The Modern Curse of Euthanasia

I personally believe that the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide are outside the discipline of Palliative Medicine. I find that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are unethical. This position of mine is not dependent on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide remaining unlawful. Even if they were to become legal, or decriminalised, as has happened and is happening in many countries throughout the world, with Belgium being the latest shocker, I would still continue to regard them as unethical.
We should all be concerned about the way in which these things can drift over time.

I come round to saying this particularly because of  the attitude taken by older people themselves, or people with terminal illnesses,  amongst whom in a couple of years’ time children will be included, who then conclude that they are being an increasing burden to their families and then conclude that it is in other people’s interests, not their own best interests, to seek euthanasia.

I am also of the strongest opinion that legalized euthanasia or physician assisted suicide creates a medical and social atmosphere in which pressure can be put on vulnerable patients and elderly to end their lives out of fear of pain or loss of dignity.

Any imminent or potential (however remote for now they might appear) moves to legalise assisted suicide here in Malta  could spell “disaster” for our society. In the ever-increasing number of countries that are toying with the legalization of euthanasia, there are parallels with the growth of abortion, and changing the law would create circumstances in which life would be “legally declared to be not worth living”.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

Let us not mince words. Legalized euthanasia is a legalized form of suicide, disguised under a fine and intellect-sounding word, and euthanasia, when not legalized, is a form of assisted or induced suicide amounting to a criminal offence.

Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honour and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

What is more, recalling the lessons learnt from German history, I cannot help but hear in any proposed euthanasia  law the echoes of the Nazi euthanasia program’s mantra: that some life is unworthy of life (lebensunwertes Leben).  I also find compelling the argument that laws such as this transform the medical profession by erasing the distinction between “allowing to die” and “killing” while also violating the injunction “always to care, never to kill,” which one can trace back to the Hippocratic oath.  In the final analysis, though, it is probably the notion of life as “gift,” which one should neither tamper with unduly (as biotech utopianists clamour for) nor take away that provides direction for me on the matter.

At the very least, I encourage readers to reflect seriously on the topic. The Death with Dignity movement has their eyes set on legislation in many others states.  It might be coming to our nation soon.

7 thoughts on “The Modern Curse of Euthanasia

  • Reply Ramon Casha 19th March 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Not only is assisted suicide entirely ethical, but it is highly unethical and barbaric to deny it to someone who needs it. In those countries where it is carried out, assisted suicide is treated with extreme care and ample safeguards, for example to ensure that no undue pressure is exerted by anyone, that the patient is not going through a temporary bad spell, and so on. At the slightest hint of doubt, it is not carried out.

    Modern medicine has become very good at keeping people alive for as long as possible – so good that this has itself become a problem. People who are in extreme pain can be kept in that state for months if not years – even though they will never recover. Some people have been constrained to starve themselves to death since the law prohibits kinder ways to die.

    Why is it that, when we have a pet which is in this kind of pain and cannot recover, it’s an act of kindness to give it a painless death, but when it’s a human we insist that this person must be forced to endure this pain for as long as possible? We have come to value life in terms of number of years and are ignoring the quality of life in question.

    As things stand, right now when a person finds him or herself in this situation they are forced to travel abroad, at great cost and discomfort, and may have to die away from their families and their country.

    The absurd “worst case scenarios” described in this article have no basis in reality anywhere in the world.

  • Reply Ramon Casha 19th March 2014 at 2:09 pm

    An eye-opening documentary about this subject is called “Waiting to Die”, presented by author Terry Pratchett. He goes in depth into this subject and it’s particularly close to his heart because he has been diagnosed with a degenerative terminal illness and is considering this option for himself.

  • Reply Martin Bruno 21st March 2014 at 6:24 am

    The German experience should be given more prominence, because it illustrates how the state (any state) can effectively eliminate undesirables as most watch on silently. The hard fact is that legalized euthanasia can easily degenerate into a deceitful conjecture: that some life is unworthy of life! Consequently, citizens should be very apprehensive of attempts to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide. Some countries endorse it, but what exactly are the consequences from both a social and a personal perspective? Moreover, equating animals and humans elucidates a confused understanding of the issues involved. In a consumption society it’s easy to throw away things, persons included.

    • Reply Ramon Casha 21st March 2014 at 7:32 am

      Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”. It’s an extension of the slippery slope fallacy. The situation of Nazi Germany were so completely different from any other place or time on earth that any comparison is an automatic failure.

      The hard fact is that legalised euthanasia cannot, and has never “degenerated into a deceitful conjecture: that some life is unworthy of life”. The state does not “effectively eliminate undesirables as most watch on silently”.

      The consequences from a social and personal perspective is a far more humane society.

      Moreover your twisting of words by describing “equating animals and humans” shows that actually you’re the one with a completely confused understanding of the issues involved. My point is that humans should be treated better than animals, instead of worse which is how they’re being treated at present. That’s not equating humans and animals.

    • Reply ken 25th March 2014 at 1:41 am

      Nazi Germany blah blah blah. You are being extraordinarily naive; Nowadays, if a government wants to get rid of someone, there are plenty of other ways of doing it without having to resort to euthanasia. All you have to do is read the newspapers (I’m thinking of France and Canada among others) to see how many people have died “in custody” after being arrested… “jumping” out of windows (that are usually locked), “hanging themselves” in a cell when supposedly all means of doing so would normally have been removed from the cell, etc etc.

  • Reply ken 25th March 2014 at 2:07 am

    You are right, euthanasia is a form of assisted suicide, but why should we be afraid of that word? Suicide – or more specifically the reasons that bring a person to imagine such a thing – is perhaps a sad misfortune, but sometimes it is the most acceptable solution available. Mr Said brings up abortion – stating that many of the countries which allow abortion are also the countries which accept euthanasia. This is not surprising, but it is not because of legalizing an attitude of “life is not worth living”… generally speaking it is because of a respect for the individual’s right to do what he (or she) wishes concerning their own body. In the case of a pregnant woman – some feel that it is a private affair and no-one else can judge what is best for the woman concerned; in the case of a person who chooses suicide, they are the ones who should have the right to decide whether living with physical or psychological pain is more acceptable than ending one’s suffering. As for Mr Said’s arguments concerning God – well, that is a religious outlook; but laws should not be determined according to religious principles, because if the person in question is not religious or even an atheist – what arrogance to force him to live for religious convictions that he doesn’t believe in!

    • Reply Ramon Casha 25th March 2014 at 8:27 am

      A minor point: assisted suicide is a form of euthanasia, but the opposite is not necessarily the case.

      Assisted suicide is when the patient him/herself decides to end his/her life and requires medical assistance to do so painlessly. Euthanasia could also include for example, taking a decision to switch off life support machines when it’s determined that a patient is beyond medical help when that patient did not make the choice. In such a case it can’t be called assisted suicide.

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