Kevin Drum, assisted suicide and… me

posted at 10:11 pm on January 11, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

I normally send our readers to stories which are either interesting, entertaining, enraging or at least – hopefully – informative and applicable to topics of import in the conservative sphere. Today I would direct your attention to one which may or may not fall into any of the above categories and most certainly isn’t entertaining. It’s a lengthy article by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones which will likely be very hard to read because it deals with a touchy subject, relating directly to Kevin and his family… assisted suicide. California recently passed an end of life law along these lines (which I wrote about at the time) and it has a lot to do with this story.

This is normally the point in most articles where I would include an excerpt from the article in question and tag off the pertinent points. I’ve read the entire thing twice and I’m unable to do that today. You can read the entire article here and I hope you do, but there is no one piece that speaks to the entire story.

I’ll begin by saying that I don’t know Kevin Drum and to the best of my recollection I’ve never met him. I do read a lot of his material, however, and I can comfortably say that we don’t agree on much in the political sphere. But on this subject we can set all of that aside. The article has to do with his father-in-law – at least in the beginning – and his battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. He fought it tooth and claw but it got the better of him in the end and he wound up taking his own life.

That part is pretty hard to read, but it doesn’t end there. You see, Keven has been diagnosed with the same disease. He’s been going through some very rough, aggressive treatment programs and hope still exists, but it doesn’t sound like a long term hope in the best of cases and Mr. Drum (who is about my age) knows that he may be facing the same choices in the not unimaginably distant future.

I’ve written a number of articles on the subject, generally to highly negative reviews from conservatives here and elsewhere. Kevin does a yeoman’s job of covering much of the history of the science behind assisted suicide and the legal battles which surround it. I’ve covered some of them here in the past and there’s no need to go into them again. But what I am able to do is share a parallel set of tales which compel me to comment on Drum’s column. They begin with my dad.

I’ve written about my father here many times for various reasons. He was a warrior who went to fight the Nazis in WW2 before he was technically even old enough to do so and returned home, alive but wounded in multiple ways, with decorations to show for his service. He was an accomplished mechanical engineer and occasional inventor. He was a father and a strict disciplinarian, not without his own set of faults, but a man in the truest sense of the word who did his best to guide a family through the world. It was a remarkable life.

But what I’ve rarely if ever mentioned is his death. After facing multiple surgeries for a medical condition which finally wore him down, my father went up into the bedroom of the house where I grew up and set one of his .30-06 hunting rifles between his knees, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He told nobody in advance and my mother found him. She was really never the same after that.

The second part of the story is that of my mother, which (as many of our very compassionate and regular readers know) ended two days before Christmas last month. She had been plagued with severe dementia and, while there had been many early warning signs, she spent the last five years of her life in some mysterious place which none of us could reach. Her physical health deteriorated slowly during that period until she eventually succumbed. Her youngest brother attended the services, but he is already far along that path and didn’t recognize any of us there. Those two are the youngest of eight children and two others suffered the same fate. Another thing I haven’t mentioned in public is that this situation prompted a conversation between me and my siblings which I’d already had with my wife. Sitting in the parlor of the funeral home with my bride, my brother an my sister, I made one solemn pronouncement in front of my mother’s coffin. “I’m not going out like that.”

That brings us to the third and last portion of the story. My brother, should you ever meet him, looks a lot like my father. His side of the family didn’t seem to suffer from such mental degradation issues. My dad’s parents made it into their nineties with their faculties intact and my brother, well into his sixties is sharp as a tack. I, on the other hand… well, if you ever look at a picture of me and my mom you’ll see that the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree there. And in the past few years I’ve already seen a doctor myself to little avail. I’ve noticed my memory starting to go. I call some of our pets by the wrong names. My wife talks about events which happened twenty years ago and I realize that I have no recollection of them. Absolutely zero. Little pieces begin to fall away. I’m told by reliable authorities that this is how it begins, though there are thankfully generally a fair number of years ahead for most people before it gets out of control.

I have no intention of sitting in a home somewhere and withering away, lost in some playground beyond the reach of the real world, waiting for my vital functions to fail and being little more than a burden and painful open wound for my wife and the rest of my family. I’ve already had this discussion with my wife and she is, thankfully, an understanding and forgiving angel. I only hope that society has progressed to the point where it’s not too much of a herculean effort just to get the job done. The methods involved don’t matter so much to me and can be sorted out for each individual as we go along. The path my father chose seems rather… daunting. But then again, Dad came into this world with gigantic balls of solid brass. I’m not sure I inherited them. I just know I’d like the choice to be mine, much along the same lines as the feelings that Kevin Drum invoked. And I don’t want to leave my wife in the same boat my mother was in after he took the final exit.

I completely understand the slippery slope fears and arguments about getting the government too heavily involved which I hear from our readers when this subject comes up. We absolutely don’t want to open the door to greedy relatives giving a wealthy family member the bum’s rush out the door or doctors or health insurance representatives putting a load of guilt on the sick to spare everyone else the trouble. I’d just like to see a system where the individuals facing that difficult, terminal decision have the opportunity to meet their mortality on their own terms in their own time. Surely there is some way that could be managed.

As to you with religious or moral concerns, I understand your argument but I do not agree with it. If you want to call my father a coward, I defy you to say it aloud. I also pray for you if you find yourself facing the same test and see your moral certitude wavering. If you feel that such a course condemns one to hell then I can only hope that dad kept a seat warm for me. But no matter how you view it, it’s time for the government to set aside some of our antiquated prejudices and realize that a society which treasures the rights of the living as we do should also find room to allow for the freedom to meet the end in the manner they see fit.

Gravesite


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I’ve seen what is does to people, how it makes them ghosts. This lack of treatment could result in me dying. Is that suicide? Is failure to treat oneself a subtle form of suicide?

Ris4victory on January 12, 2016 at 8:22 AM

I know of no faith tradition that would call that suicide.

Zomcon JEM on January 12, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Ris4victory – I should have added that this question gets asked alot in Catholic church, seems to come up in RCIA classes quite a bit – and the church’s teaching pretty expressively noted that this is not suicide at all. It may be a prudent response to your disease saying no to more treatment. I have been in the room when the doc tells a loved one there is not much left to do – and it will probably kill you if we try. Science only can do so much.

Zomcon JEM on January 12, 2016 at 4:56 PM

I’d just like to see a system where the individuals facing that difficult, terminal decision have the opportunity to meet their mortality on their own terms in their own time. Surely there is some way that could be managed.

The system already exists. You, I, most of us .. already have the opportunity to die on our own terms.

The problems arise because people aren’t satisfied with the opportunities actually available, and don’t take one of those opportunities while it is available to them. Instead people leave the decision until it is “too late”.

If you want to be an Olympic medallist you must make your attempt while you retain the capacity of fitness and vigour, because when your hormones change and your bones are worn it will be “too late”. If you want to succeed in a career you must make your attempt while you retain the capacity of intellect, tenacity and ambition and have sufficient years ahead of you in which to gain essential experience. A 20-year old has far more career possibilities than a 60-year old. If you want to marry your dream girl/boy you must do so before she/he marries somebody else, for then it will be “too late”. And if you refuse to choose any of the girls/boys you know then you must accept that your prospects of marriage diminish steadily, until one day it will be “too late”.

For every ambition there is a moment called “too late”.

Dying on your own terms is no different.

If you want to die on your own terms you must do it while you have the capacity. And you must use one of the methods that is possible for you (not everybody will have the same choices).

Instead however, many people want to postpone “dying on their own terms” until they lack the capacity — until it is too late — and then have others make the arrangements and do the killing.

Having others kill you does certainly bring-up a multitude of complex moral and legal issues that society is ill-equipped to cope with. Demanding that society take on those responsibilities just because you waited until it was “too late” is selfish.

Killing oneself can be accomplished reliably within a minute of two and in a multitude of ways — some messier than others.

An adult wishing to choose the time and place does actually choose a time and a place, and makes good on that choice while they retain the capacity to do so — before it is “too late”.

The immature people whine about how society is cruel and unfair, procrastinate, refuse to take effective & timely action, and then demand that somebody else shoulder the burden, take the responsibility and deal with the aftermath … much like they conduct themselves in every other aspect of life.

It isn’t necessarily selfish to kill oneself. It is very selfish to demand that other people take responsibility for your dying.

YiZhangZhe on January 12, 2016 at 6:11 PM

What else is there to say? Mensaloc admits no one has any rights at all, not even a right to life. Of course this the natural progression for anyone who champions abortion. We all know Mensaloc is one ignorant Fluke, but there are far too many of them. We have come from the greats in history who have in one way or another proven to us the true nature of natural born rights; such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Cicero, Locke, and Hobbes; to Mensaloc. Truly, I weep.

NotCoach on January 12, 2016 at 4:28 PM

Notice the modifier ‘natural’ before rights. The only right nature imbues you with is the right to cease existing at some point. All other rights derive from society.

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 6:52 PM

Love the self derived morals crowd.

My moral compass says my happiness is increased by your death. So your death is now a moral imperative for me in order to maximize my happiness.

Self directed morals are behind every mass murdering leader in history.

Zomcon JEM on January 12, 2016 at 2:54 PM

Of course learning that your morals are not based on any universal truths may result in people deciding to be ultimately selfish, but guess what, basing morals on faiths has not exactly restrained slaughter. Contrary to your ahistorical assertion there are oh so many examples of mass murders who found their faith to support their activities.

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 6:55 PM

Notice the modifier ‘natural’ before rights. The only right nature imbues you with is the right to cease existing at some point. All other rights derive from society.

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 6:52 PM

I already pointed out you’re an ignorant Fluke, but you are certainly free to reinforce that truth.

NotCoach on January 12, 2016 at 6:56 PM

I already pointed out you’re an ignorant Fluke, but you are certainly free to reinforce that truth.

NotCoach on January 12, 2016 at 6:56 PM

*shrug*
what other rights do you think nature imbues you with?

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ve always agreed with the Objectivist take on this:

But what if happiness becomes impossible to attain? What if a dread disease, or some other calamity, drains all joy from life, leaving only misery and suffering? The right to life includes and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise — to declare that society must give you permission to kill yourself — is to contradict the right to life at its root. If you have a duty to go on living, despite your better judgment, then your life does not belong to you, and you exist by permission, not by right.

ShainS on January 12, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Is that not exactly what the Hemlock Society is seeking? Is it not reasonable, from an objectivist worldview, for me to find their sort of thinking revolting? If it’s private, I should never have to know about it.

gryphon202 on January 12, 2016 at 8:16 PM

I tend to think of it more as, “ill-conceived.”

I believe most of those who take their own lives would have acted differently if they had known the damage they’d cause to those they left behind.

Anti-ControI on January 12, 2016 at 12:19 AM

I have friends still burdened by their loved one’s suicide, decades after it happened. I had to talk a friend down in college, and counsel one of my own children when he was in college as well.

It’s a hard time of life, apparently.
Neither was dealing with the issues brought up here (terminal, painful, final illness and dementia), but they thought their tribulations were just as terminal and painful — how many physicians would “pass” them if assisted suicide became the norm? it is so obvious (especially in this era) that issues that look self-evidently desirable or wise in the abstract ideal, become nightmares in the actual implementation.

AesopFan on January 12, 2016 at 2:14 AM

That is it exactly when I talked about my niece earlier and her stepbrother’s suicide. Her father particularly was musing out loud that he should have insisted his son stay with him a while; he was convinced that had that happened, he could have tried to talk him out of it … or something. But we’ll never know.

PatriotGal2257 on January 12, 2016 at 8:51 PM

I’ve run the gamut of emotion on this one, I’m done.

Andy__B on January 12, 2016 at 12:41 PM

Andy, reading your post, and the original from Jazz, is a moving experience. Your honor in respecting your wife’s wishes, and your strength to be there for her whatever the cost, brought me to tears. Thank you both, and everyone else here who shared their stories. This is given me much to consider, and in a strange way was comforting knowing that when the chips are down, one only need reach deep within and find one’s own reserves, with whatever spiritual guidance exists.

UPNorthWolf on January 12, 2016 at 8:53 PM

I’m posting this a bit late, because I needed time to get over my visceral reaction. I’ve had several people, family and close friends, commit or attempt suicide.

My stepsister cut her wrists. Twice. The first wasn’t too deep and she grabbed bandages and went to the ER fast enough. The second time my father found her on the floor. She survived, but it was close.

One of my friends suffers from chronic depression. I’ve had to talk him down twice, and I suspect I’ll need to again.

One of my childhood friends, at fifteen, ate a bullet. His mother killed herself less than a year later.

It’s one thing to look at your illness and say, “Do not sustain my life or resuscitate me. Let me die, if it comes to it.” It’s a wholly different thing to kill yourself.

Jazz… Put yourself in your mother’s shoes. You come home one day, expecting to find your husband… And you do. With his blood and brains spattered all over the bed you slept in, next to him, the night before. Every time you enter that room, going forward, the person you love won’t be there. Instead, there will only be the faint scent of lingering rot for a few months, from the bits that couldn’t be cleaned up, and then nothing. You’re on your own. No discussion, no forewarning, just blood and gore announcing you would be spending the rest of your life alone.

That wasn’t bravery. I’m not going to call your father a coward; no one who saw combat in WWII and stood their ground was a coward. His suicide wasn’t brave, either. It was selfish and disrespectful to your mother and your entire family, doubly so because of the way he did it.

Assisted suicide, or even legalized suicide, is anathema. Not only is it impossible to effectively limit, so you don’t have it being approved for every case of mild depression, but it ignores one of the key aspects of medical science. Namely, that every time a patient is treated, we learn. Fifty years ago, someone with cystic fibrosis would be dead before age 10. Now they have life expectancies in the 40’s-50’s, and we are constantly developing new ways to improve their quality and quantity of life. If most or all of them had been aborted, instead of attempting to help them, that would not be the case. Making the effort to stay alive may not help you, but it could save others.

Asurea on January 12, 2016 at 10:12 PM

Assisted suicide, or even legalized suicide, is anathema. Not only is it impossible to effectively limit, so you don’t have it being approved for every case of mild depression, but it ignores one of the key aspects of medical science. Namely, that every time a patient is treated, we learn. Fifty years ago, someone with cystic fibrosis would be dead before age 10. Now they have life expectancies in the 40’s-50’s, and we are constantly developing new ways to improve their quality and quantity of life. If most or all of them had been aborted, instead of attempting to help them, that would not be the case. Making the effort to stay alive may not help you, but it could save others.

Asurea on January 12, 2016 at 10:12 PM

This is an excellent point, and one I would point to whenever someone wonders why we “waste” time and money treating elderly people in the last few months of life.
If their doctors are paying attention, then there is always something to be learned that can help someone else later. Even better if some kind of clinical research is involved. Also, the things my siblings and I learned caring for my mother, about disease and treatments and hospital protocols and when to call hospice, has all been passed on to other relatives and friends in case they need that knowledge themselves.

Per the last sentence, a dear friend had a stroke and was alone for nearly 24 hours; the doctors didn’t expect her to come back at all, but she did. Then they recommended withdrawing life support anyway because she would “never recover” after the severe neurological damage. Her husband refused to, as he said, give the orders to kill his sweetheart.
He took over her case and essentially kept her alive for three more years, despite recurrent illnesses and complications, even retrieving some muscular control and pretty clear evidence that her intellect was still “in there”; she finally passed away (I think by choice) after a string of particularly bad infections, when it was clear that the medical system just could not keep her physically functional (don’t get me started on the insurance blunders that torpedoed most of her therapy and cognitive treatments just as they were making headway and forcing them into new facilities with all the attendant start-up costs one more time) … long story short, almost all of her medicos and care givers learned something about perseverance and thinking-outside-the-box that we hope will stick with them for the benefit of someone else in a similar predicament.

I can’t imagine the frame of mind someone in that position would be in, so it’s hard to substitute my clear and rational judgment for theirs in their hour of ultimate despair.

Immolate on January 12, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Depression and severe pain generally bring on high degrees of tunnel vision.

Having others kill you does certainly bring-up a multitude of complex moral and legal issues that society is ill-equipped to cope with. Demanding that society take on those responsibilities just because you waited until it was “too late” is selfish.

Killing oneself can be accomplished reliably within a minute of two and in a multitude of ways — some messier than others.

An adult wishing to choose the time and place does actually choose a time and a place, and makes good on that choice while they retain the capacity to do so — before it is “too late”.

It isn’t necessarily selfish to kill oneself. It is very selfish to demand that other people take responsibility for your dying.

YiZhangZhe on January 12, 2016 at 6:11 PM

But in the end we all have to make our own decisions.
And every decision we make has consequences for someone else.

AesopFan on January 12, 2016 at 10:57 PM

I believe that suicide is a sin, but I also believe that it is not OUR right to judge the person who commits it. I think God will judge us all based on our entire lives, and not just the way we end them. I don’t necessarily think it’s the coward’s way out, and I fully know that psychological pain can be nigh onto unbearable, but I actually discussed this with my counselor, recently. It’s her contention that, while the pain ends for that person, that pain is multiplied and transferred to those who loved him or her. I don’t necessarily agree in full, but the thought has kept me alive that I don’t want my kids to be the ones wose father offed himself, and leave them wondering what more they could have done, especially when there would have been nothing they COULD have done.

arik1969 on January 12, 2016 at 11:00 PM

I figured I would come back and write something, but after reading so many poignant posts, I’m gonna pass.

Thoughts and prayers go out to Jazz and so many other HA posters.

Fallon on January 12, 2016 at 11:12 PM

Mr. Waterman’s death ended an accomplished life, but one with many abrupt changes of direction. At 16, he was a professional jazz pianist, and later was a speechwriter for three presidents.

Read the whole thing.

And here’s Outside Magazine’s version

A Natural Death

Del Dolemonte on January 12, 2016 at 1:10 AM

Fascinating story, well worth the read.

I am 62 years old and I do wonder what fate lays before me and how I will handle it. It’s like being in combat, you never really know how you’ll react until things start happening for real. But, in the end I do not fear death for I know there is definitely an afterlife. God is a loving and forgiving God. He is our true Father.

Cherokee on January 12, 2016 at 8:35 AM

Amen.

AesopFan on January 12, 2016 at 11:30 PM

How can anyone support the early death of a good person?

My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and though I know my grandparents loved each other, I know my grandmother needed the emotion he was finally able to display, realizing his dependence and using it to… idk thank her and truly connect.

I’m conflicted on what should be law, but it’s vital that society place life in high esteem. Things that weaken that perception can cause problems, and the elderly are very vulnerable in that situation.

That said, I’ve felt the kind of intense and unceasing pain that made life intolerable and started to understand the benefits of ending it, and still, I can’t fault a person who thinks I should stay as long as possible.

Esthier on January 13, 2016 at 2:05 AM

following a rulebook under threat of eternal damnation ain’t being moral.

everdiso on January 12, 2016 at 1:15 PM

How about constantly displaying sneering condescension for those who think differently than you do, is that moral?

GrumpyOldFart on January 13, 2016 at 8:16 AM

Love the self derived morals crowd.

My moral compass says my happiness is increased by your death. So your death is now a moral imperative for me in order to maximize my happiness.

Self directed morals are behind every mass murdering leader in history.

Zomcon JEM on January 12, 2016 at 2:54 PM

Of course learning that your morals are not based on any universal truths may result in people deciding to be ultimately selfish, but guess what, basing morals on faiths has not exactly restrained slaughter. Contrary to your ahistorical assertion there are oh so many examples of mass murders who found their faith to support their activities.

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 6:55 PM

Ah where to start. What do they say about arguing with someone who hasn’t, what we might say, enough awareness to understand when they walk into a blind alley.

I never said people hadn’t used religion as a mask for doing some pretty awful things – I would argue they obscured those morals taught by religious traditions for their own personal gain. However, the 20th century saw the leftist political tradition responsible for over 100 million deaths. And this was based upon the idea that religion was a drug for the masses to keep them down. Socialism, communism, fascism all are murderous philosophies that deliberately broke from moral code of religious history and made decisions based on exactly what I stated.

Humans can be cruel. Humans who think they can replace god are just silly. Because their track record of doing it on their own is substantially worse.

Zomcon JEM on January 13, 2016 at 10:45 AM

I’m conflicted on what should be law, but it’s vital that society place life in high esteem. Things that weaken that perception can cause problems, and the elderly are very vulnerable in that situation.

That said, I’ve felt the kind of intense and unceasing pain that made life intolerable and started to understand the benefits of ending it, and still, I can’t fault a person who thinks I should stay as long as possible.

Esthier on January 13, 2016 at 2:05 AM

Well said.

AesopFan on January 13, 2016 at 12:06 PM

Not wanting to detract from the very intense, personal tenderness of this thread, but I have a small practical suggestion.
If you are intending to commit suicide, assisted or otherwise, please check the conditions of your life insurance policy first.

AesopFan on January 13, 2016 at 12:08 PM

If you are intending to commit suicide, assisted or otherwise, please check the conditions of your life insurance policy first.

AesopFan on January 13, 2016 at 12:08 PM

And talk to your loved ones. If it’s really time for you to go and they really love you, they might be more supportive than you think. If it isn’t really time for you to go, they might show you some important factor that you’re not seeing.

The bottom line is that the more important a decision is, the more imperative it is to ask yourself, “What if you’re wrong?” And what decision is more important than deciding whether you live or die?

what other rights do you think nature imbues you with?

Tlaloc on January 12, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ve told you my feelings on the subject. “Rights” in the DoI is shorthand for “things a randomly chosen person can reasonably be expected to be willing to fight and possibly die to defend.”

Pick a person at random. Try to kill him. Chances are he’ll fight you, possibly to the death.

Pick a person at random. Try to imprison them. Chances are he’ll fight you, possibly to the death.

Pick a person at random. Try to enslave them, so they are forced to labor solely toward your priorities rather than their own. Chances are he’ll fight you, possibly to the death.

As natural and automatic as water running downhill.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” rolls off the tongue a lot better, that’s all.

Is it 100% universal? No, of course not. So what? I can show you a spot at the bottom of any waterfall on Earth where liquid water is going uphill too, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept of gravity.

You thinking rights are endowed by government is something I find rather frightening in a seemingly otherwise sane and intelligent person. Basically that means you’re okay with anything as long as the guys with the biggest guns say that’s how it’s gonna be.

“Rights come from government” says the child rapists among the UN Peacekeepers should be perfectly okay to you, because after all, they’re as “government” as it gets. If their superiors don’t punish them for it, they are by definition “within their rights.”

GrumpyOldFart on January 13, 2016 at 5:36 PM


You thinking rights are endowed by government is something I find rather frightening in a seemingly otherwise sane and intelligent person. Basically that means you’re okay with anything as long as the guys with the biggest guns say that’s how it’s gonna be.

“Rights come from government” says the child rapists among the UN Peacekeepers should be perfectly okay to you, because after all, they’re as “government” as it gets. If their superiors don’t punish them for it, they are by definition “within their rights.”

GrumpyOldFart on January 13, 2016 at 5:36 PM

This is frighteningly descriptive of life under the Obama regime (and its predecessors, who never quite dared be so blatant). Cf: Lois Lerner, the VA honchos, Her Highness Hillary the First, and countless more whose corruption goes unpunished.

Segue to this column by Mark Steyn on the Iranian Boat Incident this week.

In fact, the Iranians are doing exactly what they’ve always done. They got their nuclear deal, and it’s business as usual. The only difference is that, a decade ago, they did it to America’s allies but they never quite dared to do it to America itself.

Now they do.

AesopFan on January 13, 2016 at 11:43 PM

If anyone is still interested in the topic, here is an article from another blogger, Daniel Payne.
http://thefederalist.com/2016/01/14/dont-kill-yourself-kevin-drum/

He covers some of the same issues as the HA Commentariat, but it’s a good summation of the arguments on one side of the question.

AesopFan on January 15, 2016 at 12:56 AM

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