asking the question: “I'm thinking about ways to end my life when it gets to the point where it's too bad. There's no hope or I'll go into a nursing home. Is there a way and is there a law? And how do I do it?” More people as we get older and older, and we see what happens in nursing homes, want to know if there's a way out. We have so many states now 9 states, plus the District of Columbia, that do permit physician aid in dying, but it's a fairly restrictive law. It's for people who have 6 months or less to live. There are lots of other people who are worried about dementia, or other long term neurological diseases, or cancer where they're not terminal but they would like to not have their last period of life in suffering loss of person-hood, loss of dignity. It's a very important issue for many people, especially my age who are facing the possibility of a prolonged dying.

Q: What about the idea that someone who is suffering, but not terminal—that it's just a temporary period in the person's life and it once they work through it there may be an opportunity to have a better quality of life—but if they make a decision during that darkest point in their life, then it is a decision that they can't take back. What about that argument?

A: We're totally supportive of suicide prevention in those kinds of cases. I was a psychologist all my life, my professional life, and people ask me that especially when I started the Hemlock Society here in 1978. People said: "why are you worried about my depression and ending my life when you're with the Hemlock society?" I said: "that's two different things. Your problems would be, if you committed suicide, a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We can help you work your way through this period of suffering that you're going through."

Q: On July 21, you're going to be one of the speakers at the Hemlock Society's event where you'll be tackling this issue. What do you hope people will get from this discussion?

A: The main thing is to de-stigmatize the word "suicide" or at least to deconstruct it so that people can make a distinction between a well thought out end of life with loved ones present in a peaceful way—because the what's going to happen next is gonna be worse and they don't want to suffer that indignity of dying that way—from people who just broke up with a boyfriend. We have terrible situations in the United States. Loneliness is a big situation for older people. Nursing homes are very unappetizing places to go to die, and there is a lot of situations where people would say “that's it, I've had enough.” And we would like to be able to work with those people to tell them what other alternatives are available.

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