Death of a Stigma

Posted by Nick Brothers |
Rachel Birdsell

Rachel Birdsell

If there’s one good thing that the death of Robin Williams has brought about, it’s that people are discussing suicide and depression. Some people are saying that suicide is selfish and cowardly no matter the reason for it, while others are saying that we shouldn’t judge someone who felt that killing himself was the only solution. Unfortunately, what I haven’t heard is people discussing how sometimes suicide might not only be a solution, but might be the best solution.

That may sound horrible, after all, what about the people who are left behind when someone commits suicide? They shouldn’t be made to go through that, should they? I guess the easiest way to end the conversation is to say no one should ever have to deal with one of their loved ones taking their own life. But, I don’t think suicide should necessarily be something that a person undertakes alone.

Let’s say that there’s a woman and she has a terminal illness. This particular illness has her in physical pain most of the time and the only time she can get any relief from the pain is by taking large doses of strong medicine that puts her to sleep. So, her quality of life pretty much sucks. She’s either in constant pain or is asleep. And she’ll be dying soon, so why isn’t she allowed to take her own life without fear of the stigma attached to it? Why can’t she have a way to take her own life with the assistance of a doctor so that she can meet the end of her time on her own terms, as painlessly as possible and with her family and friends surrounding her? We’ve tried doctor-assisted suicide in this country before and we know how that went, not the actual suicide, mind you, but rather, the outcome for the doctor. Not so well.

But, we’re the same country who doesn’t have a problem putting one of our pets to sleep or shooting an injured animal because it’s cruel to watch them suffer. Yet, we sit by and watch our people suffer, and then judge them when they decide to put themselves out of their own misery. Why is ending our pets suffering more important to us than our fellow human’s suffering.

Of course, there are times when suicide isn’t the solution. Having a string of sucky things happen isn’t a reason for someone to stick their head in the oven. But, I do think that there are situations where allowing someone to take their own life is not only the right thing to do, but the kind thing to do.

It’s true that people can’t be stopped from hanging themselves or putting a gun in their mouth. But if we’re as humane as we claim to be, shouldn’t we be looking for ways we can give people the means to end their life with more dignity and less pain than blowing off the back of their head or dangling from a belt?

Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and artist. You can reach her at

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