Depression is a type of mental illness that creates feelings of sadness, misery, desolation and a constant cycle of low spirits. The persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness can also form a loss of interest in certain activities and social interactions. Also known as ‘major depressive disorder’ or ‘clinical depression’, depression can affect how you feel, behave, think and react to stimuli in an environment. Due to this, depression often requires long-term treatment with medication or psychotherapy or both. Sometimes people suffering from depression end up committing suicide or assisted euthanasia in order to stop the pain from the mental illness. So my question today is, should we allow those who are depressed to end their lives?
In November 2015, a Belgian woman called Laura, aged 24, obtained permission for legal euthanasia because of ‘unbearable psychological suffering’. Her last days before obtaining a lethal injection were filmed by The Economist in her hometown of Bruges. The documentary shows the woman, ‘Laura’, changing her mind and choosing life in what would have been her last hour. To many, this was of course good news as a young life had been saved and hopefully now many hoped she could recover and be able to get on with her life. However, her case of legal euthanasia is one of many young women who want to die due to the severity of their depression. Many might not understand the gist of her argument clearly but it is basically that as long as she felt there was no way out of her depression, she desired death more than anything else, and once it was in her reach, she believed that legal euthanasia freed her of her most terrible anxieties and stresses of life. Knowing the opportunity to end her own life based on her own individual decision was there at her fingertips, it gave her some peace of mind- something that was a relief from her constant low spirits and mental thoughts. By undergoing legal euthanasia, she somewhat believed that her mental condition would not and could not improve, that no treatment whatsoever was available to assist her to rid her mental illness or provide the slightest of hope. However, ‘Laura’ states in the documentary that upon realising she was going to die, she began to find reasons to live as it triggered something in her mind. This shows that her despair was not so deep-rooted as to be utterly beyond help or treatment. It must be unrealistic of us to assume that cases of those who are depressed experience depression like ‘Laura’, as unfortunately there are those that commit suicide or seek legal euthanasia in countries where euthanasia is legal such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and Canada. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as Dr. Death, was one of the first doctors to actively pursue physician assisted suicide for his patients.
However, when considering the ‘pros and cons’ of allowing those suffering from depression to undergo euthanasia, many different things charge the debate of such an issue. Terminal diseases and illnesses are without a doubt painful especially when the person suffering is approaching the end of their battle. Unimaginable pain and a loss of control are things which of course, no-one should have to endure in their life especially towards the time of their death. However, when assessing euthanasia, religious, moral and ethical values all take an important and are considered so that death should come naturally as intended to.
One ‘pro’ of euthanasia is indeed that is an end to suffering. People living with depression or other long-term illnesses are suffering. The pain can be debilitating and the option to numb the pain even just a tiny bit is to take an unbelievable amount of drugs, painkillers and therapy sessions. The quality of life is extremely low so euthanasia is seen as an escape from the suffering mentally and physically. Another reason that one may prefer euthanasia is to have death with ‘dignity.’ Sometimes people who are unbelievably sick or bed ridden so are unable to do activities like eating, changing their clothes and bathing may begin to feel worse than they already do and feel as though they have no longer have a purpose in life. This can be degrading for an individual so they may not want their family to witness them in such a way or remember their last moments like this. Therefore giving them the opportunity to choose when and how they die allows those who are depressed to take control of their life and be responsible for the ability to say what they want to do or say for their family before they die, something they may very much want and prefer to have.
Though euthanasia is not done by majority of the population or a large number of the world’s population, a lot of the medical funds and equipment available are used in healthcare facilities towards those who are clinically depressed. Space available in hospitals are also reduced and hospitals may become overcrowded or inefficient in its work force. Whilst this is a bad way of looking at it and probably one of the most immoral, a benefit of euthanasia is the increased availability of funds and equipment which can be used elsewhere towards other treatments and operations in the NHS. However, I do believe that mental health should be taken more seriously and funded more as it is SUCH a serious issue especially in modern society therefore it should be given the same, if not more, funding and attention than physical health. Lastly, a benefit of euthanasia is the person who is depressed is given the freedom to choose which may be their last moment of happiness or something that they’ve waited an awfully long time for. Nobody wants to be at the mercy of another especially for an illness that has controlled your life for a significant amount of time. Providing a choice to live or die puts people back in control of their life at moments that matters the most and provides them a sense of peace and hope which they very much should be able to have.
However, a consequence of euthanasia is arguably the idea that it devalues human lives. By allowing our doctors to actively “kill” people, they will begin to see euthanasia as a solution to removing people and illnesses from the world and it will begin to be misused. It will make them feel as if they can play the role of ‘God’ and choose whether one should die or live according to medical research and medical records of patients. This also gives the impression to other healthcare places and young children that the human life has a lesser value and is insignificant. This provides light to the issue of religious and moral reasons. One of the most common brought up topics in the euthanasia debate is that of religion. The majority, if not all, religions have very strict views on taking lives, especially your own. For example, Sikhs have a high respect for life which they see as a gift from God. Most Sikhs are against euthanasia as they believe that the timing of birth and death should be left in the hands of God. Generally in most religious, taking your own life is viewed as one of the ultimate sins against God. More so, the view that taking a life in general is also popular, even without the mention of religion. Another consequence of euthanasia is that it’s arguably the corruption of the worst kind as there are tremendous costs involved in the care of terminally ill patients suffering depression. These valuable resources are saved in a great amount if a person chooses to participate in assisted suicide. This could prompt hospitals and doctors to begin using euthanasia as a means of money saving, which could result in people that have not agreed, being killed and again, the worth and value of life becomes almost meaningless and more like a game to many.
Having looked at the benefits and consequences of depression, I think allowing euthanasia for those who are depressed primarily comes down to your individual beliefs. Those who are religious may argue against euthanasia for those depressed as depression is seen as a long-term illness that can be treated scientifically and by praying to God for guidance and help. However many atheists may argue that one’s life is owned by no-one but themselves therefore they should be the deciders in what happens to their life, what they say or do, and how they die. They have the right to do whatever they wish whilst we should provide opportunities for different methods of dying to allow them to exercise their free rights as a human.
Have a look at this documentary for those with a further interest:
For those suffering from depression or other mental illnesses that want help or are unsure how to deal with things in life, please take a look at these helplines for advice
“Getting better from depression demands a lifelong commitment. I’ve made that commitment for my life’s sake and for the sake of those who love me.” — Susan Polis Schutz
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” — Richard Bach