Multiple Sclerosis and the Right to Die

Editor’s note: Trigger warning – This article includes details about assisted suicide. If you or someone you know is in need of immediate help, please call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

As I sit here, I can barely concentrate due to the searing nerve pain I am experiencing in my legs. Stress has clearly triggered some of my MS symptoms, notably the bad pain I experience. Given my mental state from being alone, coupled with how much pain I am in, I decided to do a quick search on our site to see if the topic of assisted suicide has ever been properly discussed. It seems that it hasn’t.

While it is not a pleasant topic, it is certainly one that crosses the minds of many people with MS at some point in their lives. We shouldn’t neglect conversations simply because they are too difficult, unpleasant, or sad. So let’s talk about our right to die.

Taboo warning: The right to die

The discussion around assisted suicide can make people very uncomfortable, particularly the religious. If this topic makes you squeamish or is against your principles, you may wish to skip the rest of this. I respect everyone’s beliefs, but you cannot impose them on others. You never know what life is like for someone because you can’t be in their body. Please respect those that consider this. This is informational and an attempt to broach a topic that is actually on many people’s minds but one they don’t always feel safe talking about. I’d like this to be a safe space for them. As you will see, there are many people with MS who have had the thought of assisted suicide cross their minds.

What is assisted suicide?

Depression and suicide are important topics, ones that I have covered extensively. In this case, I am talking about a different form of suicide, one in which we are assisted by others. We are talking about a situation where someone’s life has become so difficult because of their illness, that they no longer wish to live.

In a situation like this, their illness may even prevent them from taking their own life. They require assistance, often from a doctor, to end their life. This is typically accomplished via a prescribed medication, often with the patient being the person to actually take it on their own. As of this writing, there are ten states that have laws that help facilitate assisted suicide. Many of these laws attempt to have safeguards (like having multiple physicians evaluating the patient) to help assure the doctor that those making this decision are of sound mind.1

A common thought

A survey some years back found that among those with MS, 65% of people surveyed would consider physician-assisted suicide if they began to experience unbearable pain. Another 50% percent would consider it if they were unable to enjoy anything that made life worth living. Another study determined that after cancer, neurological diseases like MS were the most frequent reason for requesting assisted suicide.2-4

Anecdotally, I can tell you that when I’ve discussed the topic in various MS groups, there are always many people who confide to me that it’s crossed their minds.

It’s not about sadness

When we are talking about the people that desire assisted suicide, we aren’t talking about people who are sad or depressed. They may be those things, however, it is much deeper than that. These are folks that have little to look forward to, are in pain all the time, and whose quality of life is minimal. They essentially exist to suffer.

As someone who is in pain so much, I very much understand it. Along with that, I think of my grandfather, who was completely debilitated from MS. He could not walk, talk, feed himself, or take care of himself in any way. He was in a bed 100% of the time and he could not even roll over on his own in it. Seeing him day in and day out made assisted suicide one of the very first things I thought of when I was diagnosed. This is such an important topic to me because I witnessed his life, and I wish he had had the option. I hope that if I come close to a situation like his, I will have the option too.

Thanks so much for reading and feel free to share! As always, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. This is a tough topic, so let’s please try to be gentle and refrain from being disparaging to others.

Devin

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