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Yes, Yes, Yes on I-1000

I really didn’t want to touch that whole Obama/abortion thing, what with this being a Cathaholic website and all, not to mention my own presidential candidacy, but now that we’re in the process of clearing that issue up once and for all – it really isn’t as thorny as some people try to make it out to be – it’s time to bring up I-1000, Washington State’s own Death with Dignity initiative on the ballot this coming Tuesday.

Allow me to say a few words. Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that I-1000 isn’t perfect, and I can certainly understand your reservations. But this is what we have right now, and what we have here is pretty damn good.

Let me explain. Death is the future. I know it, you know it; everybody knows it except for maybe children under the age of five and small puppies. And sooner or later they’ll know it too, so we may as well include them as well. The kids, anyway. Dogs we don’t have to worry about because we already do the humane thing for them anyway. Read that over again: The humane thing. When in doubt, look at the language. So often it reveals more than we know or even want to acknowledge. And I-1000 is, above all, a humanitarian initiative.

Not that I-1000 isn’t without problems. Let me address a few of these right now. The first problem is with the mental competency clause, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you look at the wording itself. One lie going around is that 1 in 4 people getting lethal drugs suffer from depression.

The fact is that in a study by Linda Ganzini, it was revealed that out of 58 patients, only 3 had some depression. The study concluded that every patient who requested death with dignity was mentally competent and capable of making their own decisions.

Now that’s all fine and good, but what does it really mean to say that depression renders a person mentally incompetent? The fact is, depression actually sharpens the mental faculties of people. There is scientific evidence to back this up. For example, it is well known that people with depression often turn out to be the best artists. Look at Van Gogh. Look at Beethoven. Hell, look at Heath Ledger: he was absolutely brilliant as the Joker in that last Batman movie, and I think it’s fair to say that he was probably depressed.

And it doesn’t end with depression; a researcher in Iceland has found that the incidence of psychosis is greater than expected among mathematical scholars. Just watch “A Beautiful Mind”, that movie about a math genius played by Russell Crowe. You’ll see. Life is about living the odds, and we may as well die by them as well. Who can better figure the odds than a mathematical genius? And let me tell you now, in case you didn’t know it already, the odds that you’re going to die some day are pretty good. Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you’re not a math genius or Beethoven; it doesn’t take any special brilliance to understand the initiative up for consideration here.

My point here is that the idea that mental illness should somehow bar you from ending your own life is an illogical loop that I-1000 regrettably fails to close.

But, as I said, this is what we have in play right now, and we ought to roll with it while we can and work out some of these kinks later. If those Anti-Choice wingnuts have shown us anything, it’s that incrementalism works in politics.

There is one more item I’d like to bring up here. This might be a little more problematic, being part of the title of the initiative, but what is the real meaning behind the word “dignity”? I bring this up because I think there may be people under the impression that they can only commit suicide with dignity if I-1000 is passed (and let me repeat that I’m sure it will be passed). Indeed, if you simply repeat the words “commit suicide” quietly to yourself in a dark room, I think you’ll find a certain dignity inherent in the phrase. So what can you do?

Believe me, I’m not suggesting that ingesting an economy pack of Tylenol PM picked up at Costco is the preferred method of ending one’s life, much less an easy one. But let us not say that there isn’t a certain dignity in choosing this particular path. There is. Nor should you remain under the false impression that stabbing your wrists over and over again with a bobby pin is somehow lacking in nobility. Indeed, the frenzied frisson that must certainly accompany such a wildly desperate act embodies a kind of nobility that sadly remains opaque to mortal minds cruising along at lower, safer altitudes.

Look at the ancient Romans. Look at the Samurai of medieval Japan. We, for better or worse, live in a different age, an age in which steel blades three feet long are (only somewhat!) less available. But you should know that the means are still there: rope burns around the neck; lungs filled with water; an inferno-blackened hide; every bone in the body broken after tossing yourself from a great height; one, several, or many, many gunshot wounds – it takes what it takes, and it’s all good. Whatever works; that’s what I say.

With I-1000 we can simply add to the list.


  1. Gentlemen, I do believe you’ve won me over. Give me that sword.

  2. You might have won me over if I’d understood a word you’d said.

    I haven’t seen the question on the referendum you’re talking about, but would be wary of making assisted suicide easier if it made it easier for relatives or doctors to end lives early. It may be a rational choice for those with terminal illnesses, but not for those with clinical depression or psychosis in the absence of physical illness.

  3. Rufus McCain says

    I was hoping you’d kicked the bucket yourself, Chivo.

  4. almostgotit says

    1. Depression does not either “sharpen the mind.” You made that up.

    2. No one needs a law assisting them to kill themselves.

    3. Life is inherently undignified. Maybe we finally need just to acknowledge it?

  5. I thought you were a Walker Percy fan? Have you read The Thanatos Syndrome?

    My friend, if you call yourself Catholic, I ask you to review with an open mind the teachings of the Church. Read Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II. Seek the truth; do not be consumed by the hatred of life which pervades modern America, and is exemplified in the comment of “almostgotit”.

  6. almostgotit says

    Au contraire: I do not hate life, but rather the insistence that “dignity” is what defines it.

  7. Quin Finnegan says

    “The kids, anyway”?

    “a humanitarian issue”?

    Scientific evidence in the form of a couple of movies??

    “that mental illness should somehow bar you from ending your own life is an illogical loop that I-1000 regrettably fails to close”???

    “one, several, or many, many gunshot wounds”??????????????????

    Please use your imagination and try to picture that last one.

    Never mind the Thanatos Syndrome – what about Mad Magazine? Some readers seem more immune to satire than they are to toxic initiatives like I-1000.

    I hate to speak for Chivo and spoil a good game, but I’m a little concerned someone might actually try those whispers in a dark room, or even that a depressed reader might off himself with a bobby pin, or whatever.

    C’mon already!

  8. ok. mea culpa, etc. joke’s on me.

    i think the reason i didn’t get it is because the amount of logic being used by people who actually put forth these sorts of arguments (and i spend much of my time talking to these sorts of people) is so small. i guess i’ve learned that when i see the phrase “death with dignity” my circuits get a little fried and any subsequent irony and satire goes whizzing by overhead.

    sorry for spoiling the game (or rather, for making quin spoil the game). i guess i should read your blog more thoroughly.

    The Thanatos Syndrome was good though, wasn’t it?

  9. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks for writing back, Billy D. Yes, Thanatos Syndrome is a great novel; I think it is much underrated. Of all his works, I like it the most after Lost in the Cosmos.

    Perhaps a little promotion is in order: you might enjoy reading “Bird’s Nest”, which was certainly written with Thanatos Syndrome in mind.

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