Discussion: Euthanasia for the Mentally Ill?
One of the subjects I’m studying in college is criminology, which is a subject that draws on sociological and psychological aspects to determine the social characteristics and behaviour of a criminal. It’s an incredibly fascinating subject and one that I’m thoroughly enjoying learning about. For the next two weeks, we’re having guest speakers coming to discuss euthanasia with us. Euthanasia, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is the intentional act of ending one’s own life and seeking help in order to do so. One of the speakers is an extremely brave lady who is sharing her experience of taking her own father to Dignitas, the euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, and the traumatic events after she returned to the UK where she and her son almost faced fourteen years in prison for the act of accompanying her father to Switzerland so he could end his own life.
In preparation for this talk, we’ve been discussing euthanasia in class and exploring the different types of people and the reasons for which many have opted to end their own life. When you hear the term euthanasia, you may think of someone who is elderly and in failing health or someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Would you have ever considered someone with a mental illness? Hear me out – we discussed a gentleman, Mark Langedijk from The Netherlands, who had suffered from addiction for most of his life. His marriage had ended and he was unable to see his children, which sent him spiralling further into his addiction to alcohol. He had been to rehab over twenty times but was never able to beat his addiction. Eventually, he chose to end his life in a clinic where euthanasia is legal as he didn’t believe that he was ever going to get better. If he’s been through rehab twenty times already, what’re the chances that the twenty-first time is going to work? He believed his quality of life was severely impacted.
‘Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.’ Christian D. Larson
This got me thinking about how the world sees mental illness. There’s still such a stigma surrounding mental illness that it’s rarely seen as valid as a ‘physical’ illness. What people fail to realise is that the brain is an organ, much like the heart and liver, and this too can fail. Why is heart failure considered physical health but depression is not? Why is cancer considered physical health and addiction is not? Since the brain is an organ, it is physical health.
The discussion we had in class was whether or not, in the case of the Mark Langedijk, should he have been ethically allowed to choose the right to die? Was he in a sound mind to make that decision? It raises the question as to whether someone suffering from a mental illness, who sees their quality of life as limited, should be allowed to have the right to die under euthanasia laws. How can we decriminalise suicide (as per UK law – I’m not so sure about the laws regarding this in other countries), but criminalise euthanasia? One of the arguments raised in class was about how individuals who are suicidal will find a way to die regardless of whether it’s assisted or not, which does mean that they choose more violent and horrific ways to end their life. The argument that mental illnesses should be included in euthanasia laws takes away those violent and gruesome deaths. This is not just limited to those who are suicidal but can also apply to those with terminal illnesses, such as cancer and dementia, which then takes us to another argument for euthanasia that is not entirely relevant to this post.
My personal opinion is that while I do believe mental illness is a physical illness and needs to be treated as such, mental illness should not be considered under euthanasia law. While, yes, there are mental illnesses that can never be cured and only managed, it is the fact that they can be managed which makes the difference. They don’t have to mean a death sentence, although that is in no way meant to take away from the fact that living with them can be unbearable. In the case mentioned above where he suffered from addiction, my question would not be about how hard he tried to fight it but rather on the rehab facilities he went to and the medical professionals that were treating him. How hard did the system try to help him? Mental illness is massively underfunded, particularly in the UK (I mention the UK because it’s the healthcare system that I know about), and it’s not uncommon for people to be failed by the medical professionals whose care they have been assigned to due to a lack of funding and education on what mental health is and how to treat it. It’s something I have a personal experience with. I’ve felt completely alone and helpless in my fight with anxiety. I cannot even begin to imagine how a person dealing with suicidal thoughts may feel in that situation, but, if it’s anything like how I felt, then it’s incredibly upsetting and it proves that more needs to be done to support people in that situation so that they don’t feel as though the world will be better off without them. Maybe if we supported people with mental illness much more than we are now and if there was less stigma attached to these illnesses, maybe people wouldn’t feel as though ending their life is the only option they have.
And now, to you, the one struggling with suicidal thoughts – you are brave and strong and inspiring. Yes, you. Fighting your own mind, which can sometimes feel as though it’s not yours, is incredibly difficult. How can your own brain be revolting against you when its job is to take care of you? It can feel like a betrayal. I want you to know that the world won’t be better off without you. You bring something incredible to this world simply by existing. You were meant for amazing things. You deserve the world and more. Anyone else who says otherwise, which includes yourself, is, to put it bluntly, wrong. You can make it through.
‘Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.’ Unknown
If you’re struggling, please consider calling one of the confidential support lines:
Samaritans – 116 123 (UK)
Papyrus – 0800 068 41 41 (UK)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (USA)
Crisis Service Canada – 1-833-456-4566
Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
For more international numbers, click here.
What are your thoughts on euthanasia? Do you agree or disagree with anything in this post? I know this is a rather controversial discussion post, but I would love to know what you think about it. There is no right or wrong answer. And I’d especially love to know what you think if you are a person who is – or has been – suicidal. Let me know in the comments below.