Is VSED Suicide?

Words Matter.

[pullquote]This may be the best time in my life. I have no worries. I have nothing that I have to do. I don’t have any practical concerns. I am not trying to accomplish anything. I have no cares. All this brings me peace. – Alan[/pullquote]

When Alan chose to VSED while mentally competent, rather than living into the late stages of Alzheimer’s, some people asked, “Is he committing suicide?”

The word “suicide” is in common usage for any act of ending one’s life voluntarily. The term “Physician Assisted Suicide” is the practice of providing a competent patient with a prescription for medication for the patient to use with the primary intention of ending his or her own life. This term is often used in conjunction with the states that have the Death With Dignity Law.

This was Alan's favorite quote.

This was Alan’s favorite quote.

We need to pay attention to the process here and the language representing this kind of death. In Alan’s case, and in the case of others who decide to take control of their own death in the face of their disease prognosis, there is a process at work. Alan went through a careful thinking process and investigation before he decided that the best choice for him was to VSED rather than to live into the late stages of Alzheimer’s. The Death With Dignity Laws in each approved state are written so that a voluntary death must be done with a great deal of thought and consideration as the patient goes through the steps dictated by law.

It is inappropriate to continue to use the word “suicide” for these kinds of very considered acts of dying.

[pullquote]When asked, “What is the meaning of life as you approach your death?” Alan replied, “Appreciation for other people and love.”[/pullquote]

Suicide is saying “NO” to life. Suicide is often violent and outside the natural order. It is an irrational act and often the result of emotional imbalance. It hurts one’s self and is often devastating to others. It has to be done secretively.

In contrast to this, Alan was saying “YES” to life, up to his last breath, on his terms. His death was peaceful and completely in rhythm with the natural order. It was a deeply considered decision based on self-love, peace and compassion – for himself and for those around him. Alan’s plan and decision was not secretive, but shared with many who loved him. He died, not alone, but surrounded by love. He was grateful for the good life he had lived and grateful to have the choice to VSED.

Alan died a conscious death. All people who thoughtfully pursue elective death should be granted the respect of terminology that distinguishes their choice from the sudden, often horrifying, ill-considered, negative choice of suicide. The word “suicide” is colored with many layers of negative connotation. I can speak for Alan in saying that his act of conscious dying was about honoring life, up to his last breath.

The process of acknowledging death is a journey that we all will be called to embark upon, individually and collectively. All journeys start with a single step. Changing the terminology we use from “Assisted Suicide” to “Consciously Dying” should be one of the first steps.