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Choice devours itself--the "choice" of "suicide" for the demented

If suicide is truly chosen, isn't the person who chooses it supposed to be compos mentis? If you gave a mentally confused, elderly person suffering from dementia an overdose of drugs, would that be a case of his committing suicide or of your murdering him? One would normally think the latter, but apparently our advocates of "choice" have a different idea.

The death last autumn of George Brodigan, an 82-year-old Alzheimer's patient in Connecticut, is being billed by news outlet after news outlet as a case of "assisted suicide." His son, Bruce Brodigan, eventually turned himself in to police and admitted to "helping" his father to swallow a lethal combination of pills and alcohol. Brodigan the Younger has been arraigned for second-degree manslaughter.

Setting aside the question--and it does puzzle me--of his being charged with second-degree manslaughter rather than something stronger, I think we need to challenge strongly the statement that this was a case of "assisted suicide." Haven't we always been told that assisted suicide is a matter of helping "rational" people who want to end their lives but need help obtaining prescriptions or actually doing the deed? Brodigan the Elder was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four or five years ago. I have been unable to find any news story that contains any interviews or other information on the degree to which the disease had progressed or on whether he was mentally competent, but it is at least plausible that he no longer was. Certainly patients with dementia in general should not be considered to be "committing suicide" when someone else feeds them pills and alcohol!

The news story says that Bruce Brodigan "said his father 'confided in him that he had planned to take his own life before he became completely incapacitated.'" Not to hang too much on a verb tense, but I would normally interpret that to mean that George Brodigan confided this to Bruce Brodigan some time ago. (Not to mention the fact that as far as I can tell we have only Bruce's word for any such thing.)

Wesley J. Smith has pointed out that the reaction of Compassion and Choices, aka the Hemlock Society, has been expressly to argue that this death should have been legal. (Note: Smith slips up in saying that the victim was the perpetrator's wife rather than his father.) Eerily, C & C words this as a need for Bruce Brodigan and the family to "find a peaceful, legal way out of the dilemma of advancing dementia." See, it was a "dilemma" for them. They needed help to deal with this problem, namely, with George Brodigan.

As Smith points out, patients with Alzheimer's typically have more than six months to live while they are still mentally competent and are no longer mentally competent when they have six months or less to live. So the entire claim (which wouldn't, I hasten to add, make killing people all right in any event) that assisted suicide advocates want this "option" only for mentally competent and "terminally ill" patients is a transparent sham.

The pro-death commentators appear only too happy to bite the bullet: The option should be for the person who fears developing dementia to write down his choice while he is still mentally competent. Then, when we help him to sit up and take the pills and sip down the alcohol which he takes from us, trusting as a child, after he is no longer mentally competent, this is really his choice because he selected it earlier while he was mentally competent. And presumably we are supposed to torture the language and call such active killing of the mentally incapacitated "assisted suicide" if it was "what Dad wanted."

As we've seen before, people who are capable of fighting can sometimes try to stop the killing, even in the midst of assisted suicide. But this isn't really about choice, and changing your mind is not allowed. Killing the demented and calling it suicide is just another example in the list.

Comments (3)

Instead of "incapacitated", the term ought to be "terminally inconvenient". It's so much less bother when people who are difficult to care for just go away.

Eerily, C & C words this as a need for Bruce Brodigan and the family to "find a peaceful, legal way out of the dilemma of advancing dementia.

Could someone point out the two lemmas in this supposed dilemma? Do they mean something else? There is no dilemma, here.

The Chicken

Hmm, well, on the one hand, you could bump off Dad. Problem: You'd get arrested. On the other hand, you could allow Dad to live. Problem: That would be inconvenient, and you'd feel sorry for him and you'd suffer and he'd suffer and stuff, and we can't have that.

C & C bravely cuts the Gordian knot by proposing that you be allowed to bump off Dad and _not_ get arrested. The simple Final Solution.

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