The autopsy performed after Robin Williams committed suicide showed that the actor had widespread Lewy body disease. His widow Susan just revealed that information and told reporters that depression was only a small part of the myriad of frightening and incomprehensible symptoms that beset him for more than a year before he took his life. As the disease progressed, he suffered from impaired movement, anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and depression.
Last month, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that allows doctors to prescribe a lethal medication to terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives. In the letter he issued as he signed the bill, he wrote: “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
But apparently, Jerry Brown and those who support the law would deny “that right” to people who, like Robin Williams, suffer from Lewy body disease.
Lewy body is a neurodegenerative disease whose cause is unknown and which leads inexorably to dementia and death, although it may take a while before the final outcome. Williams would have likely lived for a few more years if he had not taken his life.
The law Jerry Brown signed makes assisted suicide available only to patients expected to die withing six months. Those who contemplate a longer period of suffering are denied the medical procedure.
So are those who, like the mentally impaired or frankly demented, cannot express or may not be aware of their “indignity.” So are the intractably depressed, who may have tried every trick in the book, yet remain under the siege of despair with no hope in sight.
So are those, now numerous enough to affect death statistics, who numb their hopelessness with recreational drugs and who, like Robin Williams, take their own lives with their own hands.
Should only those whose days are numbered and deemed in command of their mind by a “mental health specialist” be offered the comfort of the law, while the rest must struggle for a lifetime and be denied a peaceful exit into the unknown?
As the Netherlands testify, when a painless death is considered a right, any “safeguard” that limits that right is soon viewed as an injustice or a cruel double standard. Once the door of assisted suicide is opened, the slippery slope is unavoidable.