Ambivalence Saves Lives

Human beings are complex creatures, to say the least. Rarely can we point to a single source of happiness, distress, rage, fear, or sleeplessness. We have a lot on our minds, and we carry a lot in our bodies. We are not always good at making decisions, whether we’re choosing something from a restaurant menu, a car on a lot, a life partner or whether or not to start a family. Lots of mistakes get made — buyer’s regret is a real thing: we get indigestion, divorce is not rare, not everyone bonds with their kids. We change our minds.

Ambivalence can screw up lives. But it is what it is. It goes with being human — we are not just physical, not just intellectual, not just loving, not just ambitious, not just committed, not just anything. Ambivalence can be seen as a weakness or a strength — our marvellous ability to see things from more than one perspective, to feel things deeply, to want things badly, even things we know aren’t good for us.

In an article in the Hamilton Spectator, (February 7, 2023), Dr John Maher posed the question: Many people living with mental illness are haunted by suicidal thoughts. So why make it easier? “Research tells us that 75 per cent of people thoughtfully plan their suicides. Of the people who try to kill themselves, only 23 per cent try again, and only 7 per cent go on to complete suicide. Tragically 4,000 Canadians complete suicide each year. Ninety per cent of those who die have mental illness. Thankfully 57,000 people don’t die. [my emphasis added] What does that tell us? That with support people heal and recover and live full lives.”

Ambivalence allows a person to cut themselves, but not go too deep; prompts a person to triple or quadruple their medication and swish it down with a mouthful of their favourite alcohol, but then pick up the phone to “say goodbye” to a friend that they trust will send help; allows a person to jump in front of a train, but one that has already decelerated to a non-lethal speed; makes a person decide to starve themselves to death, but just have one little tiny cookie now and then. The urge to die is strong, but so is the will to live.

There are ways to make it easier to decide to die, of course. In America, the constitutional second amendment that allows easy access to firearms and ammunition makes actually dying from a suicide attempt much more likely. In Canada, access to firearms is not quite so easy, but constitutionally mandated physician-assisted suicide, re-branded as MAiD, offers a shiny, bloodless alternative.

Dr. Maher lays out 10 steps in a sick MAiD logic that seeks to resolve the natural human ambivalence that makes people want to die, but not want to die at the same time. But people should realize that the resolution of this deeply rooted “mixed emotion” endangers the survival of a great number of ambivalent Canadians who are smart enough to know that all they have to do is pretend, for 90 days or less, that their application for government-approved maid-service is not impulsive, but logical and well-considered. And that’s only if their application is submitted to someone who actually cares. If they happen to apply through one of the enthusiastic promoters of this “service”, they can probably get bumped up to Track 1 by expressing an intention to stop eating and drinking voluntarily. The really enthusiastic doctors won’t make them “prove it” or actually carry out that intention.

Quoting Dr. Maher again, “MAID advocates say it is all about equity [for people with mental illness]. Fair access to what other suffering, disabled, and terminally ill Canadians can already get. In fact, it is about equality. Equal access to support, treatment, food, housing, compassion, and a meaningful place in a welcoming society.

We believe that physician assisted death for people with mental illness should not be “constitutionally mandated” now or a year from now. Nor should it be dangled as a lure in front of people with physical disabilities who are not dying.

We are all human. And for that, there is no cure, but there is hope!

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