Saturday, 10 December 2011

Euthanasia is not mercy.

A couple of posts back I put up a comedy skit entitled "Euthanasia".
The writers may not have intended to, but their skit draws attention to the dark underbelly of the most inappropriately self styled "death with dignity" movement. That is, the pressure that sick people will feel to end their lives rather than be "a burden" on their loved ones, or the over stretched health service.
The sentiments of the "ethics expert" Baroness Warnock: 'Dementia sufferers may have a duty to die' no longer shock us. Many agree with her.
Her opinion that “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” is probably rather widely shared..
Certainly, in a society whose moral and ethical thinking was more "joined up", her words would have created quite the stir. As it was the response was fairly muted.
I think many people felt she had a point, albeit an ugly one. After all, if unborn babies in the third trimester are killed on account of Downs Syndrome, or even a simple club foot or cleft palate, why on earth shouldn't we do the same to Grandma when she starts to demand more than she is giving.
Besides, have you any idea how expensive Nursing Home care is these days? That could eat through the inheritance before you can ask who  the Prime Minister is.
And in these economically straitened  times, you may even find yourself shelling out for incontinence pads too.
It's not hard to see how grandma might be persuaded to 'do the decent thing' and relieve her carers of the burden that she has, or will, become.
Certainly there isn't much 'dignity' in being cared for by people who think that the best help they could offer you is a glass of orangensaft laced with a lethal dose of phenobarb.

Barbara Ellen of The Observer makes some very astute observations on this issue following the BBC documentary "Choosing To Die':.

 The BBC has been accused of acting "like a cheerleader for legalising assisted suicide", which it denies. Pratchett says: "Everybody possessed of a debilitating and incurable illness should be allowed to pick the hour of their death." Clearly, with him, the dignity of choice is paramount. However, while one has enormous sympathy for Pratchett suffering such a vile disease, the fact remains that he is a rich, powerful man and it is highly unlikely that his wishes would be ignored. With respect, euthanasia laws are not in place to protect people such as him. What of those who may have their "choice" taken away, even if they don't want to die?

There are bigger issues at stake, not least the arrogance of the pro-euthanasia able bodied towards the profoundly ill – the unseemly rush to pronounce the lives of others "not worth living". A recent study discovered that some sufferers of locked-in syndrome – as many as three out of four of the main sample – were happy and did not want to die. Such studies are flawed (some sufferers are unable to articulate either way), but it should still give us pause for thought before blasting off about "lives not worth living".
Likewise the knee-jerk: "They wouldn't have wanted to end up like this." Of course not – who would? – but that might not be the end of the story. How individuals feel when they are fit may change considerably when their health fails. Like those with locked-in syndrome, they may adjust to a life that is very different, often difficult, but just as precious. Who are we to judge?
Bizarrely, the one thing the pro- and anti-euthanasia lobbies have in common is an obsession with God. Sometimes, it's almost as if the antis are tricked into talking about the "sanctity of life" and "God's will", to make the pros look more modern and credible.
Personally, if I ever get something nasty, I'd rather be with a God-botherer than somebody who decides I'm looking peaky, books a Swiss flight and whisks me off to the ghouls at Dignitas. Or maybe I wouldn't – maybe I'd be begging for death. The hope is that I'll choose.

It's a short piece, and it's worth reading it all here.

There is a reason why disability rights groups around the world are not supporting euthanasia.
It is noteworthy also, that support for "mercy killing" is typically strongest among the young and the fit, and weakest amongst the old and the weak.
This essay by by Dr. Gregor Wolbring ( Advisor on bioethic issues to the council of Canadians with disabilities) is worth reading for an insight into why disability rights movements do not support euthanasia.

The recent news of the death of Geraldine McClelland at Dignitas clinic in Zurich has, as she hoped, stirred the debate again. There is a poll running on Sky which shows an overwhelming number of people voting in favour of legalising such assisted suicides as they offer at Dignitas. Currently the voting is running at 86% in favour to 14% against.
Interestingly in a videotaped interview Ms McClelland mentions that she would envisage legalised  assisted suicide as requiring the same kind of medical 'safeguards' as abortion. That is, that two doctors should both sign to confirm that no pressure has been brought to bear on the patient. Because, she says, that has worked with abortion. "vulnerable young women aren't forced to have abortions, it never happened. And it won't happen with some vulnerable old people...or if it does,'ve got everybody concentrating on that and have let the people like me, who know what they want, do it easily".
This is a poor and incoherent form of reasoning. But I can't fault the poor lady for that. Suicidally depressed people are not typically thinking about how their decisions will impact other people.
As for the idea that pressure has never been brought to bear on women seeking abortions, well anyone with even a passing aquaintance with the issue knows that this is pure fiction.
And it is easy to see how the kind of emotional pressure that works to impel youmg women to terminate their pregnancies ( "I'll leave you", "don't think you'll get a penny from me" etc) would also work to impel the elderly and the sick to shuffle more sharply off their mortal coil than they otherwise would.

She also says that being unable to get into the seat of the taxi "isn't a life, by anyones standards".
Of course, such a life is very much a life by the standards of plenty of sick and disabled people. But of course, many able bodied people do look at disability in this way. They see it as "not a life". Which is why I believe the euthanasia movement is profoundly dangerous for the weak and the ill, and preys on the natural fears most of us have of losing our faculties.
What we need is a culture of love, care and practical support for the weak and the scared. But sadly we are so damn scared of their condition ourselves, that we have rendered ourselves incapable of being alongside people in their own fearful valley of the shadow of death. To do that demands somethung of us that we do not want to give. Care comes at a price that few are any longer willing to pay. We just want to make it all go away..

I'll leave the last word to a commenter on my last post who offers some personal insight:

  I can confirm we (family) feel the pressure at times from doctors or even "friends", "neighbours" to let our father die. First my father does not want to die despite problems, and second we fight for him getting better, not to die. Before my father falls ill, I was undecided about euthanasia, whether it should be allowed or not. But now I am completely against. At a time when my father had serious lung infection over 2 years ago, we heard from doctors his death was imminent, that there was no point in feeding him anymore... Back home "to die", my dad did not feel so bad and wanted to get a gastrotomy, we had to rush and find another hospital where he could get treatment, convince a neurologist by phone,.. in between GP saying we should be ready to let him go (means die) and neighbours telling us to be relaxed about dosage of morphin! Thank God we listened to our heart and intuition and supported our father to live. It is 2 and half years now since this happened and we are ready to celebrate Christmas with my father, with health problems, but ALIVE AND HAPPY! In times of difficulty there are many people who prefer to send you the cemetary rather than battling for you to live (all disguised with compassion). allowing euthanasia will put a lot of pressure on ill people to end their life!


  1. It's a sad world we live in. There is a line in a Casting Crowns song which goes: As we're sung to sleep by philosophies
    That save the trees and kill the children
    . This was written in response to a debate the writer saw on TV where a woman went on and one about animal rights but then in the same breath spoke about abortion as being a woman's right.

    It seems we are so mixed up, we want to save the earth, save the trees, give animals better rights than humans. Then in the same breath the world cries out for inconvenient humans to be killed! It's hideous. What's next? If you're unemployed for more than a couple of years you're a drain on society - off you go to the guillotine!

    It's all madness.

  2. "As we're sung to sleep by philosophies
    That save the trees and kill the children."

    Beautifully put.
    A country whose laws abandon the principle of protecting it's weakest members, but are framed instead to meet my needs, my wants, my freedom to live as I choose, can hardly call itself civilised.
    I think we are perhaps very close to a form of anarchy.

  3. Clare, this is excellent. Thank you. I'll be bookmarking and rereading and pondering this.

  4. Yes, it seems to be becoming all about wants and convenience. Morality now becomes based upon what someone wants to do or how they feel rather than based on a fixed truth - 'As long as they don't hurt anyone what does it matter?' Yet, above all else, God is grieved as His children take life into their own hands. He sees the consequences of each action: life lost, and families and mothers carrying the guilt, 'what ifs' for the rest of their lives.

    As you say, we are in danger of a form of anarchy.

  5. Mr Gargoyle, from you this is high praise indeed. I'm blushing.

  6. Hi, I am the person who posted here about my father, and I thank Clare for copying in her post my experience. I would like to add that my dad has ALS, he is completely disabled, cannot eat, move or talked. He can blink, smile, show happiness or anger, communicate through blinking (and he does it a lot, so we communicate a lot!), we all had to adjust to a slower way of communication, but it works! he still likes the same thing... history, economy/markets, can communicate with friends and ex-colleagues when they come. He watches movies instead of reading books. He loves his grand children and they love him and help him as much as they can, even the one who is 3! he would never ask my mother or any of his daughters to help him die! when he struggles for air because of mucus plugs or infection, his body just fights for life with an incredible strenght! He recently spent a weekend in London and visited harrods and the natural history museum and got 2 excellent healthcare assistants to help him at the hotel (not cheap but the service is at least available in the UK!) as a family I confess we had and still have very difficult moments, adjustments are very difficult! but we do adjust with time! In a "dignitas" mentality, many ill people and their family will be pushed towards death and unfortunately, many doctors have the "dignitas" mentality, even neurologists, many do not understand why giving hope to someone with ALS!Long comment, but to finish, I'd like to say you need a strong family to go through diseases, without my mother it would be very difficult if not impossible for my sister and I to manage. To enjoy life even ill, you need hope and faith and hopeful, positive people around you. With a poor family structure, I don't know how ALS can make it. In a dignitas mentality they will be the first victims of "compassionate killing/suicide". I stop now... i could talk about it for hours!

  7. Thanks very much for commenting here Dorothy, and for articulating so clearly how you and your family feel about this issue and what you are facing in your own life. I have found your perspective very helpful and interesting.
    In the midst of all the pain and difficulty, life is still precious.
    May God bless your father, and all those who love and care for him, with strength and courage and supernatural peace.
    I will be praying for your family.

  8. Dorothy, that is so inspiring. I too pray that God will bless your father, and yourself and all your family and friends who care and love him.

  9. Many thanks for your prayers, I am touched. We had a beautiful Christmas, a family meal with my father around the table and after 2 and a half years of no eating and drinking from the mouth (he has a gastrotomy), he felt like sipping some wine and he did it 3 times with no swallowing problem and a big smile in between each sip! we thank God for all these blessings.