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On the So-Called “Choice-in-Dying”

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Filed under Morality

Euthanasia

By now you’ve probably heard of the tragic story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who has an inoperable and terminal brain tumor. While Maynard’s age makes her condition unusual, what has really brought her story attention is her decision to end her life.

According to CNN.com:

"After several surgeries, doctors said in April that her brain tumor had returned and gave her about six months to live. She moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of that state's law and says she plans to end her life soon after her husband's October 26 birthday."

Maynard has also written a defense of her plans to end her own life and says in part:

"I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?"

Mrs. Maynard is going through an agonizing ordeal to which few people can truly relate. So this post is not about her in particular as much as it is about the moral issues that come to bear on her decision.

I recommend dividing this emotional issue into two distinct questions:

1.  Do we have a right to commit suicide?

2.  Should the government make it legal for doctors to help patients kill themselves?

Let’s start with the first question. You’ll notice I am using the frank language of “killing oneself” or “committing suicide.” The other side of this debate prefers euphemisms like “death with dignity” or “choice in dying," but that obscures the real issue.

Everyone agrees we should have a choice in “how” we die. By that I mean we should be able to choose where we die (in hospice, in a hospital, at home), who we want to stand by us as we end our mortal existence, and whether we will use treatment to delay or even indirectly hasten death.

But once again, do we have a right to commit suicide?

My Life, My Choice?

I think it’s clear we don’t have an unlimited right to kill ourselves. I live in San Diego where it’s not uncommon for people to try to commit suicide by jumping off the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. When that happens, and if there is time, the bridge is shut down, and the police try to talk the person out of what he is about to do. Indeed, whenever anyone threatens suicide, we usually expect the police to stop him. Why? After all, if you have an unlimited right to kill yourself, then the police shouldn’t stop you.

But the reason we forcibly stop these people is because we believe they are not thinking clearly, and they will regret their decision to kill themselves. That’s generally true, but even if they weren’t mentally disturbed we would still probably think their decision to commit suicide was irrational and try to stop them.

If the right to die were truly unlimited, the state would no more investigate a person’s motive to die than it investigates a person’s motives for marrying someone or conceiving a child, actions that also have permanent consequences (though not as grave as the consequences of suicide). The state would let people end their lives without scrutiny, just as it lets people have children or marry.

But since most people would consider the vast majority of reasons a person might give for ending his or her own life to be insufficient, it follows that there is no unlimited right to commit suicide. In fact, in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) the Supreme Court agreed in a rare 9-0 decision that there was no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.

Only in Hard Cases?

Most people agree you don’t have an unlimited right to commit suicide. But some might say that we have a limited right to end our own lives.

In this view, if death is near and the process of dying will be painful or debilitating (such as in Maynard’s case), then a person can end her own life. In fact, Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law allows only those who are mentally competent and have six months or less to live to end their lives.

But aside from the difficulty in predicting when someone will die, there are larger problems with this position. It forces us to classify the sick and disabled into two arbitrary groups: those who deserve suicideprevention and those who deserve suicide assistance.

By making this distinction, we say that some conditions (e.g., chronic pain, quadriplegia, dementia), even if they are very difficult, don’t make life “not worth living,” but other conditions do. But what gives us the right to determine some lives aren’t “worth living?”

This is a form of discrimination, because all human beings have intrinsic value, and so there is no such thing as “life unworthy of life.” We should treat anyone who seeks suicide to resolve a life problem as someone who needs help out of his decision, not help carrying it out.

Another argument against the so-called right to die comes from the fact that our right to life is inalienable. That means it can neither be taken away nor given away. For example, our right to be free is inalienable, which means that we can neither be forced into slavery nor can we sell ourselves into slavery.

So, for instance, even if a young man feels that he can’t bare the pressures of his gargantuan student loans, he still can’t sell himself into slavery in order to pay them off.

Freedom is so important that you can’t give it away, even freely. If that’s true, then shouldn’t life—which is an even more foundational right than freedom—also be considered inalienable?

The Role of the State

While the Glucksberg case did not recognize a right to die, it did not forbid states from allowing physician-assisted suicide.So now let’s turn to question number two: “Should the government make it legal for doctors to help patients kill themselves?” To answer this question we can advance this simple argument: “The harm legal assisted suicide causes society outweighs any so-called potential benefits.”

Here I will defer to an organization with which, while I disagree with it on abortion, I wholeheartedly agree on this issue. According to the American Medical Association:

“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress—such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness—may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

Basically, it’s dangerous when the people you count on to heal you also have the right to help kill you. This goes beyond doctors. In 2008 Oregon resident Barbara Wagner wanted to try an experimental chemotherapy drug, but her insurance company refused to pay $4,000 a month for the treatment.

It did, however, offer to pay for “physician aid-in-dying,” which at a cost of $100 for a one-time use of pills that would put her into cardiac arrest was a bargain for the insurance company. When death is offered as an alternative to treatment, insurance companies will promote it, since death always costs them less than the medicine needed to treat their clients' severe health problems.

There’s also no reason to think this option will be restricted to terminally ill adults. For example, the Netherlands allows children as young as twelve, with parental consent, to request assisted suicide, and Belgium has removed any age restriction on assisted suicide.

Finally, allowing doctors to kill their own patients would create an environment where the elderly and sick may be coerced into ending their own lives. In fact, nearly half of those who chose to end their lives in Oregon said one of the reasons was because of a “concern about being a burden on others.”

Of course, critics will object that cases like Maynard’s don’t involve coercion, but that’s not the point. The point is that the alleged benefits for some people who choose to kill themselves do not outweigh the harms involved in other people being coerced or forced to kill themselves.

The state has an interest in promoting life, not death, so the lives of the many who are threatened by assisted suicide should be placed above the desires of a few who no longer want to live.

Common Objections

Now, let’s take a look at some common objections to the arguments against assisted suicide.

We’re humane to animals and put them out of their misery when they are suffering. Shouldn’t we show humans who want to die the same mercy?

We don’t euthanize suffering human beings precisely because we show them more mercy than we do cats and dogs. An animal’s life is not worth the cost of expensive medical treatment, but a human’s life is much more valuable than an animal’s, so we have no problem spending large sums of money to treat them. We should give human beings effective pain management and respectful care as their bodily functions begin to cease. We shouldn’t just give them the “Old Yeller” treatment.

People should have the right to die with dignity.

This objection is often coupled with the idea that losing control of one’s bodily or mental functions is “undignified,” while taking some pills to peacefully pass away is a “dignified” way to die. But this is insulting. It implies that those who choose the consequences of dying naturally are “undignified.”

Other people will say that the “dignity” in dying comes from the fact that the person is able to choose how they die, regardless of what choice they make. But dying in a dignified manner relates to how one confronts death, not the manner in which one dies or chooses to die. History recounts many situations of individuals who were forced to endure degrading deaths but faced those deaths in a dignified way.

Dying with dignity means receiving compassionate care, no matter what stage of the dying process a person is going through. Directly ending one’s life has nothing to do with having dignity at the moment of death.

You’re just imposing your religion on other people.

So far, I have not made any kind of religious argument in defense of my view. In fact, the most vocal opponents of assisted suicide are not religious. For example, the disability-rights group Not Dead Yet argues against legal assisted suicide, because such laws disproportionally affect members of the disabled community and therefore constitute discrimination.

The Not Dead Yet website says:

“People who are labeled ‘terminal,’ predicted to die within six months, are—or will become—disabled. . . . In judging that an assisted suicide request is rational, essentially, doctors are concluding that a person’s physical disabilities and dependence on others for everyday needs are sufficient grounds to treat them completely differently than they would treat a physically able-bodied suicidal person.”

Do you want people to just suffer?

Absolutely not. We should always empathize with the suffering that some people endure that motivates their support of assisted suicide. People have a right to medical pain control and they even have the right to use drugs that reduce pain and have the indirect effect of shortening life. Anti-assisted-suicide advocate Wesley Smith has a great book on the subject titled Power Over Pain: How to get the Pain Control You Need.

What people don’t have a right to do to be free from pain is directly kill themselves, whether the pain is physical, psychological, emotional, or even spiritual. Doctor’s especially should not participate in assisted suicide, because their job is to kill the pain, not the patient!

Finally, the question of pain is often a red herring. In Oregon, the most common reason given for choosing assisted suicide was not uncontrollable pain but a fear of losing control of major bodily functions. In fact, by legalizing assisted suicide we reinforce the unreasonable idea that it is undignified to allow one’s body to “deteriorate” in this way. We then unintentionally encourage suicide, when as a caring society we should take care of the weak and defenseless.

 
 
(Image credit: Action Life)

Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Trent starts this piece with a discussion of whether there is a right to suicide. He simply does not answer this question but focuses on what the limitations on suicide should be. This implicitly accepts the is some right to kill yourself.

    If someone does not suffer from a mental disorder and will not be harming anyone else, I would say the state has no right to stop them. But so often suicides are the result of depression, and even when they are not, I would agree that there is a state interest in trying to prevent them.

    • Mike

      So if you're mentally healthy you should be allowed to contract for your own murder but if you're not mentally healthy you shouldn't?

      At what point do you know you are mentally healthy if the only reason you want to prove sanity is to kill yourself?

      • My own position is that if someone is capable of consenting to their own important life decisions and one of those is to die or keep on living, the state has no business in forcibly stopping them. I do think it is criminal to assist someone in suicide, absent a non-curable and very painful disease. In such circumstances I think it should be legal for qualified professionals to assist so that they death is not botched and make things worse. There are many stories of people who try this on their own or with the assistance of family members and they are horrific.

        When it comes to mental health their are some instances where people cannot appreciate the consequences of thief actions, this means they cannot consent and we take away their freedom to make the important life decisions. We often take away their freedom as well. This is when you can have someone "committed". There is a medical-legal process to make this determination.

        There are other mental disorders, such as Major Depression, where individuals can still appreciate the consequences of their actions

        • Con't

          But very often have irrational feelings that life is not worth living. With good treatment and medication many of these individuals change their minds on suicide and are very grateful that they did not go through with it. For these individuals I think we have a moral duty to strongly encourage and assist in getting treatment. This doesn't always work and treatment doesn't always work, in these cases, no I do not think we should allow the state to forcibly prevent them from killing themselves.

          I think there is also an ethical duty of care for persons in the custody of others, such as prison, to forcibly prevent them from harming themselves.

        • Mike

          I see you're points but i think that once the "genies" out of the bottle it will be impossible to regulate who is and isn't offed and for what reason.

  • Trent's discussion of inalienable rights shows his misunderstanding of these terms. The right to life is definitely limited in the US as you routinely execute your citizens against their will. The right to liberty is commonly taken away from your citizens whenever they are incarcerated. When the state puts someone in prison, for life, that person loses the right to freedom, forever.

    All of these can be taken away by constitutional amendment. This discussion is about how the state limits the liberty of its citizens. Do we want a society where people can consent to have someone assist them in their own decision to die. Or do we want one in which sane, cogent people suffer in pain for long periods of time against their wishes?

    The distinction between suicide prevention and assistance is not arbitrary, it is based on consent. It is only being proposed for people who can consent and do, and who are not going to recover. We should be assisting these people with their choice. Where people are not physically ill or cannot consent, we should be preventing them.

  • Mike

    But she isn't taking her life is she? She's asking someone ELSE to take her life for her and that's murder for hire. Just bc someone else agrees to be killed doesn't change the fact that what is taking place is a murder. There was a guy in Germany who agreed to be killed and eaten by another guy; the German gov. charged the man who killed the other man with murder as they should have.

    There are thousands of painkillers that can take away all pain and there are so many other palliative care options now that to permit the murder of twenty somethings just seems bizarre. We should be promoting life and discouraging suicide the way we used to.

    What kind of a message is the young person sending to other young people in distress?

    • No, it is not murder for hire. Murder is the illegal killing of someone else. Executions are not murder, neither are killings in self-defence or in war.

      Yes, as a society we take away the freedom of individuals to consent to certain things. To be a slave, to have someone inflict grievous bodily harm or death on them. This latter is what criminalizes gladiatorial sport as well as assisted suicide.

      What people are doing now is living in intense pain resulting in intense pain to themselves and their relatives with conditions such as Alzheimer's, for which there is no treatment. Faced with these conditions, many want to live beyond the point where they can easily and painlessly end their lives, but do not want to go through the last months or years of life where they are in constant pain.

      Often when people reach this stage they try to kill themselves or they get their spouse or children to help them. Because of a lack of medical knowledge or resources, or the need to keep it secret, they botch the job and this is extremely painful.

      Most people now agree with assisted suicide in my country at least and it is legal in a number of jurisdictions it has been legal for many years. I think it is the right thing to do.

      • Mike

        I am sensitive to pain issues but today pain medication can do wonders and ppl don't have to suffer; either way though making killing legal opens up too many areas in which the poor are most likely to be "presented" with the option.

        • George

          would you still be against it if hypothetically the possibility of abuse was eliminated?

          • Mike

            yes; killing other ppl who aren't threatening your life or the live's of other is always wrong and we should not tolerate it we should provide the best palliative care we know how.

        • Doug Shaver

          but today pain medication can do wonders and ppl don't have to suffer

          Some people do have to suffer. There are medical conditions for which no pain medication is effective.

          • Mike

            Then maybe we should invest in coming up with better drugs.

          • Doug Shaver

            We should always be looking for ways to keep people alive without prolonging their suffering. That is the compassionate thing to do. It is not compassionate to insist that any suffering is better than death.

          • Mike

            You're oversimplifying the issue; if the pain is so extreme then as much morphine as is necessary to take the pain away is licit to administer, if the unintended consequence of that is death, that is a tragedy but not immoral; killing other people who are not threatening anyone is evil.

          • Doug Shaver

            if the pain is so extreme then as much morphine as is necessary to take the pain away is licit to administer

            I have not studied the issue in any depth, but I have it from a trustworthy source who seemed to know what he was talking about that some cancers cause pain that cannot be alleviated by any known drug.

            killing other people who are not threatening anyone is evil.

            I am not, at the moment, addressing the issue of anyone taking another person's life. I am only defending the right of a person to take his own life when he reasonably believes that there is no other way to end his suffering.

          • Mike

            I see ok thanks for clarifying the distinction.

    • Doug Shaver

      What kind of a message is the young person sending to other young people in distress?

      A message that you disagree with.

      • Mike

        Yes.

    • Darren

      Mike wrote,

      What kind of a message is the young person sending to other young people in distress?

      That she belongs to herself and none other.

      • Mike

        I know, how terribly depressing.

        • Ortega Peru

          ...your views of other people are.

    • Ortega Peru

      How do you know she is asking someone else to take her life? I just watched an interview on CNN where they said that she takes the pill or whatever method herself, no one else is involved. They are just there for supervision and comfort. Because that's the law if I'm not mistaken.

  • Mike

    Also reminds me of the double-effect "doctrine" in Catholicism: that if the ending of the life of a small baby in the womb is not the direct and not intended effect then the procedure is moral. In this instance if the pain killing drugs have the side effect of damaging say the liver or kidneys and that leads to death sooner than they the drugs are "ok"; but if the direct intentional point of the drug is NOT to take away the pain but to stop the heart or brain then it is wrong and should be avoided.

  • Gray Striker

    There could be altruistic reasons that a person may have for taking his or her own life, just one example, to spare loved ones from witnessing his long slow lingering death from cancer or any number of other debilitating painful conditions. I am sure that there could be any number of other altruistic reasons as well.

    "Could Christ have prevented his crucifixion?""If he could have but didn't, wasn't that a form of suicide?"...and that for love and altruistic reasons.
    John 10:18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."

    • Mike

      Maybe the person wants to spare their loved ones from financial bills too. There are many "good" reasons why disabled, unproductive, unhappy, lonely ppl might "want" to off themselves and lower the surface population for those of us who have health, financial ability to support ourselves, drive, looks, happiness and full and active lives that are worth living.

      Maybe dying with dignity could also open up to embrace ppl struggling with work and in less advantaged ares in big cities where they might be offered a "graceful" exit that could relieve the suffering of their relatives and help their cities flourish again.

      So many possibilities...

      • The problem is that you are assuming that these people with financial problems and in disadvantaged areas want to end their life.

        I don't think they do. I think they want to live and actually have pretty decent quality of life compared to someone in the last stage of Alzheimer's, where they don't know who they are, who anyone else is and pretty much live in constant terror and heavy sedation.

        • Mike

          I wouldn't dare to assume i'd only give them the right to choose.

          • They do have the right to choose. This is a totally different issue. The proposal is to legalize providing assistance to certain people in certain circumstances. Not to offer help to anyone who wants to kill themselves.

          • Mike

            Right so why no assist poor ppl in desperate situations like say you're 60 years old and poor and no job prospects with no hope, maybe we can assist them with dying too?

          • Because I really do not think anyone in that situation would want to die, it sounds like they want a job and hope which a reasonable person would not lose hope for. I simply think it is ridiculous to say being poor and 60 is hopeless and that life is simply intolerable.

            You seem to have a very distorted picture of how people in poverty feel about living.

          • Mike

            You'd be surprised how much hopelessness there is when you don't have any prospects of work.

          • Why would you say that? That hasn't been my experience with the homeless. But all of this is a red herring. It is not being proposed by anyone. This is about granting or criminalizing the requests of terminally ill people to have medical assistance with ending their lives to avoid a few months of unbearable existence with no quality of life.

          • Mike

            Bc i've had experience with ppl who see no hope bc of economic situations; many more than those who want to kill themselves bc they are going to die anyway; the logic works equally well.

          • We do help them financially and so on, they are simply not asking us to help them kill themselves.

          • Mike

            Bc we aren't offering them the choice.

        • Doug Shaver

          The problem is that you are assuming that these people with financial problems and in disadvantaged areas want to end their life.

          No, I would never just assume that. But if they say they want to end their life, I'm prepared to take their word for it under certain conditions.

          • So am I, the question here is whether you would use state force to stop them. Would you criminalize suicide? I would not.

            The next question is when someone is dying of an I curable disease of which the end stage is horrific, and they want to live past the point where they can properly kill themselves, can we decriminalize them getting help so that their suicide is done quickly and painlessly? I would legalize this.

          • Doug Shaver

            the question here is whether you would use state force to stop them. Would you criminalize suicide?

            That would be silly. If the crime actually occurs, how do you prosecute the perpetrator?

            I'm OK with state intervention if someone is caught in the act of attempting suicide, but the attempt itself should not be a crime. In most circumstances, if you're serious about wanting to die, it's easy enough to do it in a way that ensures no one will be able to try to stop you. Most people who let themselves get caught in the attempt are asking for help, and they should get it.

      • Jim Dailey

        I agree. Frankly I do not have any idea why poor, ugly people would even want to live! Thank God for Materialistic atheists! Surely they will usher in a brave new world.

        • Mike

          only the ubermensch have any quality of life worth protecting!

  • This is a very complex problem, about which I bet there would be many different views, regardless of religious belief.

    My thoughts, for what they're worth:

    (1a) I think people have a right to life, and should therefore be able to forfeit that right. People should be able to forfeit their right to freedom, although no one else should be able to take advantage of this forfeiture.

    (1b) I think it is almost always wrong to forfeit one's right to life. People already have the freedom to do many wrong things.

    (1c) The forfeiture of one's right to life is a very serious decision, and should be made with a sound mind. I would try to talk any friend out of this decision, if they were thinking about ending their life.

    (2) Doctors should be absolutely uninvolved with killing anyone. They shouldn't be involved in state executions, and they shouldn't be involved in assisted suicides.

    • Mike

      (2) Doctors should be absolutely uninvolved with killing anyone. They shouldn't be involved in state executions, and they shouldn't be involved in assisted suicides.

      Can you elaborte on this?

      • Darren

        Mike wrote,

        BTW when you say "right to life" do you think that Abortion after 20 weeks should be illegal?

        No, but we should put a lot more funding into medical research so that we can transplant all "unwanted" fetuses into willing Catholic host men.

        Problem solved!

        I think perhaps an investment of, say, the $100 billion annual given to various churches in the US would probably accomplish this in only a year or two. Seems like a small price to pay...

        • Mike

          How about after 7 months? Should killing babies at 7 month gestation be legal in your opinion?

          PS that was the weirdest answer i think i've ever seen from you.

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            How about after 7 months? Should killing babies at 7 month gestation be legal in your opinion?

            That is an interesting question. Questions of legality are tricky, but what would be feasable is to create a program by which all women finding themselves in possession of a 7+ month fetus and yet being undesirous of further gestating, delivering, or providing care for the subsequent 18 years could have the fetus delivered into a NICU, the now-baby cared for with the best available medical technology, and upon release placed with a waiting good Catholic family for nuturance for the afore-mentioned 18 years.

          • Mike

            Interesting, thanks.

      • Can you elaborte on this?

        There's not much to elaborate on; I think it's wrong for doctors to cause harm, unless the harm caused is necessary to bring about greater healing.

        BTW when you say "right to life" do you think that Abortion after 20 weeks should be illegal?

        I think that abortions beyond 6 weeks should be illegal unless the abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.

        • Mike

          Very interesting; you are not easily "pigeon holed" are you.

          Anyway i agree with you on both points.

        • Hacky Duck

          Couldn't a family member dying the death they want to die--and not going on suffering for months or years--bring about greater healing to the family they leave behind?

          • In principle, yes. It may also be that executing a murderer will bring about greater healing to the family of the victim.

            I think that doctors should not do harm to individuals, unless such harm brings about greater healing for that individual. To consider larger ramifications risks morphing doctors into social engineers.

          • Hacky Duck

            Your concerns are certainly valid, and I'm not without my own, but aren't doctors already social engineers? Aren't they already involved in the social agenda of keeping people alive at all cost?

            If there are no prospects of healing, I don't see how it harms a person to help them end their suffering if that's what they want. It's not hard to think of ways this sort of thing could be misused, but misuse doesn't nullify proper use.

          • I do think people should have the freedom to forfeit their right to live, and I think that there should be care-workers tasked with helping these people end their lives with dignity, hospice nurses maybe. But I'm not comfortable with doctors becoming involved, given the amount of trust we put in doctors to do no harm.

            I go to a physician to find a cure. Maybe I would go to a certain kind of hospice care to find an end, when there is no cure.

            That's my opinion, anyway.

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  • I appreciate that there are reasonable secular of objections to assisted suicide and Trent has raised some of them here. I disagree with them and I've said why below.

    What I find fascinating is that this forum is directed at atheists and Catholics, a group distinguished by views on theism, theology and religion, but this piece purposely avoids them.

    Why aren't we hearing the religious arguments? What are they?

    When we deal with the Problem of Evil, we often told that God would not intervene to end suffering caused by humans because it would take away their free will. Certainly this is part of God's nature not to abridge free will, even if it means allowing torture and rape and ISIS.

    It seems here that the Catholic Church's view is that in this case people's free will should be taken away from them so that they will endure more suffering.

  • GCBill

    This is a form of discrimination, because all human beings have intrinsic value, and so there is no such thing as “life unworthy of life.” We should treat anyone who seeks suicide to resolve a life problem as someone who needs help out of his decision, not help carrying it out.

    If this is society's position, then we should really stop calling life a right. The government may encourage us to exercise rights, but no one will show up and forcefully try to stop us from "acting irrationally" if we choose not to. A more accurate descriptor would be "duty to live," harsh though it may ring in some people's ears.

    • Mike

      But suicide is NOT the same as ASSISTED SUICIDE; there is no controversy regarding suicide even though it is illegal also.

      • GCBill

        If there's no controversy but it's illegal, I'd ask why it remains so.

        • Mike

          bc killing ppl is bad and should always be avoided.

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            bc killing ppl is bad and should always be avoided.

            Perhaps you could give us a bit more to go on as to _why_ killing ppl is bad and should be avoided.

  • Doug Shaver

    as a caring society we should take care of the weak and defenseless.

    When I'm hurting enough to want to die, and there is no reasonable expectation that any intervention can end the pain, and you forbid me to end the suffering by taking my own life, then you are telling me lots of things, but not that you care. You can congratulate yourself all you like for your moral superiority, but I will die hating you.

    • Mike

      Maybe we should establish gov funded "exit" clinics where ppl can go in "peace and dignity" and not have to "die hating".

      • Doug Shaver

        Just let me die when I want to die. I won't need the government's assistance.

        • Mike

          You mean private contracts for death?

          • Doug Shaver

            I mean just what I said: When I'm hurting enough to want to die, and there is no reasonable expectation that any intervention can end the pain, and you forbid me to end the suffering by taking my own life, then you are telling me lots of things, but not that you care.

            I was not talking about contracts, private or otherwise. I was talking about you having no moral right to tell me, when I am in that situation, that I am morally obligated to continue suffering for however long it takes me to die of natural causes.

          • Mike

            Fair enough; i think i see what you mean and i think i can in principle agree with what you're saying about me not having a "right" to tell you you are morally obliged to go on bc it's insensitive; yes that i can agree with but it is still an immoral act to kill yourself.

          • Darren

            Mike wrote,

            ...but it is still an immoral act to kill yourself.

            ...because?

          • Mike

            ;) good question...but one i don't have time energy to answer...but i acknowledge it's not an easy case to make especially from a purely materialist stance such as yours...anyway err on caution and say killing ppl including yourself is bad.

      • That is the very proposal that the Catholic Church is objecting to. They would rather we die drooling, incontinent and raving on hydromorphone than surrounded by friends and family having said goodbye.

        Talk to anyone who has cared for a parent in the last stages of Altzheimer's. They universally say things like, "that wasn't my mom" and it was unbearable for us all.

        • Mike

          I am sorry you don't see human beings in all their beauty and dignity if they aren't your ideal ubermensch.

          • Michael Murray

            How many late stage Alzheimer's people have you dealt with ?

          • Mike

            37.

          • Michael Murray

            So you work in that area ?

            My only involvement was my father. When I was a kid we used to go and see his aunt who wasn't really demented just rather old and silly and hard to get along with. He used to always say in the car coming home "if I get like that take me out in the bay and just push me overboard". But when he finally got diagnosed with Alzheimer's he got rapidly past making any decision like that for himself.

          • Mike

            So did you off him?

          • Michael Murray

            If that's the level of your conversation I'll pass. Thanks.

          • Mike

            Sorry that was rude; did you "assist in his dignified passage into eternal serenity"?

          • Mike

            I am sorry about my previous comments; they were insensitive and hurtful and said in a moment of jerkiness and frustration.

          • Mike, i guess you just aren't serious about having a conversation on this. I've given you ample opportunity to bring forward a good argument, you haven't so. I won't be responding to you anymore.

          • Mike

            Ok, thanks.

  • Darren

    I think it’s clear we don’t have an unlimited right to kill ourselves.

    Not, "do we have a right to end our life in general, subject to certain prudential limitations reasonably expected to be in the best interest of society and the individual members of society", but instead "do we have an _unlimited_ right to end our lives"?

    Nice spin, and spin it is.

    Do we speak of having an _unlimited_ right to life; an _unlimited_ right to freedom; and _unlimited_ right to property; an _unlimited_ right to enter into contracts? No, since we all understand that in each of those cases we are, in our post-Enlightenment-J. S.-Mill-informed world, starting from a position where we begin with an unlimited right to personal autonomy in all matters, but that this unlimited right is prudentially constrained, to the absolutely minimal amount neccesary, by society for the benefit of society and its individual members.

    • Mike

      Greetings Darren...looking forward to engaging with you here and there...but take it easy on me as i do think in between actual work!

      • Darren

        Thanks. I make no promises to stick around, though.

        • Mike

          Me either especially if i get swamped with new assignments.

  • Gray Striker

    Lest we forget Just To Be clear The Catholic view Of suffering is that it is a grace filled opportunity to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ.

    http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/6f/e8/7e/6fe87e8d21d3c7ce3d3756410b3dd317.jpg

    • Mike

      He knows about suffering directly personally intimately; he shares in our pains is not distant from it, doesn't try to solve it intellectually or reduce it to the movement of atoms and mass energy but humbles himself and share in the pain with us.

      Like John Lennox points out this may not solve the problem of theodicy intellectually but it matters on the ground in real life; it's hope incarnate!

      And sharing our sorrows with god even if he doesn't exist is one hell of a placebo!

      • Ortega Peru

        And what evidence leads you to believe any of this? Sacrificing yourself to yourself to sit next to yourself for a problem you started is not even worth consideration.

        • Mike

          Check out all the other posts on this site; check out also John Lennox at Veritas Forum as well as Francis Collins at Vertias F.

    • George

      very compassionate to force such a wonderful opportunity on people as they ask to just let it stop.

      some catholics will indeed agree with you and make such a choice, to try and endure for as long as possible no matter what.

      what about the people who don't agree with you, who don't think what you're saying is even true?

      • Gray Striker

        I think you misunderstand me just a tad.Just because I posted the comment does not mean that I agree with the sentiment.....I just wanted to make clear what Catholics in general are taught about the value of suffering.

        • George

          I see. My mistake!

        • George

          I did the jump the gun there. I noticed your other post that I liked.

    • Michael Murray

      Makes you wonder why they bother with the pain killers. Surely a really horrific death cuts time of your stay in purgatory ?

      • Mike

        Brilliant!

      • Ignatius Reilly

        There was a modern saint that thought along those lines....

  • Tpr1976

    This is a sad case. This young woman deserves all of our sympathy, prayers and love. The cheering of her decision is very disturbing, however.
    I feel this post frames the argument very well and in a very compassionate and understanding way that completely values the dignity of the human person and shows compassion to those undergoing intense suffering.

  • GCBill

    Someone who can no longer comment here requested that someone point something out in regards to the possibility of coercion. From Section 3D of the Death with Dignity report (also linked from the article):

    Overall, thepatients choosing assisted suicide are described as independent, determined,and inflexible. Fifty-seven percent ofpatients requesting a lethal prescription cited a loss of independence as an important reason in the patient’s decision, 55% cited poor quality of life (current or future concern of), 54% cited a readiness to die, and 53% cited a desire to control the circumstances of death.
    ...
    In addition, a studyof those patients who died in 1999 in which family members were interviewedfound similar reasons, including concern about loss of control of bodilyfunctions (68%), loss of autonomy (65%), physical suffering (53%), an inabilityto participate in activities that make life enjoyable (47%), and concern aboutbeing a burden on others (47%).

    It's a bit silly that out of fear of the possibility of coercion in 47% of cases, we'd eliminate a choice that was more frequently made for other reasons, ironically including loss of autonomy. You're denying people, many of whom are concerned with losing their autonomy, the ability to make a decision themselves because they might be pressured in ways that diminish their autonomy. What better way is there to confirm that fear?

  • Gray Striker

    Perhaps this whole euthanasia dilemma would be less of an issue if the elderly, and terminally ill had the same quality of care and medical professionals that are routinely available to Popes, Kings, Queens and Cardinals &Presidents.

    The unavailability of quality medical and palliative care for most of those suffering is probably the main factor in the decision of many who decide that they want to end it all. So those who are adamantly opposed to the idea of people committing suicide better be willing to dig deeper into their pockets on principle, and be willing to be taxed more for health care. I am willing to pay higher taxes for better health care for all. Perhaps the churches would be willing to give up their tax exempt status, and perhaps the parishioners would be willing to make up for the loss of the tax exempt status by giving more generously.

    • Michael Murray

      That is an issue and in a round about way it is also one of the reasons that I am undecided about exactly how I would like to see euthanasia laws implemented. If we implement them what happens to the level of spending on palliative care ?

      But I think that nevertheless there are diseases that cause appalling suffering who symptoms cannot be alleviated.

  • Michael Murray

    We don’t euthanize suffering human beings precisely because we show them more mercy than we do cats and dogs.

    Really? It's an interesting claim. I have often heard people say, with reference to how a loved one died: "we wouldn't treat a dog like that".

    We should give human beings effective pain management and respectful care as their bodily functions begin to cease.

    Pity your God chose to give us so many diseases whose symptoms can't be alleviated by pumping the person full of pain killers. What if they have Alzheimers and are just confused, aggressive and distressed all the time ? Just sedate them for the decade it takes for them to die ?

  • Gray Striker

    Hey....just wondering....who is this "Mike" guy who has posted 36 comments and replies out of 96? Is he one and the same person, or is he other Mikes? Just wondering about the disproportionate numbers here. He certainly does have a penchant for sarcasm in the reply mode....of course there is nothing wrong with that....I admire sarcasm if it is done in a non judge mental clever manner. But who is this person...Mike? Is it Batman?

    • Mike

      It's me and another bloke who should really stop trying to imitate me ;)

      • Gray Striker

        In any case....the credibility of "Mike" has now been rendered non existent. And any Mikes under the rules should be banned and comments deleted. Are you listening Brandon? I doubt it!

        • Mike

          What does that mean?

        • Mike

          Why should i be banned? I apologized to Mike Murray for my stupid comments.

          • Gray Striker

            You should be banned for the sake of the integrity of SN....what little there is left of it and not....not only for your deliberately obtuse frame of mind which is enough on it's own.

          • Mike

            Ouch! That hurts...play nice.

          • Mike

            You're a real charmer aren't you?

    • Gray Striker

      Mike also seems to sometime use the handle Guest when trying to be clever.

      • Mike

        LOL I wish.

  • Once legal, I could see euthanasia going through 4 stages given enough time.
    1. Voluntary-Passive: Not actively promoted or encouraged
    2. Voluntary-Active: Promoted as the "right thing" to do, or the "best choice"
    3. Mandatory-Passive: Required in some cases, but not enforced, like some gun laws
    4. Mandatory-Active: The severely ill, handicapped and the very old must be euthanized as part of an overall healthcare strategy for the common good. Those who oppose will be called "anti-health".

    Resistance is futile.

  • Jason Lem

    We are all born into a world and various circumstances beyond our choosing. For some we would have never consented to such if given the choice.

    Oh we have freedom, so much glorious freedom they say, but if you want to leave this world, no you can't, you must live.

    Slaves can't leave the plantation.

    • Lazarus

      A terrible analogy, Jason.
      No-one stops such a person from dying, from committing suicide. The laws and regulations are there to protect the bigger interests and concerns. The claimed "right" to euthanasia often misunderstands the bigger picture, or simply does not care about such interests.

      And of course, the analogy is even more inappropriate when it is made on a Catholic site, where people are not regarded as slaves, and where it is believed that this life is not all there is.

      • Jason Lem

        We can always change the analogy if you think you have one that fits better, but that isn't the important thing here now is it.

        On the most fundamental level, it's about choice, or lack of.

        There are things worse than death in this life, in such a situation some of us, most of us, would like the option of an easy death, a option that some of our fellow human beings will move heaven and earth to deny.

        • Lazarus

          I have a well-developed understanding of the situation insofar as the individual is concerned. My best friend lives with me, and she is in the final stages of a really malignant cancer. While I pretty much follow the Catholic approach as far as my own beliefs are concerned, I see the other options come alive in my home on a daily basis. The bigger picture nevertheless bothers me. The ripple that is designed to help the individual spreads across such a big pond, there are so many issues to bear in mind, even if one leaves dogmatic and theological considerations aside.

          It is a vast subject, and the more I study and experience it the more I come to think that the Catholic position has it all but completely correct.

          • Jason Lem

            Maybe your friend or some one in a similar situation would like such a choice, a choice to die in such a manner and at a time of their own choosing.

          • Lazarus

            She does. She's a well-known advocate for assisted dying (around here). You can imagine the debates we get into.

  • Sample1

    We don’t euthanize suffering human beings precisely because we show them more mercy than we do cats and dogs.

    What does the author mean by "Old Yeller" treatment? It's sounds pejorative or undignified or at the least, uninformed. I'm here to inform.

    Modern veterinary euthanasia, relieving the pain and suffering of non-human animals via analgesia and anti-anxiety disassociative anesthetics is anything but less merciful. I know countless (countless!) people who wished that such treatment was available for their human loved ones when their quality of life was non-existent.

    Mike
    Edit done.

  • Jason Lem

    Either we have the choice to die if we so choose, or our fellow human beings by force if necessary will deny that choice, our fellow human beings say, sorry we will determine when it is acceptable for you do die, NOT YOU. Suffice to say any kind of self determination gets thrown out the window right there.

    It's the ultimate tyranny, cause if the worse people bring about the worst possible world and you don't want to live in it................THEY WON"T LET YOU LEAVE.