Why Swiss seniors seek assisted suicide

Writing in Le Temps Swiss aged care physician Dr Jacques Aubert reflects on the reasons for the increasing requests for assisted suicide from Swiss seniors. 

He explores five societal injunctions which "with the power of a Jungian collective unconscious, become problematic in the fourth age", that is for people approaching their eighties and older, as they seem to validate "the nonsense of the pursuit of a life that no longer meets these criteria".

  • First injunction: "succeed in your life", and whatever your age, be happy, be beautiful, be dynamic, do not accept suffering! At 78, with multiple disorders of old age, who am I to live again?
  • Second injunction: "be autonomous". Autonomy is today established as the cardinal value by society. As proof, everyone is encouraged to practice a profession, a guarantee of autonomy. But who am I then in this society, if I no longer meet the criteria of autonomy erected in dogma?
  • Third injunction: "consider utility" in all things, and failing that, get rid of the useless encumbrance. From primary school on, our society invites the subject to "think of what is useful", in the choice of his options for courses of study, for example. Who am I then in this society, from the moment I am no longer useful to anything or anyone?
  • Fourth injunction: "take care of yourself," recommends a society based on individualism. The collective roles (army, church) have been eroded, families are breaking apart, the real links are weakening. Everyone is busy managing their own lives and their social networks; at the same time, the loneliness and isolation of very old people increases, even in aged care homes. Well-being is the link with others. Who am I then, if I do not live for anyone?
  • Fifth injunction: "be authentic and in harmony with yourself", even break a link (conjugal, professional, or other), rather than perform a work of development and adaptation to a changing life. The "channel surfing" to which society invites us often leads to disruptive behavior. Therefore, if in this life I am no longer in harmony with my ideals of dignity, even suffering, why not break with life?

Dr Aubert writes 'We can see how, through its multiple injunctions, today's society invites some seniors to make the decision to end their lives.

What does every human need? To live in the life-giving light of another's gaze, to belong to a group of peers who are dear to him or her. Recent studies confirm this anthropological reality: the human being is a social animal. "Everything comes from others; to be, is to belong to someone ", said Jean-Paul Sartre.

An excessive loss of links to the other appears to be a major factor in the malaise and suffering that is at the root of many requests for assisted suicide.

Should not we think of taking better care of these links, rediscovering the simple pleasures of proximity, sharing more often meals with our elderly, in short, experiencing the wonder of the glances exchanged with loved ones? Give meaning to the lives of our seniors, by helping them better in the "job of survival".'

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