Is this Suicide?

There is a lot of talk of death and dying on the blogs this week in the community I read and there is some talk of suicide which got me thinking. Is refusing medical treatment suicide? When you know the cancer is terminal and all chemotherapy will do is prolong life by a few months is it really worth the pain and side effects? What attitude do you take while it’s happening?
Jim is in his mid-sixties. He served in Vietnam, he dresses today like the old hippy he is. 15 years ago, Jim discovered religion and he discovered my aunt. They’ve been happy together and good for each other. She has him eating healthy and helped him eliminate the majority of his unhealthy habits. 6 months ago, doctors found a spot on Jim’s lung. The biopsy discovered even more cancer. Jim’s attitude has been “Well, 30 years of smoking and other stuff finally caught up with me.” He started chemotherapy and did 2 courses. He loves the “tie-dyed” chemo cap that a dear friend of mine knitted for him. He wears it daily (I should probably beg for a 2nd since he’s almost worn it out). Last week, he heard that the cancer is now in 5 areas, and it’s not responding to chemo as well as they hoped. The doctor wants to do another series, with stronger drugs. Jim said no.
He intends to go home and do what he wants for the next several months. He’s said he’s done with hospitals and doesn’t intend to go back. His wife is having trouble with this. He keeps saying that this day was inevitable with his first cigarette. He’s moved the family into a condo so his wife won’t have as much to take care of after he’s gone. Some of the family accuse him of committing slow suicide. I can see their point. But I can see his too. I think I agree with him. Why bankrupt the family to gain a few months on earth when you know there is an afterlife? Why suffer pain for a few more weeks here when you know that you will be with your loved ones on the other side? Yes, they will be sad for the short time that you’re separated but the span of a mortal life is a grain of sand in the shores of eternity.
So, is it suicide or death with dignity? Last night, in an episode of House M.D., I heard a monologue that there is no dignity in death. Death with dignity is a lie. Dignity only exists in life. One can live with dignity but death is always a messy, undignified process and should be delayed at all costs. If everyone believed as Dr. House, did in that moment, then we wouldn’t have the debate about assisted suicide. There would be no questions about “quality of life.” (Notice I qualified the comment with “in that moment.” The next episode showed House choosing to sacrifice the life of one baby in order to save 5 others.) So we come back to the original question – – Is doing nothing a way of committing suicide? Is it wrong?

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4 Comments

  1. WhizGidget

     /  February 9, 2006

    You ask a very good question, and one that I need to think about. There may be a fine line between the two or a chasm that stretches for miles depending on how one thinks about it. Suicide is more a pro-active action, where doing what Jim is doing isn’t. He’s just letting life (or death, in this case) take it’s course. But that’s not an answer either. Again… I need to think some more on this one…

    Reply
  2. Suz

     /  February 9, 2006

    I’m touchy about this one. I agree that there is no dignity in death, but there’s no dignity in living a suffering life, either.When I worked in the cancer hospital, I saw (and personally knew a couple) people fight for their lives. I’ve also seen people who have the wherewithall to say “enough is enough” and choose life (and death) on their own terms.What Jim is doing is ending his life by living it, not his disease, and you can’t tell me that his choice not to further agony is “suicide” by any means.Ken’s grandmother died because she did not want to live. The family finally agreed with her and took her off of life support and let her go instead of letting her exist as a body left on life support – I wouldn’t call what they did “murder” any more than what I would call what Jim is doing “suicide”

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  3. Autumn

     /  February 9, 2006

    I agree that suicide is something that you do. Suicide is when you actively kill yourself. I think letting yourself die is something else. What, I don’t know, but it’s different.

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  4. Beth- ;)

     /  February 10, 2006

    I am a litle touchy about this one too. My aunt was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. She was in her mid 70’s and had never smoked. She refused all treatment and, IIRC, died six months later. She basically said she was ready to go and wanted to be in heaven with her mother and sisters. Although I was unhappy about this, it was her decision to make; she had no spouse or children. Beth- 😉

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