Knotted Knickers

Some people who call themselves conservatives got their knickers in a knot about Clint Eastwood’s film Million Dollar Baby. They object to it ending with an assisted suicide.

Dearly beloved, it’s a story, a work of fiction. It is not a legal argument, a polemic or a piece of political advocacy. A story is a story is a story. Some stories have happy endings, and some have sad endings. The purpose of fiction is nothing more lofty or low than simple entertainment.

Now that we have disposed of the silly people alarmed by works of fiction, let’s address the reality of suicide. Laws against suicide are absurd in the extreme. What are you going to do? Haul the corpse into court and pack it off to prison? Or send the police out and warn the would-be suicide that if he doesn’t cease and desist, the police will shoot him?

Some religious faiths prohibit suicide, but religious rules only apply to the people who believe in that particular religion.

Suicide is a personal decision. The state should not interfere. In the first place, everybody is going to die anyway, and if you run out your string, if your diagnosis is hopeless, if you are in pain and see no reason to drag out the emotional and financial strain on your family, then it’s probably a good idea to say your goodbyes and cash in your chips. That is a decision that should be left entirely to the person and to his or her family. Hospitals and doctors will dun the dying and their survivors. In these inflationary times, you can’t even die on the cheap.

The tidiest way to go is with a drug overdose, so laws against assisted suicide just force people to use a messier way to off themselves. I’ve been on the scene of a number of suicides by guns, and they leave a horrible mess for the family to confront. You have no idea how much blood a person has in him or her until it’s spread out all over the floor.

It’s ironic in the extreme that doctors who kill about 90,000 people a year by accident or carelessness can’t slip a dying person a few extra pills on purpose. Only in Oregon is that allowed, and that case is before the U.S. Supreme Court, as if it were any of the federal government’s business in the first place. There is nothing in the Constitution against whacking yourself or helping someone do it, provided it’s consensual.

Needless to say, one had better be certain before taking the fatal step. In West Florida some years ago, a fellow decided to end his life. He sealed up his house and turned on all the gas jets. Then he sat down at the kitchen table to await his death. He got bored waiting, however, and decided to have a last cigarette. One flick of his Bic and a big boom sent him flying through the window — singed, cut and bruised, but very much alive. The cops said that he decided to live after all. If you use a gun, you won’t get that second chance.

Yes, I know that with assisted suicide there is always a danger that bad kinfolk will rush you into the hereafter just to get their paws on your money. Or maybe the doctor will get grumpy and tired of fooling with you. The Hippocratic oath is apparently inoperative in modern America.

Nevertheless, I believe the best policy is to let the hopeless go as painlessly and neatly as possible if that’s their choice. That’s what freedom means — having a choice. We are becoming less free every day in this country because of the proliferation of busybodies who want to impose their prejudices and beliefs, wrong or otherwise, on everybody else.

As with everything that upsets the knotted-knickers crowd, if you don’t believe it’s right, then don’t do it — but leave other people alone to make their own decisions. And stop believing in fiction.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.