Humans are notably inconsistent beings, which may account for the contradictory attitudes we currently see to the phenomenon of suicide. On the one hand, every effort is made to prevent people taking their own lives; there are safety barriers on bridges, crisis hotlines, suicide prevention programmes in schools. At the same time there are organised campaigns for assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia to be sanctioned by law.
According to euthanasia advocates, we have the right to end our lives, and as autonomous individuals, each one should choose whether to live or die. There are people, it’s true, who think that autonomy and choice are too good to be wasted on just anyone. Someone commenting on a National Post blog recently insisted that “a 90 year old suffering dementia who is also blind, deaf and unable to walk is no longer a person.” The implication is that the infirm can have the time of their death chosen for them- by someone else of course.
Yet autonomy and choice do lend respectability to the pro-suicide campaign because, when not used as mere buzz words, they are truly signs of the rational spark that differentiates us from our pet birds and rabbits. Autonomy, however, is only part of the human story. No man is an island, and, as part of the universal human family, both the way we choose to live and the way we die does have an impact on others.
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