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A Right To Die, Even For 20-Somethings

| May 15, 2016

assisted suicide euthanasia right to die pierre tristam

Dali’s ‘La Gare de Perpignan (the Station of Perpignan), 1965 .

Three weeks ago when Flagler County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Foxman sentenced Waldemar Rivera to 25 years in prison for sexually assaulting Rivera’s step-daughter when she was 13, the judge had been perplexed by the chasm between Rivera’s good-guy demeanor in court and the gravity of his crime. The judge couldn’t have been that surprised. Lawyers and expert witnesses aside, if courtroom behavior had anything to do with one’s real character, every defendant would be winged in virtue.

pierre tristamThere was no risk that Rivera’s demeanor would affect the sentence. Foxman turned to him and gave him a brief lecture about what Rivera’s 30-second assault had caused. “And so make no mistake about it, sir, you created a lifetime victim,” Foxman said. It was no understatement.

Earlier this week we learned of the Dutch Euthanasia Commission approving the assisted suicide by lethal injection of a woman in her 20s. She had been sexually abused between age 5 and 15. The doctors, according to the UK Independent, judged her to be “totally competent” and that there was “no major depression or other mood disorder which affected her thinking.” But they also found that despite “intense therapy,” her condition—the consequential flip-side of a sexual predator’s lethal urges–was incurable. She suffered from intolerable post-traumatic stress disorder. She was living that life sentence. She chose to die. She did, two years ago. She had, in Garcia-Marquez’s phrase, “escaped the torments of memory.”

The reactions are of course divided. Assisted suicide has its defenders, and the law is on its side, at least in some countries. But a Labour member of parliament in Britain claims the case “serves to reinforce why any move towards legalizing assisted suicide, or assisted dying, is so dangerous.” Dangerous to whom?

In the dozen-odd nations where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal (assisted suicide is legal six states in the US, but not in Florida), the criteria are so stringent as to make the step close to insurmountable for most, and still too reliant on judgments other than those of the individual who wants to die. His or her competence, medical condition, fitness to die, is in others’ hands, as if one’s life were not one’s own.

Historically, it hasn’t been: most religions still consider suicide a sin (or its equivalent), governments only recently have stopped considering it a crime, finally getting over the absurdity of a suicide as an act more punishable than its own consequence. But who are we, who is anyone, to judge the right of an individual to die? None of us chose this life. Most of us would rather not die, but that won’t be helped. If some of us would rather choose the time of our death, for whatever reason, what right has anyone to stand in the way? Let’s not go so far as profound PTSD or terminal illnesses. Anyone sentenced to life in an assisted living facility or a nursing home should have at least the option of a lethal injection cocktail if being humane is a concern.

Instinctively, age makes a difference. There’s something heroic about an older person who, stalked by a terminal illness, chooses to die rather than submit to the certainty of prolonged indignities. (There is no such thing as a dignified death. The only difference is duration.) If a younger person, or any seemingly healthy person, chooses to die, we become indignant, maybe justly so. Teen suicide should be a contradiction in terms.

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But there’s a line somewhere between the senseless and the justified, and it isn’t always ours to draw. The line should be non-existent in early life, but what about that 20-something in the Netherlands? What about other lifelong victims of terrors in young age? Who’s to say they ought to be condemned to a life sentence if they’re not able or willing to go on? Absent agonies of an illness nothing in my universe justifies checking out earlier than absolutely necessary. But my universe couldn’t be narrower in that regard. I shouldn’t presume to make it anyone else’s.

On the other hand there’s no room for indifference. There’s a sense of crisis over suicide in Florida. The numbers bear it out. But it’s also inaccurate and simplistic to lump all suicides in the same column. Assisted suicides are not impulsive acts of desperation, nor should one kind of suicide be unduly affected by attitudes about the other. Suicide may be too broad a term anymore when it includes euthanasia, assisted suicide, impulsive acts, and even, at the extreme, suicide bombers, who obviously have nothing to do with suicide as a solitary act. Theirs is the opposite, a perversion of the term as with so much else involving such bombings. The English writer Martin Amis prefers to call them “suicide-mass murderers.”

So there’s a problem of terminology, if not methods: From the murdering to the heroic, it’s easy to be condemning of one kind of suicide and admiring of another, but those are the extremes, and they’re rare. There’s a whorl of gray in between, where the majority of suicides shock and leave their own kind of devastation behind, making them in that regard psychologically kin to the bombing kind. They’re nevertheless more difficult to judge if individual freedom is to mean anything. There may be no room for indifference, but there’s not much room for absolutes, either, unless compassion is an absolute. Our laws, in Florida as in most of the United States, have yet to catch up.

Writing in 1754, well before assisted suicide was a recognizable phrase, Voltaire described the will to live as a usually invincible instinct fueled by hope. “It’s when that hope fails us absolutely,” he wrote, “or when unbearable gloom takes hold of us, that we’re able to defeat that instinct that makes us love life’s shackles, and that we muster the courage to get out of a flimsy house beyond repair.”  To which Anthony Swofford, the famous U.S. Marine and author of “Jarhead,” could reply: “When you have the muzzle of a high-powered rifle in your mouth, there are many things to consider other than your despair.”

Maybe the French philosopher and the American Marine can be synthesized into Lee Chong, Steinbeck’s grocer in “Cannery Row”: “It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam.

9 Responses for “A Right To Die, Even For 20-Somethings”

  1. Grim Reaper says:

    Don’t do it Pierre….don’t do it. Think about your family….your readers……the IRS . Ah, well OK go ahead !

  2. wishful thinking says:

    Our country is NUTS- the NRA and 2nd amendment fanatics condone anyone owing AK 47s UZIs etc ( which we all know can kill many innocent people at one time ) but they are against anyone who prefers taking their own life, when they want, how they want, rather than risking losing their life every time they walk out of their front door?? Amazing that so many Republicans, and I am a registered Republican, say on one hand we have too much government down our throats and at the same time want to have the right to dictate how we live!

  3. Anonymous says:

    The liberals have this world so mucked up it’s ridiculous. People want to check out for nothing, depression, anxiety, etc. and others can’t decide if they are male or female, it’s a major conundrum on which bathroom to use, a marriage can now consist of two males or two females, now there is a move afoot to deny that kids do not belong to their parents (I don’t mean that in the property sense). Our liberties are being taken away or threatened everyday, 90+ million Americans aren’t even interested in working, blacks can’t move beyond slavery and hate because their leaders insist that whitey is out to get them at every turn. College kids can’t remember who the first president was, don’t know who the current Vice President is and are being inundated with the need for safe spaces when they are more safe and coddled then anyone has ever been instead of wondering, enjoying their youth and learning how to think and solve life’s problems and helping others. Our leaders lie and cheat to maintain power and build what they think is a glorious legacy instead of doing the right thing. Immigrants can’t enter our country legally because the red tape and cultural requirements to citizenship are impossible to navigate and complete without a ton of money. Our streets are flooded with drugs to keep our minds numb to the constant twisted changes to our lives and what we thought we were doing right to build a good future for our grand kids. People kill others in the name of God, for ten bucks, because they are mentally ill, or just to get their way with no feelings of remorse or guilt. Money drives everything. The butterfly effect seldom brings good results anymore. The unintended consequences to our thoughtful actions have screwed our planet, our lives, our children’s lives beyond repair making us now scream for radical change instead of thoughtful good action. And these are just some of the problems. We have really fu*ked this world up. Jesus may not be as popular as he once was but he had the right answers to fix this world and obviously no one listened. Wether he is the son of God or not, he had the simple ways and words to make life worth living. To bad we are idiots. Ask not what someone can do for you, ask what you can do for them!

  4. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Totally agree with anonymous, no one should ever be allowed to end their lives in an unnatural manner. It’s a liberal idea and irresponsible to let someone suffering in agonizing pain that’s slowly being eaten alive by inoperable and incurable cancer experience the release of oblivion. God’s plan says that people should experience the end in a sweat-soaked bed, cloaked in insurmountable pain and wrapped in the echoes of their screams that are only muffled by the brief periods that the lapse out of consciousness or fall into delirium.

    It was god’s plan to let this 20-something year old girl be repeatedly raped from the ages of 5 to 15 and suffer incurable mental illness because of it. Who are we to question the years she spent tormented by demons? Who are we to question the 10 years of violent sexual abuse that left this woman sleeping for minutes at a time, always with the lights on and a chair propped up against the handles of the doors in her bedroom? Who are we to question God’s plan to reward her with PTSD, hallucinations, and incurable mental suffering?

  5. Geezer says:

    Donald Trump’s Tiny Fingers:

    Hats off to you–great comment!

  6. Copycat says:

    Higher suicide rates might be due to a series of life and financial circumstances that are unique to the baby boomer generation. Men and women in that age group are often coping with the stress of caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.
    Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials said there was a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.
    “It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” said the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”

  7. Jadobi says:

    Donald Trump’s Tiny Fingers:
    God this, God that…. some people don’t believe in God, or your God or any God. What sense is there in a law that prevents people from choosing to end their life. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the example of the rape victim, but what about someone riddled with cancer that has no quality of life. They should be permitted to end their suffering following the guidelines set forth by law, look at Washington State. Its not for you or me to decide what others do to/ with themselves. Lives would be a lot simpler, people would be a lot happier if we focused on ourselves rather than everyone else. If you don’t want to commit suicide, don’t do it. Simple.

  8. Geezer says:


    Donald Trump’s Tiny Fingers was being sarcastic.
    Notice that the “g” in “god” wasn’t capitalized…..

    Revisit the comment in question.

  9. NortonSmitty says:

    Hey P, Great article. Just read it reposted in Condrats.

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