“For me, it has always been clear: life is worth it only if you want it.”
Thus states Carlos Framb in a short, autobiographical story about assisted suicide as told to Camila Segura. His story was published by The New York Times Magazine on October 18, 2015, under the title, JJumping the Wall: One suicide (assisted) almost becomes two.” Mr. Framb, whose own view is “that suicide is a sovereign right every person has,” clearly intends that his story should support his convictions about this supposed “right.” His story, however, supplies powerful evidence for the opposite view: that suicide is a tragedy to be prevented, not a right to be promoted.
A Tragic Story
The story can be recounted briefly. The author lived with his mother in Colombia. They had suffered the loss of beloved family members and her health was declining, leaving her blind and in chronic pain. The mother’s grief and sorrow was accompanied by the son’s loneliness and personal crisis. The mother, in tears, repeatedly expressed the desire to die, but her faith in God prevented her from contemplating suicide. The son, while purporting to be respectful of her faith, sought to lead his mother toward his own views about suicide. Eventually the mother came around.
The suicide was accomplished by means of a “cocktail” prepared by the son. After the mother drank and died, the son, following a plan he had concealed from his mother, also drank. His mother, he explains, had become his “reason for living,” and after her suicide, he was left without a reason to live. Despite his attempt, however, the son’s suicide was not successful. He awoke in a hospital and was jailed on charges of homicide. His brother, who was close to him when their mother was alive, sent him a letter in jail, promising to never abandon him. The same brother declined to press charges, which resulted in the author’s release.
Speaking in the present, the author declares, “I enjoy my life now.” Nevertheless, anticipating future pain, he reaffirms his willingness to attempt suicide in the future, concluding that
“the cocktail can be very sweet if you put enough sugar in it.”
No Woman is an Island
When the author of this story says, “Life is worth it only if you want it,” he evidently understands “you” to mean a solitary individual. When he says, “Suicide is a sovereign right,” he clearly refers to the sovereignty of that individual. In the story he tells, he states that his mother did not want to live. But would her desire to die have prompted her to commit suicide if she knew that she was her son’s reason for living and that her suicide would be the reason for his? Would she have gone through with it if she were continually reminded of her sons’ support in the way that he was assured by his brother? Would her decision have been different if her faith in God was not manipulated, but supported?
Human beings are not merely solitary individuals and the value of a person’s life is not solely measured by an isolated consideration of that person’s desire for it. The life of the woman in the story was valued by both her sons, the son who helped her die as well as the son who didn’t. At some point, she also seemed to think God valued her mortal life and had the sovereign right to determine how and when it should end.
A Time to Die
The Book of Ecclesiastes say there is “a time to die” (Eccl 3:2). But is that time the moment when an individual decides that his or her life is no longer worth while? Should a person’s decision in that moment be irrevocable? In this story, the mother persevered for some time in the decision that, despite her pain and longing for death, she would not decree the time of her death. It was only when she finally made the opposite decision, however, that her decision became final.
Even more troubling is the case of the son. He made the same decision as his mother (though, unlike her, he was not deceived about the consequences of his decision). He decided that life was not worth it and intended that decision to be final. As it turned out, it was not final. And now that our author once again enjoys his life, it seems that he is glad about that. Whether his mother would have found any enjoyment later in life will, of course, never be known.
Many people who are depressed and despairing think their lives are not worth living and never will be. Many of those people later discover that they were wrong. Why should we honor and help to execute a person’s desperate decision to commit suicide, thereby rendering that decision irrevocable? Why, in other words, should we do what the author of this story did instead of what his brother did? Why should we help a desperate person execute a desperate decision, instead of assuring that person of our love and support and affirming the value of her life? The answer is that we should not.