A Few Kind Words for Merciful Endings

The infamous GOP presidential debate from Tampa last week (but aren't they all?) had many lowlights. The depths were plumbed when CNN's moderator, the "Situation Room" blowhard Wolf Blitzer, asked Rep. Ron Paul about a person who elected not to purchase health insurance but later needed expensive medical care to survive. Ron Paul replied, "That's what freedom is all about - taking your own risks." Blitzer, seeking clarification, then asked, "So society should just let him die?" The Tea Bagger audience went wild with acclaim for that idea. A loud "Yeah!" was heard above the clamor. None of the other Republican presidential candidates offered a softer, more nuanced perspective. I was hoping Blitzer would ask one of the candidates about assisted suicide, which I prefer to call "merciful assistance" in checking out. Here, too, Republicans distinguish themselves in the worst possible ways. Republicans, being religious extremists, wholeheartedly support death without dignity, no matter the pain, costs or  suffering. The "let the market decide - if you can't pay, too bad" Republicans prefer intrusive in this instance, rather than supporting freedom to choose one's time and method of death. They oppose giving Americans the right to qualified assistance to put an end to suffering, even when there is no hope for cure, no relief from pain, no prospect for quality of life. Remember Clint Eastwood’s recent film “Million Dollar Baby?” The movie provided a dramatic look at assisted suicide. Many religious leaders were outraged, angry at the idea that humans, not their sky god, can any right to take a life, even one's own, under any circumstances. If God wanted us to die peacefully without pain in dignified ways, he would have made such arrangements. Earl Wettstein, President of the "Final Exit Network," cites polls that show more than 70 percent of Americans support an individual's right-to-die. Under circumstances similar to those depicted in "Million Dollar Baby" and sketched above (i.e., a terminal person suffering unremitting pain with no prospect for recovery), most Americans would choose to die – and would want qualified assistance in doing so. I have asked countless friends and nearly all my relatives about this, and the view seems unanimous that everyone people want to be able to choose and insist upon the right to help those they love and support to die. People want to eliminate legal barriers to merciful endings. One of my heroes, a man who suffered greatly because of his commitment to merciful endings, was Dr. Jack Kevorkian. But there are other advocates for the right to this final freedom, the liberty to choose when and how to die. One prominent advocate for merciful endings is Philip Nitschke, an Australian doctor who believes everyone over 50 should have an end of life plan - and the legal right to carry it out. At present, he cannot assist provide merciful endings, but he can and does offer the ultimate form of self-help knowledge. You an learn about Dr. Nitschke and his approaches in this interview. What are your ideas about merciful endings? Do you support this concept in general and would you want to have such an option yourself in your final moments? What do you think is the likelihood that all Americans and other free people around the world will have such a right in the future?