Assisted Suicide

What is it?

Assisted suicide is, as its name implies, the decision of a person to put an end to his life, but with the assistance of someone. In the countries and states where it has been legalized, such assistance is restrained to the prescription of a lethal medication and/or the provision of such medication to the person determined to commit suicide. Suicide is a deadly personal impulse and therefore the person who resorts to assisted suicide will carry out the last action, that is, he will administer himself the lethal medication.

 

In most cases, the moral, philosophical and legal debate about the assisted suicide is based on a historical reality where the technology and the practice of medicine go hand in hand, thus resulting in the need to discuss death from the biological perspective vs. social, psychological and spiritual death. However, suicide is neither something new, nor something dependent on the medical technology.

Cultural records

This is a list of suicides and assisted suicides that have prevailed in the history of our culture:

  • Plato, in Phaedo’s book, narrates the suicide of Socrates, who takes his life for having been condemned for corrupting the youth and for not believing in the gods.

  • We know that philosopher Empedocles commits suicide.

  • When the Romans took his palace, King Mithridates asked his assistant to kill him, an assisted suicide.

  • Brutus, Julius Caesar’s son-in-law and killer, as well as Gaius, also his killer, commit suicide to avoid being captured.

  • After learning about the alleged death of Cleopatra, Marc Anthony commits suicide, and when Cleopatra is informed about Marc Anthony’s death, she also takes hers own life.

  • Another relevant female suicide is Lucrecia’s, who does after being raped.

  • As a result of the suicide of Seneca, Nero’s advisor, another suicide, many succeed him.

  • In classical literature we have the examples of Aegean, whose name was given to the Aegean Sea, which is located between Greece and Turkey. Aegean, son of Neptune, waits for his son Theseus, who went to fight the Minotaur; as he doesn’t see the promised flag raised on the ship as a sign of life, he decides to throw himself into the sea, rather than face the supposed death of his son.

  • Heracles also commits suicide, followed by his wife Deyanira.
  • Meneceo, his daughter Yocasta wife of Oedipus, and Oedipus himself, commit suicide.

  • Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and Yocasta, commit suicide.

  • Haemon, Yocasta’s cousin, commits suicide and thus causes his mother, Eurydice, to commit suicide as well.

  • Ajax, one of the great heroes of the Trojan War, commits suicide and discusses with his wife, Tecmesa, the method to do it.

  • In the Old Testament we also find several suicidal accounts, the first one, in the Book of Judges, is that of Abimelech, who, after being mortally stoned in the head by a woman, asks his assistant to kill him, so as not to die at the hands of a woman: another assisted suicide.

  • Samson begged Yahweh to die; Saul pounced on his sword; Job already spoke of emotional pain and said that he preferred death, although he didn’t commit suicide.

  • Ahithophel, King David’s advisor, decided to take his life.

  • Zimri, in the First Book of Kings.

  • Eleazar in Maccabees.

  • Ptolemy in Maccabees 2, where there’s also the story of Razis’ suicide.

  • In Tobit’s book, Sarah, who becomes a widow seven times, has constant and obvious suicidal ideas.

  • And the only suicide described in the New Testament is that of Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of Matthew.

In the literature that follows the Bible and the classics, we have an endless list of suicides. For instance, Werther, a character created by Goethe, and whose book had to be banned due to the wave of suicides that it caused. History signals us a number of suicidal characters, going from Periandro, one of the Seven Greek Sages (6th century BC), to Kurt Cobain, singer of a group called Nirvana, through Vincent Van Gogh, Marlyn Monroe, Horacio Quiroga, among other artists.

Thus, suicide is something inherent to the human being who has gone through causes such as honor, heartbreak, existential pain, poverty, fear of grief, diseases in terminal stages, imitation, and that as thinkers, philosophers and theologians evolved, it was forbidden according to the concept that life is a divine gift. In some countries, in order to legalize assisted suicide, they had to eliminate the word suicide, as legal scheme to avoid any negative meaning that the word suicide might have and hence it is called assisted death.

Nowadays

In most countries, today assisted suicide is conceived as a field of medicine and therefore a medical responsibility. However, since its origin medicine has been linked more to the preservation of life than to the procuring of death, so it would be necessary to review whether assisted suicide is the responsibility of health personnel or some other professional who would like to accompany those persons, when they have decided to kiss off their lives.

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