In the wake of the highly-publicized November suicide of Brittany Maynard, media remain abuzz with the doctor-assisted suicide conversation. Perhaps the most disturbing and insidious hallmark of the conversation is the tendency by advocates to romanticize and glorify suicide – a death that is radically tragic. A prime example of this rose-colored picture of suicide comes from a student at the Royal College of Art in London. Lithuanian PhD student Julijonas Urbonas has developed a notion of “gravitational aesthetics,” a study whose subject he chose to coin because of his fascination with amusement parks and rollercoasters.
What may sound like a mildly interesting and artful form of physics, however, has taken a disturbing turn in Urbonas’ related projects—most notably, his “euthanasia coaster.” As Urbonas explains, “‘Euthanasia Coaster’ is a hypothetic roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being.”
Although the concept is just an idea being disseminated as “art,” practical applications of the coaster would be jarring. Imagine a family driving a severely depressed or terminally ill family member to this dark amusement-style ride, watching him strap in, and knowing that when he returns to the beginning, his body will be lifeless. For Urbonas, images like this should be typical elements of culture, which he believes needs to “ritualize” death with contraptions like the euthanasia coaster.
If you’re wondering what could be humane, elegant, or euphoric about suicide, you’re in good company. In the mind of Urbonas, the brokenness and helplessness that we know plague individuals who commit suicide do not seem to be factored into the equation of a supposedly euphoric elective death experience. But Dr. Peter Saunders – a medical professional – states that taking human Life “humanely with elegance and euphoria” is an impossibility. “…with this [euthanasia coaster]method,” he observes, “the last sensation would more probably be one of overwhelming vertigo and fright.” Dr. Saunders works with the organization Care Not Killing, which combats attempts to devalue human life by legalizing assisted suicide.
But suicide proponents cling rigidly to their conviction that the ultimate arbiter of Life is oneself – an unsurprising conclusion reached by many adults in the wake of Roe v. Wade and abortion legislation in other countries, where the value of Life has been so reduced by law as to mean almost nothing. One woman recently starved herself to death to assert her belief that individuals should be able to kill themselves. Pro-Life voices remain involved in the suicide debate, but the contribution of the pervasive anti-Life mentality to the success that the suicide movement has seen is undeniable.
When Brittany Maynard announced her intention to kill herself before the expected effects of her advanced stage brain cancer were manifested, a debate was sparked across the world over the purported ethics of doctor-assisted suicide. This debate was not a random consequence of a haphazardly released video made by a desperate young woman. Rather, the conversation was intentionally contrived and manipulated by high-powered suicide advocates who pumped money and resources into propelling Maynard to the national stage. The hopeful outcome for supporters was an uptick in the incremental legalization of assisted suicide (referred to as “death with dignity,” although suicide is anything but).
Wesley J. Smith made a most poignant observation. Smith juxtaposed Michael Landon’s heroic battle with cancer with Maynard’s fear in the face of death, and drew from the contrast a startling conclusion about the state of modern culture. “If assisted suicide is now considered ‘courageous,” Smith said in First Things, “and equates with ‘death with dignity,’ doesn’t that imply that people like Landon who choose to ‘fight against the dying of the light’ are undignified and perhaps less courageous?”
At the end of the day, ending one’s own life – whether by riding a euthanasia rollercoaster or any other means – is a harrowing example not of our need to improve suicide, but our need to resoundingly affirm to all people, especially the hurting and desperate, that Life is precious, valuable, and worthwhile.