With the millions of success stories of people who have chosen to fight addiction and alcoholism, it’s easy to forget there’s always another choice: death. Suicide is the not-talked-about epidemic in recovery and the final choice for addicts who have run out of hope. Even the Department of Health and Human Services has long warned about the increased risks of suicide among addicts and alcoholics. But what if people who feel defeated by addiction could be euthanized by a doctor? A Dutch man made that choice recently and the story has sparked heated discussions from all over the world.
Out of Options
After eight years and 21 stints in rehab, Mark Langedijk did what some 5,500 other Dutch citizens did in 2015: he chose assisted suicide using Holland’s euthanasia laws. The process, which took over a year and a ton of paperwork, was approved by a doctor on the board of the Support and Consultation on Euthanasia in the Netherlands. Langedijk was determined to meet the criteria—which includes unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement and consultations with physicians and mental health professionals.
For Langedijk’s brother Marcel, the choice was heartbreaking but one that felt like the most humane. “I am just glad my brother did not have to jump in front of a train or live a few more years in agony before dying of his abuse,” he told the Independent. The procedure was performed via lethal injection by a doctor at his parents’ home. With the family gathered, they told Mark goodbye. Marcel wrote in Linda magazine, “We cried, told each other that we loved each other, that it would be all right, that we would care for each other, that we would see each other again, we held each other. If it was not so terrible, it would have been nice.”
The Next Big Moral Dilemma
Unsurprisingly, lots of people immediately weighed in on Langedijk’s decision to end his life. Fiona Bruce, Tory MP for Congleton and co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, told the Daily Mail, “What someone suffering from alcoholism needs is support and treatment to get better from their addiction—which can be provided—not to be euthanized.”
While faith based websites like Catholic News Agency reminded us that assisted suicides like Langedijk’s are a big no-no in the eyes of The Pope. This isn’t the first time Holland’s liberal euthanasia policies have come under fire. Last summer, a sex abuse victim who suffered PTSD was granted assisted suicide, causing an international debate over whether people with severe mental health conditions should be eligible for euthanasia. It’s a growing concern as the number of cases increase. In 2010, only two people suffering from mental health conditions deemed “insufferable” were granted euthanasia—as opposed to 56 in 2015. While this debate has yet to come stateside, it might be only a matter of time—as places like Colorado recently joined Oregon and four other states in the legalization of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.
An Easier, Softer Way Out?
Here in the land of shoes that aren’t wooden, suicide among addicts might not be assisted or state supported, but that doesn’t make it any less common. According to data, the risk of alcoholics eventually committing suicide is over five times greater than that of non-alcoholics—and of these, about one in three who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs. Personally, I was shocked when I heard so many people in meetings talk so openly about wanting to commit suicide or even attempting to kill themselves. “Those poor people,” I thought. But the more I stuck around, the more I realized I was basically on the slow track to a suicide mission myself, and I was just like them. I even heard my first sponsor once say, “Well of course you’ve thought about killing yourself. You’d hardly be sober if you didn’t.” His point was that staying sober is hard and we all grapple with mental illness, but by opening our mouths and sharing with each other, maybe it becomes less scary and less hopeless. I have certainly found this to be true.
Two of my friends, both of whom relapsed and later committed suicide, had one thing in common: they disappeared from meetings, they isolated and finally they disappeared for good. So maybe it’s the result of too many Disney movies or maybe I’m just no longer in a really dark place, but I tend to believe there’s got to be a better way. Suicide—assisted or not—cannot be the only remedy to relapse.
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