Euthanasia: rights and responsibilities

The argument around euthanasia is a complicated one, and I want to add a new element to it. The current questions are about whether one has the right to choose to take a life if it is their own; whether another person has the right to take the life of a consenting person; when consent makes sense; and I want to add the question of whether we are responsible for allowing it.

Euthanasia is an issue of wellbeing. It is not an issue on the sanctity of life; no compassionate authority would compel us to live through humiliation and pain that will never get better. A compassionate authority would comply to a ‘sanctity of wellbeing’ or of conscious experience. Enforcing life, even through endless misery and suffering, is cruel. Questions of whether one has the right to take their own life, then, becomes an easy one: an authority (i.e. a body that grants us rights) which is compassionate must give us the right to end our suffering no matter what the course of action.

From a practical stand point there are many ways to end suffering: counselling, therapy, medicine, operations and other palliative care and fixing options. But certain illnesses—particularly the degenerative ones that often get us in later life—don’t permit themselves to treatment: degenerative illnesses of the nervous system, late-stage pancreatic cancer and I’m sure any doctor could name more. The current option of palliative care and waiting for death simply isn’t enough. If you have enough of your mind left to feel embarrassed that another person is caring for you, to feel guilty that you have become a financial and emotional burden on your family, to lose self-worth because of your condition then no amount of morphine and pretty nurses are going to help you. If this is the condition you are in—constantly feeling ashamed, guilty and weak and waiting for death—who is anyone to tell you you must live? The right to suicide1 seems unquestionable.

Assuming the right to choose death is granted, but the patient has lost the capacity to end their own life with dignity and will never recover it2, the right can only be realised by another person. This becomes an issue for the right of that other person; a third-party. Unlike the right to suicide, this looks very much like murder: one person taking another person’s life. There are two ways of coming at the problem: rights and wellbeing. If the right to end our life is extended to certain people, and those people are people who are likely to have a lesser capacity, that right only exists if a legal authority also extends the right to assistance. If a person with a lesser capacity wants to end their life with dignity and cannot, then they don’t have that right in any real sense. Other rights, like the right to a family, are encouraged in spite of physical limitations by the advent of adoption. Equally, the right to choose to end one’s life with dignity must have an infrastructure in place so that it can be extended irrespective of disability.

Wellbeing is also an element in this; it separates assisted suicide from murder. In the same way the law separates murder from killing, it should also do this for assisted suicide. Certain circumstances—like war, self-defence and, in some countries, retributive justice—separate murder from killing. Although I do not think anybody can defend all of these3, a similar system should be upheld to separate murder from euthanasia4. Wellbeing is the quality that should separate these two ideas. If you take someone’s life without their consent and without exploring other ways to maximise their wellbeing then you are a murderer. However, if a person consents to being killed on the grounds of minimized wellbeing, and treatment and palliative options are insufficient or not available then someone should be able to end that person’s life with their consent.

Systems like this are already in place. The person who can help a patient to realise their right to end their life with dignity is a medical professional. After the patient has made it clear they wish to end their life, an independent medical professional has to check the situation and make key decisions about treatment and palliative care options, the chances of recovery and the mental state of the patient. Then another medical professional has to confirm the decision. This is not a case of Jimmy taking his nan out behind the shed with a shotgun; this is a serious medical procedure.

The job of the medical professionals is to make sense of the consent the patient gives. If the patient has depression with no other medical conditions they can be medicated. If the patient has severe psychological or mental issues the right to consent is actually taken away from them (as it is for signing legal documents).

Our gut instinct, or our moral intuition, is to believe we are responsible for protecting all human life at any cost. This is expresses our seemingly inherent loyalty to a ‘sanctity of life’ idea. Most of the time this idea serves us well; we don’t run over the pedestrians in the road because they’d slow us down otherwise, we don’t shoot mothers who insist at swaying over a path at an asthmatic snail’s pace with a double-width pram. But occasionally our observance of ‘sanctity of life’ means betraying wellbeing. The right to choose to end one’s own life, because one is living in perpetual suffering and awaiting death, is one of the times where protecting life is betraying wellbeing. A compassionate authority (regardless of whether it is a government or a god) would centre its focus on wellbeing, so long as a focus on life still has the risk of enforcing life even when that is cruel.

If focusing on wellbeing is more compassionate than focusing on life, which it seems it is, then it is not just the case of a patient having the right to choose to end their own life. A compassionate society is responsible for helping people realise this choice because, in a moral sense, minimising suffering is our responsibility. Society cannot be free to let solvable suffering be; it is responsible for minimising suffering.

1 – I don’t mean to compel anyone to suicide. If a person can keep up their pride, fears death more than they feel bad or simply wishes to remain optimistic then palliative care and treatment are the best options. I can only defend euthanasia as freedom of choice. Enforced euthanasia, against the patient’s wishes, is first degree murder.

2 – Patients never lose their ability to do things like starve themselves to death. But this is not dignified and certainly is not the option that maximises their wellbeing.

3 – I’m thinking about retributive justice. I cannot see that the death penalty is ever defensible.

4 – I am interchanging the words “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” for my foreign readers. The synonym practice and context clues help them understand the words.

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19 thoughts on “Euthanasia: rights and responsibilities”

  1. I just curious; If I want to write a Law or Right to allow Euthanasia, how I going to write it?

    1) A human are deserve to end his life when ever he like.
    2) A specialist are allowed to end someone life when he get a consent from the body’s owner.
    3) A suicide are allowed if a human are encounter suffering i.e illness, defect.

    Or, you have a better idea that this….

    Even, in the articles you are mention that “I can only defend euthanasia as freedom of choice”. I found that too absurd..

    1. Try reading it again.
      A person in a condition that is highly likely to mean that they will suffer for the rest of their natural life–as evaluated by a relevant professional–has the freedom to choose to die.

    2. Let me rephrase the my 2nd statement:

      A draft to “Medical Acts”:
      2) A specialist are allowed to end someone life when he get a consent from the body’s owner when they are evaluated as paralyze, long-term illness.

      Someone need to give an authorities to apply in one law. Why need to change a law? Why not just jump from 6th floor of the hospital, it cheaper and more easier? Why make a headache to draft a law to terminate own life.

      ****

      In Article 2: UK Law stated : Prohibition of torture, No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

      To take one life is violate the 2nd Article, as “degrading treatment”.

      1. I’m not sure that everyone who thinks they are in for a lifetime of misery jumping out of a window is that cheap, actually. The splat a body causes from the 6th floor is quite messy and needs a specialist to clear up (it’s a biohazard issue).
        Secondly, the jumping-out-of-the-window option doesn’t have the fail safe of having a relevant expert tell you whether your condition is likely to get better or not.

        In response to the UK law against “degrading treatment”, is it not degrading to be made to stay alive in constant pain, incontinence and as a burden to your family? “Degrading” is a term to do with ‘experience’, so what if a condition is going to make a person feel degraded for the rest of their nature life? That strikes me as being “subjected to torture” and “degrading treatment”.

      2. When you die, you no need to concern about it. Cheap or expensive; that is other people work. From my understanding, to pay for specialist is more expensive than a cleaner. It not bio-hazard issue, it just a an organ and blood spill off on the floor, pour the water and clean it up.

        Why need to think about fail-safe, it design to make you die.

        ***
        If the medical draft as per I drafted. I believe you going to have a lot for fraud murder case in the hospital. Good luck in drafting the law. I will stand against it.

        1. The idea that ‘this is other people work’ (other people’s work) doesn’t account for a wellbeing-focussed view, which is what I viewed it on. Admittedly, on a completely selfish viewpoint people would throw themselves out of windows. But we are talking about a wellbeing centred view, where a clean and quiet option is available where people don’t have to be traumatised by watching someone fall to their death and the patient can die with some dignity.

          Why are you referring to your draft? I gave you a second draft.

      3. Even though I also against suicide. Assuming jump out of window is too cruel. There was another choice. You can buy 20 pill of drug and consume it in one time. It clean, quiet and more cheaper too. So, it still traumatized, buy additional anesthetic.

        The purpose is to “die”. Is it employing a doctor to end your life make you better in “wellness”? Then, a doctor is not human? Doctor can not traumatized?

        In law, when you change a clause, it will effected other clause. You change “human right”, I will change mine (professional code). Professional also have a right.

        In this topic, medical doctor will effected directly because he is the one who sign and endorse the form. Even, I was not doctor but my work as professional should understand the responsibility carry by other professional.

        1. Doctors deal with death everyday. The responsibility of death is one they take.
          Doctors already use what is known as the “double effect”. If a patient is in a lot of pain, and the only way to deal with that symptom is a 3,000 milligram dose of morphine, but that dose is also enough to kill them, then doctors are allowed and often do use this option (I live with a doctor who has never done this but most of her colleagues have).

          If the decision is left entirely in the hands of the patient then depressed people and the mentally ill will be allowed to kill themselves when cures and palliative care might exist.

      4. Yes, doctor will deal with death, when they have treated the patient with their knowledge and effort. The purpose of doctor is to treat people, not to take others life.

        Doctor are allowed to use it because they have a knowledge of right dosage that can cure people. We given them a responsibility to cure with their equipment and we aware their risk that we have taken. “Euthanasia” is not about curing the illness, it was a total shut down to the body. Body itself become scrap.

        The idea that I don’t understand is “Why need to shut down your body just because of pain”. Even, it was a long term pain or suffering or what ever. The idea is cowardice, low self-esteem, selfish. Doctor also do not know everything (I married with one) even in medical area. They are being train to be master in certain specialization i.e orthopedic, surgery, anesthetic, neurology, etc.

        Advise from anesthetic will be differ from surgery. Vise verse. They are to be train to minimize the risk not to eliminate the risk. There are no single human being in this world have an absolute answer.

        If the question ask to me “Is there any treatment that can cure myself?”. I will answer “Your illness are above my knowledge, you should seek other”.
        If one professional answer in such way “Your illness have no cure”. the actual meaning is “Your illness have no cure based on my knowledge”.

        My principe in illness is “Allah has never created a disease but created its treatment, that is known by some people and unknown to others, except death. (At-Tabarani)”

        It was a duty of professional to seek and research the treatment not to kill people. As long there was hope, patience should seeking for treatment for future generation and development of scientific treatment. Without people who withstand the pain and suffering through treatment from medical officer, our medical science are can not develop to this stage. Today, with all the suffering, tears, bloods and experience of doctor and their patience , we are now can have a good medical system.

        With all my reason, logic, explanation. I believe I do not require to support, acknowledge or even vote for “Euthanasia”. And I have a strong believe that I need to against this ideology.

        1. So, to clarify, you think it is okay to live out your life in pain and without dignity, tortured by the whims of nature, without any medical hope, wanting to die.
          That is an okay situation?

  2. That is life. Okay or not okay is not a question. Everyone have a problem. Do you think every successful people do not face obstacles?

    One of my engineer in office said “Problem is my food of thought, without problem I was nobody and I don’t even have a job”.

    Do you think life is being hampered by red carpet, food are automatically packet-ed in Tesco? You eat rice or grain because someone have taking a hardship working in hard sun to make sure the rice is being deliver to store.

    We going to face the difficulties, hardship, illness, aging. Just because I face one small obstacles, I going to kill myself. From my view, it totally absurd.

    In 3rd world country, there facing more obstacles, I rather ashamed to them. Still they want a struggle to be better. They are more stronger than most of us. I respect them.

    1. I’m not talking about hard working farmers or highly skilled engineers or overworked teachers. I am talking about people with a medical condition causing them constant, debilitating and extreme pain. I’m not talking about fibromyalgia sufferers, I am talking about intense, severe agony. Pain so bad you cannot help yourself, you cannot make it to the toilet, you cannot feed yourself and you cannot maintain your dignity.
      We have a right, according to the Human Rights act, to not not be tortured and to not suffer cruel and unusual punishment. I am saying that truly realising that right involves the liberty to die if maintaining dignity and not feeling tortured are no longer options.

      1. Let assume you are on the right side,

        What is your measurement of “extreme pain” or “severe agony”? It was very very very subjective.

        Let say I take your example above “Pain so bad you cannot help yourself, you cannot make it to the toilet, you cannot feed yourself”.

        To your description: Parkinson is one of the measurement illness. If people who got Parkinson, deserve Euthanasia. Even, in today world, there was so many treatment to treat Parkinson.

        1. I feel you are doing this on purpose now.
          I’ve already said, numerous times, that it is an option when treatment (both cures and palliative) is not an option.
          And it’s not an issue of “deserve”. It is an issue of choice. Should you be allowed to choose to die? Not ‘do you deserve to die’?

      2. I do not know which disease that suit to you description. So, in my understanding it was not exist. If there are existed, we just not found yet the cure.

        That how people argue in any hearing. Not everything in this world will suit to your scope of philosophy. It quite common and acceptable. I believe we should agree to disagree in this matter.

  3. […] This guy, for example, in what he thinks are perfectly rational terms will tell you why it’s perfectly okay for a deeply depressed 20-year old to walk into a “Death With Dignity” clinic and request that the personnel there put him out of his misery. The blogger will say that if the poor depressed guy has tried everything and has convinced two doctors that he’s tried everything, and is convinced that there’s nothing that can relieve his pain, and there never can be, then it’s just okay to kill him. He says it in the following two astonishingly stupid paragraphs: We’ve added our own comments in-line and in [square brackets and red font]: […]

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