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Friday, January 27, 2006

Law and order and suicide

Catching up on last week’s television shows with the wonders of the VCR — soon to be replaced by the greater wonders of TiVo — I just watched the excellent January 18 episode of Law & Order, Heart of Darkness. I don’t know whether the plot was based on a true story, but I doubt it, since there was no disclaimer asserting that it was entirely fictional (normally an indication that it isn’t entirely fictional).

Usually we are concerned about suicide among teenagers — at least that’s what high-school teachers are concerned about — and of course we think about physician-assisted suicide among the elderly. This episode of Law & Order concerned assisted suicide, but not physician-assisted and not of a 16-year-old or an 86-year-old. The subject was a middle-aged journalist who suffered from depression and wanted to die.

Or did he? If it’s OK to assist someone in killing himself, what happens when he changes his mind? And was he in a position to make the decision in the first place, given that he was off his meds. That was because his girlfriend advised it, so what was her responsibility? A lot interesting issues were raised by t his show, made all the more relevant by the recent Supreme Court decision upholding Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law in the face of the Bush administration’s attempts to meddle in state and personal issues. The Law & Order episode was obviously shot long before the Supreme Court decision, which, in a piece of serendipitous timing, was handed down the day before the episode aired.

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