This article was published on February 23, on the HOPE Australia website.
By Paul Russell, Director, HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide.
There’s a subtle hypocrisy in our society in regards to suicide that also plays out in cases of wrongful death and euthanasia & assisted suicide arguments.
If a young person tragically dies by suicide we are rightly upset. We feel immense compassion for the young person and for their grieving families. It is entirely natural to observe that part of the tragedy is that he or she had ‘their whole lives ahead of them’. And so, in our western society where youth suicide is tragically far too common, we invest significant time, effort and finances in suicide prevention – and rightly so.
But when our media reports a suicide of an older person, they and we often see it differently. Often, but not always, the story talks about someone who has had a wonderful life and simply wants to be gone. Reasons vary from the fear of deterioration or a difficult prognosis to simply not wanting to grow old. Wrapped up like a sugar-coated yet bitter pill, we’re encouraged to consider that such a suicide is understandable, perhaps even okay. It is not. We are encouraged to celebrate his or her ‘courage to choose’ without thought for the reality that to make such a suggestion at the suicide death of a young person would be deemed rightly as cruel and invariably wrong.
I cannot help but think that the easy acceptance of suicide amongst the elderly is somehow subtly tied up in our own fears about what we will face ourselves. The lack of suicide prevention campaigns aimed at our elders tends to support this thinking and the idea of euthanasia and assisted suicide as being for the aged and infirmed further compromises suicide prevention initiatives.