Bioethics Blogs

Suicide and Terminal Diseases: A Personal Choice and Rational Approach

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

My spouse and I have an ongoing conversation, really more of an argument, about one end-of-life scenario. I have stated on several occasions that being in my middle-40s, if I was struck by a serious disease (usually the disease in the scenario is cancer) with a less than 50 percent chance of survival (remission), and a course of treatment that is prolonged and painful, then I would choose not to receive treatment. Instead, I would do a lot of traveling (if able), visit with friends (if able), and then die comfortably.

I say this as a healthy, able-bodied person and as he is quick to point out, I can’t know how I would feel if I’m ever in such a situation. I grant him that, but I have seen enough of people undergoing such treatment, talked to families about dying, have a strong sense over the distribution of societal resources, and have no one dependent on me for their existence. I also have good insurance, good social support, and an above average understanding of the culture and language of medicine.

I do not bring this up because of the recent suicide of Robin Williams, which may have been spurred by his diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Recently, I read the story of Gillian Bennett, a retired clinical psychotherapist and wife of a philosopher who at age 85 took her own life rather than suffer the increasing indignities of her dementia. On a sunny day before noon in British Columbia, Bennett and her husband brought a foam mattress to a hillside with a beautiful view.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.