If you’ve ever wanted a handy and readable reference to the best arguments against assisted suicide, pick up Start With What by pro-life speaker and author Stephanie Gray Connors.
Connors offers “Ten Principles for Thinking About Assisted Suicide” as the framework for her presentation, but don’t be put off by the overly didactic subtitle. Those who’ve heard her speak on abortion, suicide or other pro-life topics will know her warm and persuasive voice coming through on every page: thoughtful, non-combative and reasonable, as she illustrates each point with poignant vignettes from the lived experiences of real people.
At Americans United for Life, we prefer the term “suicide by physician,” to emphasize the stark nature of the act – it is a suicide – and the primary agent of the act – a physician, who until recently has traditionally been trusted and trained to “First do no harm.” Connors believes the word assisted is important, however:
Whether someone solicits another to provide a life-ending substance that he administers himself, or whether he asks another to administer a life-ending substance for him, the end result is the same: Someone dies because he expressed a wish to, and another party assists him in some way in achieving his stated goal. Whereas suicide happens in isolation, assisted suicide involves other-party participation.
Hence her argument, and this book: “Should suicide ever be assisted? When one no longer wishes to live, and asks another to help him end his life, what is the right response?”
“Start with what” is a turn of phrase based on the work of Dr. Viktor Frankl, who related his story of surviving a Nazi death camp as a means to encourage others to find meaning in life by helping others. Sufferers, like himself, Frankl said, could do the same:
They can mold… their predicament into an accomplishment on the human level; they can turn their tragedies into a personal triumph. But they must know for what – what should I do with it?
Questions like “What can I do in light of this? What good can I draw from it?” turn the hearts and minds of those enduring suffering outward, Connors says. It doesn’t render the suffering good in and of itself, but it does affirm the value of the person and point them toward the good they are and can still do.
Connors reminds all of us, in whatever stage or circumstances of life we find ourselves, that we have a “wealth of time” and a “wealth of experiences” to share with others. By doing so, she says, we can help others discover what makes life beautiful amidst the pain. People don’t usually discover this on their own: “Typically we need to be assisted. So, rather than assisted suicide, we should ‘start with what’ and seek out assisted searches for meaning.”