My life—and my death—should belong entirely to me. Limiting legal suicide to the terminally ill tells the rest of us that we can’t be trusted to make our own choices.
We will all die.
That may sound a bit morbid, but it’s a biological fact. You. Me. My dog. Beyoncé. Death will come for all of us.
Some want to delay that day as long as possible. But no amount of vitamins, Pilates or personal restraint will avert the inevitable. Everyone eventually runs out of road.
So what does a good death look like? A white-haired elder tucked into a bed, surrounded by doting loved ones? Maybe to some people. But that sounds like my personal nightmare. I would hate to waste away in front of grim faces, slipping in and out of consciousness while they cry. I can only hope I’ll be spared that torturous end.
I say “hope” because I don’t technically have a choice. As a resident of the great state of Louisiana, I’m legally required to take death as it comes. No matter my age or physical condition, the state says it’s illegal for anyone to help me die. If I’m bedridden in a hospital or hospice, anyone assisting my sweet release would face jail time and fines.
And I’m not alone. Unless you live in Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, Montana, or the District of Columbia, you’re in the same boat.
Luckily, the tide may be turning. The “death with dignity” movement is gaining steam, and a May Gallup poll found that 72 percent of adults in the U.S. think euthanasia should be legal. So we might see more right to die legislation in my lifetime.
But that’s not enough.
My life—and my death—should belong entirely to me. Limiting legal suicide to the terminally ill tells the rest of us that we can’t be trusted to make our own choices. It says our bodies belong to the state; that society determines our value. It’s some real Handmaid’s Tale shit.
And I’m not OK with it. Adults should have the right to choose when they want to die. Full stop.
This is a tough stance to take in the midst of a suicide epidemic. According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States—and the second-leading killer of those between the ages of 15-34. And these aren’t just statistics to me. There are holes in my life, holes in my loved ones, left by people who ended their lives too soon.
But criminalizing suicide did nothing to prevent these deaths. In fact, the stigma around suicide—the silence and the confusion—makes it scary for those struggling to seek help. When suicide watches look like prison sentences, it’s hard to trust the system.
We need to start talking about suicide. That means getting real about life and death. We have to acknowledge that we’re all suffering—that it can be relentless—and that hope is in short supply. We all have times when life doesn’t seem worth living. We have to stop pretending that we don’t.
If we can talk about our personal cost-benefit equations—and be honest about what’s tipping the scales—we’ll have a better chance of helping those we love live happier and more fulfilling lives. We can strengthen our ties by being broken together.
These conversations can also help us accept when the equation changes—when we can’t tip back the scales. If we learn to say goodbye compassionately, to provide a peaceful way out, suicide won’t always have to be a tragedy. A person’s loved ones—or unsuspecting strangers—won’t be traumatized when a person decides that they’re done.
Sure, this isn’t the sunniest outlook. But a positive attitude can’t fix everything. Eventually the party has to end.
We may not be able to stop the clock. But we can choose how we make our exit.
I know I will.
Tegan Jones is a freelance writer and editor based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She gets fired up about gender equality, environmental justice and The Resistance. Follow her on Twitter @60AngryInches.