Stephanie Gray posted an article on her blog (Dec. 7, 2016) that addresses the issue of assisted suicide which was written into law in Canada earlier in 2016. Gray notes that one of the criteria that qualifies a person for assisted suicide is that the person “have a grievous and irremediable medical condition” which is defined, in part, as an “illness, disease or disability or … state of decline [that] causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.”
Everyone suffers at some point or another, but most do not select suicide. So to suffer so much that one chooses death over life is to suffer to the point of despair. Rather than assisting with a despairing person’s suicide, we ought to instead consider the insight of psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl. In this interview he talks about the following mathematical equation his observations and lived experiences caused him to create:
D = S – M
He explains it as follows: Despair equals Suffering without Meaning. Some people get cancer. Others get hurt in car accidents. These are very real cases of suffering—not to be minimized. But whether someone despairs in light of these experiences is in direct proportion to whether they find meaning in the situation or not.
While we cannot necessarily escape suffering, we can escape despair, and we can escape it in direct proportion to the meaning we allow ourselves to find in a situation. In other words, when circumstances prevent us from eliminating suffering, perspective allows us to add meaning, and that, in turn, helps alleviate the suffering itself.
This can happen in profound ways. Dr. Frankl told a story about a man who was electrocuted and all four of his limbs had to be amputated. That patient wrote, “Before this terrible accident I was bored, always bored, and always drunk. And since my accident I know what it means to be happy.”
This is proof that happiness is not determined by physical wellbeing but by an attitude of the mind. So if someone is struggling in this area and requests assisted suicide, it’s our job—not to facilitate their despair—but to facilitate their search for meaning.
If a Holocaust survivor, amputee, and quadriplegics can do this, why can’t we all?
To read the entire article, please click on: Meaning in Suffering.