The Welsh newspaper, Wales Online, recently reported the tragic story of a young Welsh academic who chose suicide in the face of her deteriorating health due to MS.
Frances Medley, 44, a high achiever by any standards, said in her blog:
The prospect of further rapid deterioration was both terrifying and not one I wanted to entertain. I decided to end my life in a manner of my choosing. I am very clear that, whilst the law might say otherwise, I AM NOT COMMITTING SUICIDE.
A well-known and well respected person in the Welsh community, the article notes that she will be sadly missed.
Medley also commented: "Hold your tongue at times when you risk blurting out judgmental potentially hurtful comments; we seldom know the full back story." Certainly a good principle to live by and one, that for the sake of her memory and the devastation at her loss, I intend to honour.
However, I do feel it appropriate to question Medley's assertion that she was not committing suicide. There are so many soft-sell euphemisms floating around about suicide and, particularly assisted suicide that are doubtless designed to help us see suicide as a good. It isn't. Think of terms such as, 'self-deliverance', 'final exit', 'assistance in dying', 'dignity in dying' or even the phrase Medley herself used, 'end my life in a manner of my choosing'. These and other euphemisms are well rehearsed by the pro-euthanasia and pro-assisted suicide brigade; hardly any wonder that they are restated by people such as Ms Medley.
Why then would Medley feel the need to assert, in such strong terms, that she was not committing suicide? After all, if she had self-defined her death differently, why would there be a need to draw attention to suicide if, indeed, the term did not apply to her? Moreover, Medley herself would not be around to hear any criticisms about her actions.
The inescapable reality is that suicide remains probably the last major taboo in our society, and rightly so. We exhaust significant public expenditure and effort attempting to stop people from committing suicide and we have a myriad of helplines, websites and counselling services to back up these worthy initiatives. We don't want people to suicide.
We know that the grief of family members at a suicide death of a loved one is deep; the unanswered questions lingering on for years. Perhaps Ms Medley's family has a clearer understanding about why, in her case; after all, her suffering was clearly evident. But that does not change the reality that suicide is still considered to be a negative.
Philip Nitschke's promotion of one of his suicide methods goes so far as to make an 'undetectable cause of death' a selling point for those who would be concerned that they didn't want to be remembered as the relative that killed themselves. Perhaps that is part of Medley's fear.
Regardless, we cannot simply wish away the reality of suicide. Those that peddle the soft sell that make such actions seem 'heroic' or 'rational' should have a good hard look at the possible havoc they cause.
Some would, and have, tried to sheet home the taboo nature of suicide to latent religious sentiment. It is true that various religions have, in their own ways, sought to re-enforce the taboo by various sanctions, but so has society at large – and we still do that in so many ways. But the origins of the taboo cannot be simply dismissed as being based upon religion – and we should be thankful for that!
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Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition