Kevin Drum wants to kill himself, and he will if his cancer progresses past a certain point. Drum, a blogger for Mother Jones, has published a heartbreaking statement of intent to that effect, informing readers he has multiple myeloma that is almost certainly working towards a terminal end.
His intention, when doctors say he is within six months of death, is to ask his doctor for a prescription sedative “that will kill [him] on [his] own terms.” Because Drum lives in California, this would be perfectly legal for both him and his doctor.
“I don’t want to die,” Drum writes. “But if I have to, this is how I want it to happen.”
Should Drum’s illness continue, as such illnesses normally do, he probably will indeed end his life by ingesting pills prescribed for that purpose. Legalizations of physician-assisted suicide are generally followed by upticks in the same.
This Is Dangerous and Expanding Precedent
Contrary to the widely assumed parameters of this debate, the pertinent legal question isn’t whether Drum has the right to take his own life, but whether his doctor should have the legal privilege of helping to kill him. There are plenty of good arguments to make against this perverse interpretation of medicine; it is an open question whether we really should want ministers of medicine and healing to double as angels of death when convenient, and whether this will lead to perverse incentives within the medical field.
There is also the serious and completely sensible fear that legalized doctor-assisted suicide will result in more doctor-assisted suicides of disabled people, whom many people, including disabled people themselves, already regard as an undue burden. Drum takes note of these fears, but does nothing to allay them.
It is something of a moot point, in any event, because California has decided such concerns are immaterial. Thus, because California has so decreed it, Drum’s eventual suicide is no longer a legal question but purely a moral one, and the decision is his.
Suffering Is Not Meaningless
Drum’s suicide—and all suicides like his—stems not from a lack of the will but from a failure of the imagination. Drum’s reasons for wanting to kill himself seem reasonable: he does not want to die “in pain—or drugged into a stupor by pain meds—all while connected to tubes and respirators in a hospital room.” Nor does he want to “cause other people any more pain than I have to.” Rather, he “wants to go out quietly, with my loved ones at my side.”
All of these are at face value perfectly understandable justifications for wanting to kill oneself, at least if we have dispensed with any real conception of the sanctity of life. Nonetheless, Drum’s imagination has failed him, for he has assumed, as have many others before him (and surely many more to come), that a terminal disease is principally a sovereign and autonomous concern, and that a terminal diagnosis is ultimately a question of utility rather than something much more profound and less practical.
Speaking from experience, I can say it is precisely the opposite. The dying afford their family a chance that is quite literally once-in-a-lifetime: the opportunity to fulfill their familial duties to the greatest and most actualized extent possible.
It is true that Drum will save his wife a lot of stress and trouble if he simply ingests a lethal dose of secobarbital while they lie in bed together. But he will have cheated her out of something that is hers by right: the chance to realize her wedding vows and her matrimonial commitment to the fullest possible degree by conferring upon her husband the last and most important measures of care and comfort she can give him. Parents who kill themselves cheat their children out of a similar blessing: the opportunity to repay, in however small and incomplete a way, the debt of life and succor all children owe their mothers and fathers.
Kill Yourself So I Can Focus On Me
It is entirely possible that many families do not want to discharge their duties in such a manner and would instead prefer that their husband, mother, or child swallow the pills and get it over with. This is, of course, partly why physician-assisted suicide was illegal in the first place, and still is in many places: to discourage people from encouraging others to kill themselves out of convenience and impatience.
It is a ghastly future in which people take their own lives to the gentle and smiling encouragement of their loved ones who would rather just get the whole thing over with and move on.
I will pray for Drum, and you should, too. Pray his cancer disappears and he lives to be a grumpy, curmudgeonly old liberal geezer still talking nonsense about gun control and other progressive ballyhoos.
If his cancer should return, however, I pray he does not take the easier way out. I pray he gives his wife and his loved ones a final, priceless, and irreplaceable gift, a gift of himself that only he can give: the gift of needing their love, their attention, and their full and unconditional care in the twilight moments of his precious life.