Letting Sleepy Dogs Lie

By Jin-yeong Yi

I am neither for nor against suicide. I like to think of it as a decision that each individual is to make for him or herself after much consideration and soul-searching. However, I find I hold a rather favorable view of assisted suicide–including assisted suicide for those who are neither physically disabled nor terminally ill. This is for one major reason, which is that assisted suicide does not consist in advocating or encouraging, let alone forcing, people to commit suicide, but in helping them follow through with an act that they intend to carry out with or without assistance.

Pro-life activists argue that suicidal people should be given help in living, not dying. While this line of argument sounds reasonable enough, it doesn’t fully take into account the question of why people seek assisted suicide organizations in the first place. It’s not like none of them considered–or, for that matter, tried–psychotherapy, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of psychotherapists. Is it impossible that they’ve already weighed all of their options and have concluded that they need an emergency exit?

I also find it not a little ironic that the same powers that be who allow people–including military veterans–to languish on the streets deny them access to the most effective means to liberate themselves from the misery that they do little to alleviate. (Even the magistrates of ancient Athens were considerate enough to supply citizens with hemlock, in case life became too unbearable for them.)[1]

Needless to say, keeping assisted suicide illegal leaves suicidal people to take matters into their own hands. Dying a voluntary death is, in fact, harder than it looks. Many “amateur” attempts at suicide fail, not infrequently leaving the victim with serious and permanent injuries–in other words, in a state that they might find worse than death. As the Swiss assisted suicide organization Dignitas points out:

[I]n up to 49 out of 50 cases, trying to end one’s life without expert knowledge leads to failure; often with severe consequences for the individual’s health and with high risks, also for third parties, resulting in a lot of suffering and a serious impact for society…[2]

If it is hard to die at all, it is even harder to die a clean death that will result in the minimum amount of inconvenience and danger to others. Methods such as vehicular impact and suicide by cop leave blood on the hands of unwitting individuals, and methods like gassing, drowning, and jumping may yield results that are, to say the least, inconvenient for people in the vicinity.

It may help to see this life for what it is: a brief stop between birth and death. This world is a vast airport terminal: people come and go; no one stays. You might say that life is a preparation for death.

This is not to say that I don’t have any reservations about an early death. What I lack in moral objections is compensated for by emotional ones. If there is someone you know who wants to die, and you care about that person, you don’t want them to go away; you want them to stay and exist happily, or at least comfortably. But if they are completely set on going away and there is nothing that you or anyone else can do about it, then at the very least you want them to go–to travel–in the best way possible. You want them to fly first class. You want them to be sitting on the best seat in the plane; to be attended upon by warm, friendly, and courteous stewardesses; to be served nice food.

The bottom line is this: if an individual has resolved to depart this world ahead of schedule, and no amount of drugs or rhetoric can persuade them otherwise, then they might as well leave parsimoniously, painlessly, and peacefully.


[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/death-becomes-him/307916/

[2] http://www.dignitas.ch/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11&lang=en

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9 thoughts on “Letting Sleepy Dogs Lie

  1. Gary says:

    Nice post, my friend. I was surprised to see your reference to my blog for further reading. I really like the variety of well thought outf articles on your blog. You’re a deep thinker and philosopher.

    I tried to re-blog the article but it added the video, which I didn’t want. (Though that movie looks quite interesting. I know Soylent Green is considered a sci-fi classic but I’ve never seen it..) Here’s the link:


  2. Gary says:

    BTW, loved the airport analogy. You’re so quotable.

    • Jin-yeong Yi says:

      Thank you so much. It’s great when someone expresses their appreciation for a post by hitting the “Like” button, but it’s truly wonderful when someone tells me *why* they like it. As for the personal compliments, well, they’re more than I can ask for.

      I linked to those posts on your blog for a number of reasons, one being that they expressed certain things I had wanted to say. Perhaps most importantly, they are powerful evidence that suicidal depression is not always a temporary phase as some people seem to assume, that solving it is not necessarily as simple as “seeking help.”

      I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that your blog as a whole will play a significant role in the right to die movement, if it hasn’t already.

  3. Gary says:

    I think you’re a great writer. I wish I was so eloquent.

    I’m unsure about my blog playing a significant role in the right to die debate, though. I don’t get many visitors, and it seems that most RTD groups are afraid to tackle the issue of intolerable mental illness due to strongly held societal taboos. I have been in contact with two major media organizations in Canada, one which wrote a story about me and even sent a photographer round to take photos. They canned the story out of fear. Another television channel initially sounded interested, but I have heard nothing from them since. (It would be difficult, depending on my mood that day, to appear on camera, but I feel I could do it.)

    On the positive side, I have written a newsletter article for a well-known RTD group in Canada. It has yet to be published. Fingers crossed.

    I may never see my wish come true – I may die by my own hands – but I hope that my little blog contributes something meaningful to the debate. My greatest hope is to reduce the belief that people with mental illness cannot think rationally and must be “protected” at all costs from themselves by being kept alive in a life of pain. I am not a child.

    I enjoy your writing because you pass no judgment on those of us who suffer. Though, as you’ve said, living should be encouraged, there are cases where some people have made the decision that it’s time to depart early. That’s how I feel as I approach 40 years old this June, still living with my 70-year-old parents and having nothing to show for my life. I should write in more detail about the impact my mental illness has had on my life, as it will make my wishes for assisted suicide more clear. That is dependent on when I find the energy.


    • Jin-yeong Yi says:

      You’re too kind. I feel that I have a long way to go as a writer, but such encouragement makes me feel that, eventually, I just might be able to reach the level I aspire to.

      Reading your summary of your efforts to advance the RTD campaign, I can’t help but ask: have you ever considered writing and publishing a memoir, or even an autobiography?

      I have no interest in telling you or anyone else what to do with your time, and I am not unaware of the fact that each day is an exhausting struggle for you. But if you can somehow muster the energy to run a weblog, working toward the goal of producing a book might not be completely out of the question–even if it’s just a single paragraph every day, or every other day.

      As valuable as I think your blog is, a book written from your unique perspective would not only be more substantive but more likely to get noticed. And if you really believe that you have nothing to show for your life, then such a project could yield at least one achievement you can be proud of.

      • Gary says:

        I have never thought about writing a book, but I appreciate the fact that you even think it’s possible. I don’t know if I have the time left, if you get my drift. But it is something to think about.

        I did put together my mum’s family memoir (over 700 pages) using a free typesetting program called LyX. It takes some learning (a bit of simple code here and there), but I highly recommend it for making professional looking books. I dare say it’s hard to tell the difference between a published edition. So, come to think of it, I do have something to be proud of. My mum has been working on her memoir for over 11 years and is now putting together a smaller version that she hopes will get published somewhere.


  4. Jin-yeong Yi says:

    That’s fantastic, congratulations. I will definitely check out that program. And I’ll be on the lookout for your mother’s memoir (and yours too, should you ever decide to write one).

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