Assisted suicide is a complex social issue, one that many people struggle with. I have come to the conclusion that if a person has a fatal or incurable condition with no quality of life or unmanageable pain, it is simply humane to engage a physician to assist in a peaceful passing. However, I am still concerned there will be inappropriate, even frivolous medical conditions that will pass scrutiny as doctors and the public become comfortable with new laws legalizing assisted suicide.
A related issue is whether an otherwise healthy adult with a medical condition that can be treated, should be permitted to refuse treatment where the result will be death.
A case in England last month comes to mind where a 50-year-old woman who said she “lost her sparkle”, meaning her youth and beauty, was the subject of a court application to determine whether she would be permitted to refuse lifesaving treatment following a suicide attempt.
The woman was first diagnosed with breast cancer and refused any treatment that would “affect her wearing a bikini” or “make her fat”. A year later she went through a high-
conflict relationship breakdown, lost her business and home, and incurred significant debt. She tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of an over-the-counter analgesic called paracetamol, not unlike aspirin, quaffing them with liberal amounts of champagne. The suicide attempt failed leaving her with a serious kidney condition that could be reversed with dialysis. She refused the treatment.
Her doctors contacted the Health Authority who applied to the Court for an order that she be treated, despite her refusal to consent. Justice MacDonald described her as a woman to whom youth and beauty was most important, she was unconventional in her lifestyle: married four times, had several affairs, and drank excessive amounts of alcohol. In short, she was a “party girl”.
Her daughter told the court, “Put bluntly, her life has always revolved around her looks, men, and material possessions. She understands that people have failed relationships,
feel sad, and continue living, but for her, she doesn’t want to ‘live in a council flat’, ‘be poor’ or ‘be ugly’, which she equates with being old.”
The judge considered whether the woman was competent to make an informed choice, ruled that she was, and refused the Health Authority’s application to force her to undergo treatment. Mr. Justice MacDonald added that his ruling did not prevent the woman’s doctors from “continuing to seek to engage with her in an effort to persuade her of the benefits of receiving life-saving treatment”.
She died fifteen days after the Court permitted her to refuse the life-saving dialysis, leaving behind three children including one who was still a dependent, all because in her dysfunctional mind she felt old, a state she equated with ugliness. Very sad.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang