In the United States today, laws try to prohibit Americans from enjoying the civil liberties that we, as a country, fought for in our independence from the British. Though certain civil liberties are not specifically stated in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, they are implied, such as freedom and equality for all. When it was written, it applied only to land-owning white men, but now we see it as including every single person in the United States. But that would not have been the case if civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and many more people had not spoke out against injustices done to them and their people as a whole. They, through civil disobedience, got the U.S. to change the separate-but-equal clauses and made people realize that black people are just the same as any other race. Jack Kevorkian is now doing the same as Martin Luther King Jr. did a generation ago, in that he id fighting for the rights of those who want to choose their destiny in life and don’t wish to suffer any more.

Civil disobedience is the willful act of disobeying set laws. These laws are broken because people may not believe that they are just and equal to all. Throughout history there have been numerous examples of civil disobedience. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he noted those of historical importance who went against the laws of their time. He said, “I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’” This shows that even religious heroes, such as St. Augustine, did not believe in every law set forth by the government and that they did condone not following those laws that are unjust. Without the work of those who go against certain unjust laws, many laws would never change. King said, “the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.” Without that specific act of civil disobedience we might have remained a British colony much longer than we were.

It is freedom fighters like King and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party that allow people like Jack Kevorkian to go against the grain and help people. King fought for the rights of blacks; the Tea Party fought for the rights of the colonists; and Kevorkian is fighting for those who want to be able to choose how and when to end their lives. People are allowed to commit suicide all the time. Even if people fail in their attempt to kill themselves, they are not incarcerated for it. So to know that the courts will not allow a medically certified person to help those who have a terminal illness is immoral. People have control over their entire lives; it is tragic that they cannot even choose when they no longer want their lives to continue.

According to Boston lawyer Adrian Yount, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court “rendered a unanimous decision on June 26, stating that no constitutionally protected right to die exists.” In other words, there is no right to die, probably because death is a gift of life. Those who are physically able to end their life and want to, do so in suicide. The court can do nothing about that choice. They cannot incarcerate the person, because the person is dead. Even when a person dies of a drug overdose, the person who sold them the drugs is not put in jail for murder. Just look at the actor Carroll O’Connor’s son. He died of a drug overdose and O’Connor tried to put the dealer in jail for murder, but the court could not say it was the drug dealer’s fault because he didn’t make O’Connor’s son take the drugs. It was a personal choice. Just as it was his personal choice to take illegal drugs and overdose from it, it should be the dying patient’s choice whether they want to be out of their suffering. It is people like Kevorkian, a true civil disobedient leader, who should not be considered guilty of murdering those who come to them for help in ending their lives.

Euthanasia, a word meaning “good death” in Greek, apparently has no real meaning to the American government. Many people who want euthanasia suffer so badly that someone else has care of them. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease eventually become completely dependent on others to do things for them. For them, living is an unfair consequence that they have to endure due to laws that don’t help them.

Janet Adkins was 54 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and in 1990 she had Jack Kevorkian help her out of her misery. After her death her doctor claimed in court that she had at least three or four more years of “normal” life ahead of her, but he then also said that her judgment was impaired at the time she decided on death. Kevorkian’s lawyer quickly noted the apparent contradiction in his comment. Kevorkian, by early 1997, had assisted 46 people to die. According to psychologist Tom Mabie Mix, Kevorkian did this because he saw the pain these people endured and he felt that they should no longer have to suffer.

Many rulings the Supreme Court renders are quite unfair, because there is nothing about the particular legal issue under review already stated in the law. That is why it takes so long to get new laws and change old ones. Lewis H. Van Dusen Jr., said in “Civil Disobedience: Destroyer of Democracy,” “the injustice rationale would allow a free right of civil resistance to be available always as a shortcut alternative to the democratic way of petition, debate and assembly.” This is the theme of many who do not believe in civil disobedience as constituting the solution to any problem. They believe that going through the judicial system is the best way to get things done and that going against the law to get a point across is the wrong way of getting something done. Many opponents of civil disobedience, such as Van Dusen, believe that the only real and just way to get a law changed is to go through the court system.

Kevorkian, along with many others, has tried to go through the court system but to no avail. In polls taken, 75% of people believe in assisted suicide, but when it comes to the ballot box the votes in assisted suicide, but when it comes to the ballot box the votes are so narrow that a vote against assisted suicide usually prevails. In Washington and California the measure was barely defeated, and in Oregon it passed but it is being blocked in the court by activists against assisted suicide. In Washington and New York, activists on the other side of the argument took the matter to a federal court of appeal where they were victorious, but once again anti-assisted suicide activists are appealing those decisions. It is obvious that supporters of assisted-suicide have sufficiently tried to make euthanasia legal, but every avenue they turn down finds zealots blocking their way.

The court system does not work for everyone. In many cases there are so many people against one’s cause that a person has to go to alternative methods of action. White aristocrats have enslaved Black Americans for centuries, and it has now only been a couple of decades during which blacks could genuinely claim that the US is, “the country of justice for all.” If King had listened to the clergymen who condemned his actions, and “waited” as they said, blacks in this country may have still been downtrodden today. What is Kevorkian had waited and not helped kill those people? They would still be here on earth suffering from hurtful diseases, or would have endured a painful death. Black people waited centuries for the government to help them, but the government rarely came to their rescue, and the government isn’t coming to the rescuer of dying people now either. King knew something had to be done immediately and that is what he did, and that is exactly what Kevorkian is now doing. If Van Dusen had to overcome an injustice in his life, by following his own strategy of going through the law, his problems may never have been solved in his lifetime because of how hard it is to change laws.

Considering that most of the people affected by the fact that assisted suicide is illegal are on their deathbeds, it is not easy for them to take their cases to court. Others who speak on their behalf must do so for them now. But by the time any law helping these dying people comes about, they will have suffered a great deal and probably have died. There is a great need for people like Jack Kevorkian, who are not afraid to break the law to help those in need. Barbara Dority of the Hemlock Society, a group that supports assisted suicide, says that “the right to die with dignity, in our own time and on our own terms [is] the ultimate civil right.” The right to die on one’s own terms is the greatest civil right we could possibly have, and it is appalling that it is not a right yet recognized in the law.

A friend committed suicide not too long ago.

Not a good friend, really, but a friend nonetheless. He was young, married, family, job, all that. Good health. Things seemed to be going well for him. All the things the American Dream is supposed to be about.

But he was depressed, in a chronic and penetrating way that couldn't be fixed with just a conversation and a pat on the back. And I suppose it ate away at him slowly, day by day, until somewhere the idea came to him that it would be simpler to end it all. And he put that idea away, because people shouldn't think like that. But ideas are hard things to get rid of. And as time went by, it came back again and again, whispering in his ear each time it seemed like things wouldn't get any better.

Those who knew whispered in the other ear, a little louder. But they couldn't be with him every day. This other voice could.

One day he tried to end things for good. To the relief of his friends and family, he failed. Some time later he tried again. This time, he succeeded. If you can call ending your own life a "success," that is.

Friends mourned. Families grieved. Many of them are still doing it. The rest have moved on, but haven't forgotten. They know there's a hole in the world which was meant to be filled by this man, by his voice, his presence, his thoughts, his heart. It takes time to move far enough away from that hole that you can't see it any longer. I can't imagine how long it will take for those closest to him to make that move. I'm truly afraid some of them may be sucked into it, instead, trapped behind some invisible event horizon until someday, they make a hole of themselves as well.

Whenever anyone mentions assisted suicide again, I will think of him. It was his right, I suppose, as a living being to choose the way he ended his time on earth. And if he'd wanted someone else to help him end it, a very close friend or family member or even a trusted stranger, I suppose it might be construed an act of love by some to help him do what he really wanted.

But if they had, they'd better hope none of us who were close to him ever find out who they are. Because manslaughter is still a crime in this country, and we'd be hard-pressed not to administer an eye for an eye for taking away something as rare and precious as the life of someone we loved.

Dear Mblase,

I am terribly sorry for your loss and want to be as respectful as possible with this reply but I believe you misunderstood the author which appears to have struck you deeply.

From what I have read above, I have interpreted the author's intention as being one to shed some light into some good reasons for a law change. And while I believe this could have been worded in a better way; I hope to help clarify his intentions as is has came across to me.

To do that I have to separate two very important points that cause most people to commit suicide. (It is important that I also state not all people have these reasons, but MOST do.)

The first reason is emotional pain or psychological illness that causes emotional pain, and the second reason is physical pain, illness, or debilitation.

This first reason is often a sign, need, and in many cases a cry for help with emotional pain and baggage that they do not have the coping mechanisms in place to handle and can be caused by a medical condition or psychological condition which can be managed to the point of the person wanting to continue life and treated in many many cases to be completely cured from in time.

The second reason for wanting to commit suicide is usually when all the help a person can get has been gotten and there is literally nothing else anyone can do for the person or when the diagnoses has a very very low chance of success and to even get that very very low chance of success will mean many horrible treatments that if administered to a healthy person would be inhumane.

I believe it was the author's intent to shed light on the need for a law change for the people in the second category for a variety of reasons.

First, no where in his document did he mention emotional or depression related reason.

Second, He did, however, mention many times an incurable, often debilitating, illness that doesn't just strip a person of their dignities but also their memories slowly over time. Though I must point out that though, as of current, there are now treatments which can now greatly slow it's progression, there is still no cure for this disease.

And lastly, he makes a point of directly siting one case where a lady with this illness decided on suicide while she still had her memories and dignities intact, even though the people around her (like the doctor who testified) were quick to state that she still had a few years left before she'd have progressed past the point of being able to make decisions for herself (Implied by the comment in the document by the doctor of her having "three or four more years of "normal" life ahead of her").

It is sad, but many opponents to assisted suicide are people who have either overcome a specific illness that many others fail to overcome, often think of those with depression as being the reason behind the law change, have hope beyond hope or are in denial that the person wanting suicide will not survive, or lastly have unwaivering faith (which can be a good thing, but also a bad thing if it leads to the suffering of others) in their particular religion, deity, or the abilities and hope of science, scientists, doctors, hospitals, etc.

What many of the survivors of diseases are forgetting, is the fact that not all people will be the lucky ones to survive their illness nor do they want to try to, because everyone has different pain tolerances and thresholds, is different, and some know their limits while others do not know what they're capable of handling.

In the cases of people thinking that depression is one of the reasons for many people wanting the law change, these people often don't realize that in most cases this is not why people want the law change at all, even people recovering from or fully healed from depression will often be the first to admit that this is not the reason the laws should be changed.

As far as those in denial of their loved one's illness actually killing their loved ones, this is often a part of the grief they're already starting to deal with.

And lastly, in the cases of those with unwaivering faith in (Insert faith, science, doctor, etc. here) a lot of times these people either aren't realizing, accepting, or in some cases purposely avoiding, the fact that their loved ones may not believe as they do, as well as others may not believe as they do and that others may be more grounded in the realities of their own illnesses or beliefs, and in many cases know instinctively that they will not survive their illnesses.

Many people don't believe a person can instinctively know if they will survive their illness but it happens all throughout every species on the planet and even some breads of animals will leave or "run away" from their owners, herds, or packs to die when they know instinctively that they aren't going to live much longer.

And if you ask many disease survivors about their bout with their particular disease many of them will tell you that they just knew deep down instinctively that this disease was not going to beat them and that they were going to live. So it's not hard to make the jump that just as many people with the same diseases know that they're not going to live.

The main thing with assisted suicide for people with these types of illnesses, however, is that usually by the time the person has decided they want to commit suicide they either have a very small chance of survival or have often exhausted most or all of their available treatments and are only holding on for family and friends or because they physically can not move or help themselves to accomplish that which they ask to be helped with which is to die.

I think it was the author's intent to show that these people in the second category have the right to have a dignified death.

In many people's opinions there is little, if any, dignity in committing suicide for such a reason as it would just be "simpler to end it" as a way of not addressing the underlying reasons of an illness like depression. In fact, many many people who have attempted suicide and gotten help after failing to kill themselves likewise have a similar or the same opinion about suicide for reasons like this because the act of suicide for reasons of ending mostly treatable and often curable illnesses like depression is very destructive and hurtful to those around them.

Just so you know I am one of these people who has likewise tried to commit suicide due to depression but I do not deem it an act worthy of changing the current laws, nor do I see any dignity in the act of suicide due to depression.

But the main reason the law changes are sought after in many many cases by so many people is that many of them believe that a person dieing a slow painful death that would end in them needing to have someone there to wipe the drool or vomit from their mouths when they throw up due to lack of motor function, and needing to have someone dress them and diaper them and wipe their bottoms when they can't control their bowels, the whole time of which they will often be in excruciating pain while being moved, should have the right to die before then.

Because, honestly, I think most people would agree that illness that often result in this kind of scenario does strip a person of any and all dignity that they ever had and is inhumane to tell anyone that they've no right to stop this kind of fate.

It's not only embarrassing, painful, hurtful, and undignifying for the person with the illness but I believe the author's point was to show that it's also selfish and wrong of those of us not in that position of being the one with the illness to force them to live until the illness kills them just so we can have a clean consciousness and time to come to terms with the loss.

I remember watching my aunt slowly die of esophageal cancer and go through the pain of treatments and the slow death to follow when the treatments failed.

But what stuck out most in my mind was watching her cry and beg in the four months before she finally passed away for someone, anyone, to help her go because of the pain. The doctors said no, my family would get upset when asked by her and would often leave the room because of wanting to help but not wanting to loose her or commit a crime and yet being stuck feeling like they weren't doing enough for her, and she was too weak to do anything by herself at that point being bed ridden.

I often was tempted to help her myself but being only twelve and being told if I did I would go to jail for a very long time scared me as much as hurt me as I felt like I was bound and hopelessly stuck. So likewise I see this side of the issue as well.

So, in conclusion, I hope this helps shed some light on both sides of this issue and raises awareness on the difference between assisted suicide for untreatable disease and/or treatments that are often worse than the diseases themselves being a right reason for a law change to allow assisted suicide, and, likewise, suicide from emotional pain in most cases (mainly depression which is very treatable in most cases) as being a wrong reason for it.

I know this reply may spark some debates or even some hateful replies of their own from other people, but I mainly hoped to let you know that I hear your pain Mblase and I hope this gives you a bit of clarity on why others are pushing for new laws allowing assisted suicide.

I post this with the utmost respect for your pain and your loss and hope that you heal from the terrible clutches of grief as time moves forward.

Yours,
Beenthere.

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