Monday, March 2, 2009

Washington state to allow `dignity' deaths

Terminally ill patients with less than six months to live will soon be able to ask their doctors to prescribe them lethal medication in Washington state. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it was up to states to regulate medical practice, including assisted suicide, and Washington's Initiative 1000 was passed by nearly 60 percent of state voters in November.

That ought to twist the panties of the righteous religious folks who regularly muck-up the democratic processes of America. Where is Doctor Kevorkian when you need him? He was way ahead of his time, apparently. Too bad he had to spend all of those years in the slammer for doing something that is now 'legal' in the state of Washington.

Seems to me that suicide and assisted suicide have been a part of our world for eons. Hemlock was the drug-of-choice for that great Greek philosopher, Socrates. In fact, hemlock was used in the Greek judicial system to carry out the death penalty in their society. Then there is the Hemlock Society which, by the way, recently changed its name to Compassion and Choice to be more PC.

n 2005 (latest available data), there were 32,637 reported suicide deaths. The gun is the preferred means of suicide here in America, accounting for 52% of the suicides. I cannot imagine the physical scene of a self-inflicted gun death nor that of a loved-one hanging from a beam in the garage. The shock to the survivors must be enormous and everlastingly imprinted in their memory. What a ghastly way of ending ones life.

Of course, depression is the major factor in suicide statistics. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states: 'Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.' Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in American adults ages 18-65.

It seems to me that an awful lot of Americans are unhappy with their lives. Because of the recent downturn in the economy as well as job-losses, I would imagine that the suicide rate is on the increase. While a remedy for this might be good mental health care, our nation is not one to 'fuss' about it. The National Institute for Mental Health reports: ' An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.'

The fact is that mental health issues in the United States receive inadequate publicity and, therefore, treatment. Many medical insurance plans provide little or no mental health coverage; 'mental health' itself has long been a taboo subject for polite discussion.

Is it any wonder, then, that a person dies by suicide about every 16 minutes in the United States and an attempt is estimated to be made once every minute? It seems to me that our society has two choices in this issue: we either take giant steps to intervene in the serious mental health issues plaguing this nation or we offer a dignified means of ending ones life.

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