Billy Joel’s delightful song “New York State of Mind” begins with the words “Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood.” The song reflects on being home, accepting reality, and getting over the desire to get away. That’s what I like the most about it because the “neighborhood” is our community, our friends and family, and our home. Or is it?
Of late, I believe that more than being in a “New York State of Mind,” many Americans have a selfish state of mind—one that considers taking one’s own life a better way to go than accepting mortality and staying the course.
Take for example the 90-year-old Wisconsin woman who wrote in her local paper’s Letter to the Editor section,
Assembly Bill 67 and Senate Bill 28 would allow people whose lives are causing them pain and misery to have the help of a doctor to end their lives.
It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? When our pets are in pain, we allow them to have a shot or some medication that will bring a quick end to their suffering.
Now, at age 90, I would like to have this same option for myself.
We read a sadness in her words that is becoming all too real for far too many people. It is as though Americans in their golden years are practically being invited to “end it all” rather than surround themselves with the folks in “the neighborhood” who would be with them, providing companionship, solace, and comfort. Instead, dying by choice and on one’s own terms has taken front row center.
Society has even begun the process of wondering aloud if those with mental health problems should be provided the option of requesting physician-assisted suicide. One sufferer of bipolar disorder shared this sentiment: “I don’t feel like I have anything like the meaning of life. What I have is a good psychiatrist who isn’t particularly fond of euthanasia.”
In another published discussion about physician-assisted suicide and those with mental health disorders, Sonu Gaind, president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association “thinks that ‘irremediable’ should not simply be defined medically. Because many mental health conditions are influenced by societal factors, if a person’s condition could be helped with housing support or a path to employment, it shouldn’t be seen as irremediable. . . . ‘Society cannot wash its hands of that responsibility [to remedy a person’s suffering].’”
But the shocking thing about these articles, at least for me, is that those who are suffering from a mental illness, loneliness, and disenfranchisement from their community—be it family, neighborhood, or a wider sphere of human relationships—are somehow now publicly being considered candidates for a practice that was once confined to individuals who “have a terminal illness with a prognosis to live less than six months.”
All of a sudden just about anybody who wants access to a means to kill himself is being included in the conversation. And that, my friends, is not a good sign. It is a symptom of the American state of mind, wedded to the culture of death. Perhaps we should recall these profound words of Saint John Paul II:
The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and of the whole Gospel, is especially this: every individual must feel as if called personally to bear witness to love in suffering. The institutions are very important and indispensable; nevertheless, no institution can by itself replace the human heart, human compassion, human love or human initiative, when it is a question of dealing with the sufferings of another. This refers to physical sufferings, but it is even more true when it is a question of the many kinds of moral suffering, and when it is primarily the soul that is suffering.
In the neighborhood of man, we must exhibit an abundance of love and a welcoming spirit in times of illness, loneliness, and depression. We must not allow this deadly “American state of mind” to take control of us and lead us further toward a culture of death.