The Dignity of Death

Al Jacobs

An article by the noted award-winning columnist David Whiting recently appeared Online, featuring a sampling of the views of Southern California residents on the matter of prearranged suicide. The stimulus which sparked this inquiry was his prior column describing his 89-year-old mother’s resolve to take her own life when she felt the quality of it no longer worth living.

Apparently the time arrived and, after arranging for the legal and medical assistance needed, she carried through with her intent. In prefacing the views of others, he made the following remarks: “Understand that this is not about depression but about living and control. From Mom’s point of view – as well as for a number of organizations and psychologists – there is something called ‘reasoned suicide’.”

Before I share with you the comments he received, let’s take a look at how a number of our established organizations view the subject of self-willed death. We’ll start with the Catholic Church and their well-defined doctrine expressed by Friar Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life.

“Euthanasia is a problem. It’s happening and becoming increasingly accepted. We don’t realize that will lead to elimination of the elderly and ‘incompetent,’ and anyone else felt to be a burden to society. We don’t decide when life ends nor when it begins. Neither does someone else – a relative, doctor, or legislator. None of us is master over life and death.

“No matter how ill a patient, we haven’t a right to put that person to death. Our duty is to care for and preserve life. According to the 1980 declaration from the Vatican, ‘euthanasia,’ or ‘mercy killing’ is defined as an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated. But is all suffering meaningless? Does it have no value at all, no purpose? Was the suffering of Christ meaningless? Do we not join our pain to His to save souls? The push for mercy killing is utterly pagan. Christians and all reasonable people must oppose it. No matter what the ailment he/she suffers from, a human being is always human, and always has a right to life which nobody, of any philosophical, political, or religious persuasion ever is able to take away.”

An even more ancient civilization, the Hebrews, subscribe to a similar belief. The scholars of the law in Conservative Judaism published a responsa in the summer of 1998. It affirms the prohibition of euthanasia and believes we are obliged to determine why some seek help with suicide and to ameliorate those circumstances.

Their responsa states: “... those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. The proper response to severe pain is not suicide, but better pain control and more pain medication.

“Many doctors, it asserts, are deliberately keeping such patients in pain by refusing to administer sufficient pain medications: some out of ignorance; others to avoid possible drug addiction; others from a misguided sense of stoicism. Conservative Judaism holds that such forms of reasoning are ‘bizarre’ and cruel, that with today’s medications there is no reason for people to be in perpetual torture.”

Perhaps most important of all is whether the laws of our nation oppose or favor assisted suicide … and here we confront misunderstanding. First of all, assisted suicide is often confused with euthanasia (sometimes called mercy killing). In cases of euthanasia another party acts to bring about the person’s death in order to end ongoing suffering. In cases of assisted suicide a second person provides the means through which the individual is able to voluntarily end their own life, but they do not directly cause the individual’s death.

What U.S. law more closely regulates is what’s known as physician-assisted death, but it applies outside of the medical context as well, such as when someone assists a suicidal individual achieve their own death by providing a weapon or other means.

Assisted suicide is used primarily to describe medical aid in dying in the United States for terminally ill, mentally capable adults who self-administer medication to shorten their own dying process.

Physician-assisted death, or aid in dying, is legal in eight jurisdictions: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. These laws (excluding Montana, since no law exists there) expressly state: “Actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law.” This distinguishes the legal act of medical aid in dying from the act of suicide.

Now that you’re aware of what’s officially in style, it’s time to take a look at the attitudes of our fellow citizens.

Pam Leary, Newport Coast: “My mother was losing ground to dementia. Words cannot describe how difficult those last two yeas were. It was agonizing to watch her endure so much pain and lose all capacity to communicate. I know in my heart it would have been the best thing if she could just depart peaceably.”

Mary McEvoy, San Clemente: “To die by killing yourself is not dignified. It is a violent act no matter how it is done. Further, if something is legal does not make it moral. She did a very selfish act.”

Steve Cienfuegos, Laguna Niguel: “I lost my parents within two years from each other and until someone has to personally care for someone he loves, he cannot understand and appreciate a request that ‘it’s time’.”

Pam Soldano: “I totally understand your mother’s position and think she was very brave to do what she believed was right. I have seen too many people in my life suffer and pass without dignity; it is painful to watch.”

Louise Allard, Laguna Woods: “The fact that suicide did not stem from a rash decision but a deliberate one does not confer special respect for the act. What is suicide? It is the premeditated act of murder. ‘Reasoned suicide‘ does not mean the person had all the correct information to make an informed decision.”

With this, I’d like to conclude with a testimonial of sorts. Over two decades ago my mother passed on at 98. She lived the last eight years of her life in a reasonably comfortable board and care facility. My wife and I visited her regularly and entertained her at our home when she was able to join us. At 95 she suffered a debilitating stroke leaving her partially paralyzed and mentally incapacitated; her last three years cannot be described. Under the circumstances, no provisions allowed for assisted suicide, even if California law then provided for it.

As I reflect back, I do not regard my mother’s continued existence in a semi-vegetative state, as Mary McEvoy implied, to be dignified. Neither, do I believe, if a law existed which permitted her relief from the meaningless malaise she endured, it would, as Louise Allard declared, constitute premeditated murder … if for no other reason than murder is, by definition, the unlawful killing of a human by another human. Nonetheless, when my mother finally died, I mourned the loss of someone special while at the same time felt relief her final years of misery ended. It’s my belief our nation is at last beginning to recognize assisted suicide as the act of welcome relief it can often prove to be when the alternative is little more than inhumane barbarism.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Copyright 2019 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.