"To be, or not to be: that is the question . . ." Hamlet's tortured musings have become so familiar that few of us stop to remember that the question he was pondering was suicide. Suicide -- the willful ending of one's own life -- has rightfully been condemned through the ages. It is not a victimless crime; human beings are social creatures and suicide can play havoc with the lives of survivors.
Even so, in a society that fears death and worships life no matter its cost, death is not always the worst thing that can happen. Many people say that they are more afraid of being kept alive on machines than of dying. Because so many people now fear they will have no control over choices about their medical care at the end of life -- and because they do not want to give up all medical care -- suicide has become a political issue. Next week voters in Washington state may well legalize a measure that will allow doctors to administer lethal injections or otherwise aid terminally ill patients who have requested such assistance. Meanwhile, Dr. Jack "Suicide Machine" Kevorkian is bedeviling Michigan authorities who are searching state law for ways to prosecute him for his assistance to two more women whose grave medical infirmities made them want to end their lives.