I’m not altogether sure what is meant by “old age rational sucicide,” but here is an example where, it seems to me, ordinary provisions for assisted dying would have provided all that is needed. There is a video and an article. I will upload the video here, and link to the articles in the Australian newspaper, The Age, here and here. So, first, the video, then a short comment:
Michael Cook, the Editor of BioEdge, a conservative bioethics blog from Australia, is tied up in knots about this, partly because he thinks of Beverley Broadbent as relatively healthy, and partly because he questions the ethics of the journalist who reported Ms. Broadbent’s point of view without even trying to dissuade her from taking her life. As he says:
In the first place, a journalist is first of all a human being. Didn’t Medew [Julia Medew, the reporter] have a moral obligation to dissuade a relatively healthy woman from committing suicide?
Of course, the answer to that is: it all depends. If Ms. Broadbent had been a young person in the prime of life, who was suffering from a episodic bout of depression with a specific physical or social cause (like the loss of a loved one, a love affair gone wrong, or whatever), it would seem that this would be the appropriate thing to do. However, Ms. Broadbent’s reasoning is hard to fault. She is afraid of being caught up into the medical system in such a way that there is no escape, and rather than proceed with all the ramifications of starting the process she thinks it best to leave when she is still able to enjoy life, but may not be able to enjoy it much longer.
Of course, if Australia had provision for someone like Beverley, and could promise her that, if she started the process, she could exit the process at any time with medical help to die, if the process looked to be a long and arduous and ultimately pointless exercise in trying to stretch her life out another few months or years, that would require surgery or chemotherapy or radiotherapy, etc. The point here is that, facing an uncertain future, and having no legal way out of the complex of procedures that a biopsy might set in motion, she chose instead to stop the process before it began, because she did not feel confident of being able to stop it later with the sort of consummation that she had prepared for herself.
But the fault is neither with Ms. Broadbent, nor with Julia Medew, but with governments which continue to refuse people alternative measures at the end of life. My wife Elizabeth, for instance, might have lived some months longer. She would have had to suffer the continuing indignity involved, as she experienced it, of her nursing care, but she might have opted to stay longer, but only if she had an alternative ending of her own choosing at a time chosen by her. Failing that, she decided to go to Switzerland, and received help in dying from Dignitas, because the alternative would not have been available here. Michael Cooke is simply out of his depth.
He wants to add to Medew’s file blame for not following World Health Organisation guidelines regarding the reporting of a suicide, which warns of the copycat suicides that sometimes follow the reporting of a suicide. But Ms. Broadbent’s suicide was of a very different sort, and not likely to influence those who are liable to die by suicide for other reasons that would be invoked by the self-chosen death of a older person facing possibly difficult medical circumstances. A promise of assisted dying when her outlook became even bleaker, if that occurred, would likely have kept Ms. Broadbent alive. If governments refuse to legalise assisted dying because some people might die before their time, they must take into account the deaths of people like Ms. Broadbent, who might still be enjoying her declining years, had assisted dying been legal.