Forty-six years ago, my husband chose suicide by shooting himself in the back of his head in our bed. We both were 31, our daughter was 8 and our three sons were 7, 4 and 2.
On that Sunday afternoon, our lives were shattered. Everything was different; I was now the widow of suicide. Our children were the children of suicide. In an instant, they lost their innocence and their childhood. My children became over-protective of me, fearing something would happen to me and they would be alone. The two oldest children endured cruel taunts by older children in school because of their father's suicide.
We attended counseling as a family and I was told that their father's suicide would affect every stage of my children's lives. What should have been normal conversations with new acquaintances in college, the work place, the military were "take your breath away" occasions when asked about their father's death.
Filling out applications, insurance and medical forms asking for their father's cause of death brought them back to that infamous day. They all dreaded their 31st birthdays; the age when their father took his life. The nightmare continues when my grandchildren ask their mother and fathers how their grandfather died.
My husband's parents were devastated. He was their child. They managed to function day-to-day, but the loss of their son was forever visible in their eyes. There is always that empty place where the loved one should be. Time does not heal the wounds of suicide. The act is never over for the loved ones left behind. The pain is forever and has a ripple effect on future generations.
Although motivations may be different, maybe not, between a death like my husband's and the death being proposed in this bill, assisted suicide is still suicide. Proponents would readily point out the difference between my husband's taking his life in his prime and people with terminal illness and disability taking their lives. But how many of us think or even say that we would give anything to have just one more day or hour with our loved one? When someone dies of natural causes, rather than by suicide, loved ones can have peace of mind of knowing that it was not the sick person who chose to leave them.
I have a rare form of cancer and my husband has a slow progressing form of dementia. We are not afraid to die. We understand that there may be some existential suffering, but many are not aware that there are great resources available within palliative care to control physical pain. Where assisted suicide is legal, however, inadequate pain control is not even among the top five reasons people choose assisted suicide.
In fact, existential and disability-related concerns dominate the top five reasons. Rather than giving these patients death to alleviate their existential sufferings – the same sort of suffering my husband had – we should be pushing for greater social supports and access to them.
Everyone's experience with terminal illness is unique, but based on my experience with my husband, suicide is not the answer. Legalizing assisted suicide via a lethal legal overdose sends a message: some lives are not worth living, namely the lives of people with terminal illness and disability. People who were close to someone who died by suicide are more likely to die by suicide themselves. With the suicide and opioid epidemics ravaging our state, I urge our legislators, our courts, and our citizens not to fuel the fire with these dangerous bills.
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