Sunday, December 19, 2004

Assisted suicide

An excellent piece on the myths used to argue for assisted suicide is here. He says it better than I could. The another good (albeit older) piece comes from Thomas Szasz, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate, who calls assisted suicide an oxymoron.

2 example(s) of insolence returned:

At 12/19/2004 5:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. There's _just_ enough good arguments here that I have to respond.

I wish the author didn't taint the piece with such things as "Germany between the years of 1900-1945 presupposed many of the ideas of the assisted suicide movement." and "Did someone invent a cure for death that I didn't hear about?" Things like that make me feel stupider for evening having to consider an argument against them.

1. This is just about individual atonomy

"Nobody today could be hanged for attempting suicide, as was the case in the nineteenth century - nor would they be imprisoned for their unsuccessful attempt."

Of course they would. The desire to commit suicide is seen as a mental illness. They would almost certainly be involuntarily committed to a mental facility until they were deemed to no longer be a threat to themselves. At that point, their options for self-termination are GREATLY curtailed.

"Strictly speaking, assisted suicide is an oxymoron."

It looks to me like this article is trying to say that "assisted suicide" is an oxymoron because it's something other than a suicide.

I don't agree with the implication, and I don't believe the quote in the original article was trying to make that point.

The article that quote came from appears to be making the point that we don't call it "gun-dealer assisted suicide" when a person shoots themselves with a gun, so why would we call it "doctor assisted suicide" when someone kills themselves with a lethal dose of drugs?

Well, because when you're buying a gun to kill yourself with, you don't tell the dealer what you're going to use it for. When you're acquiring a lethal dose of drugs, the doctor knows what they're prescribing.

If it could be proven that you told the gun dealer of your intent, and they sold you the gun anyway, I bet they _would_ be charged with a crime.

2. We all need the 'right to die'

"We all have the right to die, with or without its sanction in law." ... "Anyone, with a little forward planning and much determination, can kill themselves."

If the author believes this counters the substance of pro-assisted suicide argument, they don't understand the issue.

This is about access to one specific tool of self-termination: prescription drugs. The only reason doctors are involved at all is because they're the unfortunate keepers of the keys to the medicine cabinet.

"The Assisted Dying bill will instead place an onus on doctors and carers to help individuals to commit suicide. One of the most ugly arguments to come from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society is that disabled people should have the right to die, too. We must be clear that we are being obligated to give the proverbial man on the bridge a push (or perhaps to make the bridge wheelchair accessible)."

I'm not familiar with the particular bill. Does it require doctors to assist in a suicide if asked? If not, then where's the obligation? If so, then it needs to be changed.

3. Those opposing assisted suicide are a 'small religious minority'.

That argument is a straw man. I think everyone knows-- and this article well proves-- that strong points can be made on both sides without involving religion.

"They unite with medical representatives and disabled groups, who fear that doctors' judgements about 'quality of life' may imply that their own lives are not worth living."

It's up to each individual to decide if their life is worth living to them. In my view this is entirely about providing people who deem their lives _not_ worth living the best tools with which to end their lives.

4. Allowing the right to die is the hallmark of a civilised society

"To break the taboo against suicide would be a sure sign of societal breakdown."

Both the "myth" and this "answer" are unprovable platitudes.

"Surely a mark of civilisation would be to offer people in despair some sort of argument that their lives are valuable, that they do have some worth. Instead, right-to-die advocates project their own gloomy estimation of the worth of human life on to these poor souls."

That's great. Offer them the arguments that their lives are valuable. Plead with them to continue living. Engage them in every way you can. But in the end, if they're not convinced, don't deny them access to the best tools to end their lives with.

If this is implying that society would break down because we providing people who want to die a new tool to do it with, I disagree.

5. The central issue is pain

Pain is just one source of suffering that might cause one might choose to end their lives. In 1995, an update to the Remmelink Report showed that pain played a roll in only 32 percent of requests for euthanasia. In 66% of requests, there were other overriding factors in the patient's decision.

6. This is all about 'dignity'

"What sort of dignity? Right-to-die campaigners condemn the lives of the disabled as bereft of dignity, apparently associating dignity solely with control over bodily functions. According to this definition, if someone loses their bodily 'autonomy', they no longer have human dignity."

According to this definition, every newborn baby has no human dignity. This is an obvious straw man of an argument.

This is all about control over ones life, how it will end, and having the best tools to end it if you decide to.

"In my mind, dignity comes from bearing up under suffering we meet throughout our lives rather than letting it destroy us, and from facing fears rather than caving in to them."


7. Many are forced into 'lonely, back-street suicides' because of our restrictive laws

"In six years, only 180 people took up the option of assisted suicide under Oregon's right-to-die law, which is less than one percent of those requesting information about it."

..And is only 68% of the 265 people who actually got the prescription. has the latest report.

What conclusions can we draw from that? I don't know.

"Prominent campaigners for the right to die such as Timothy Leary have backed out of suicide at the last minute."

What's the implication here?

It's scary doing things that we can't undo, of which the ultimate is dying. It doesn't surprise me that so many people get the prescription but don't go through with it. I'm sure there are a lot of people who buy a gun for the purpose of killing themselves, but never go through with it. Good for them.

"In most polls, those who are keenest advocates for legalising assisted suicide are the young. The elderly, whom one might imagine have most cause, tend to shun it."

Yeah, the young tend to be the keenest advocates for legalizing a lot of things.

"Imagine [... ] if you were trapped, forced to live a life you no longer wanted, unable to end it yourself."

Right. How would that feel, to be completely out of control? What if every breath were a struggle, and your only option was sitting in bed staring at the ceiling. I might decide that I could do without the last month of my life, and suddenly, the author's statement in section 2 ("We all have the right to die") has a lot less meaning. What good is the right without the means?

"By asking for an assisted suicide, an individual is expressing their despair about their prospects, their fear for what the future holds. Why would they express despair unless they wanted some sort of connection with others?"

So uh... How do you get the drugs without asking for an assisted suicide? I don't think that suggests a desire for any connection outside of a drug sale.

8. Amending the Suicide Act to allow assisted suicide would restore a right enjoyed by classical societies

A silly argument. Does anyone care if we're the first?

To combine this with section 4: Let's not forget, the Romans, the Greeks, and the ancient Japanese all allowed (and in some cases encouraged) suicide and their civilizations fell. Let's learn from history.

"However, one precedent for a tolerant view of suicide exists. Germany between the years of 1900-1945 presupposed many of the ideas of the assisted suicide movement"

Damn, if only I'd read this paragraph before writing all of the above, I could've just invoked Godwin's law and saved myself a lot of time.

9. The real problem is modern technology's ability to keep people alive indefinitely

"Did someone invent a cure for death that I didn't hear about?"
Uhm. The "myth" is obviously pointing out that life support machines, feeding tubes, and other advances in technology have created quality of life questions that didn't exist before.

"It is instructive that the authors chose not to celebrate the triumph of medical science but to look for potential problems."

How so? To me, they're merely being scientific.

It's a shame that length of life is so much easier to measure than quality of life. We measure our progress by how long we can keep a person alive, not by how well they're living.

10. It is best to die as you choose, surrounded by friends and relatives at home rather than by tubes and monitors in a hospital.

"We cannot control when and how we die."

No, but we _can_ control when and how we kill ourselves.

"Every death is ugly and undignified, as life is wrenched away, leaving an inanimate, waxen corpse."

Can we agree that an overdose of barbiturates is less ugly than gunshot to the head, a plastic bag over the face, or slit wrists in the bathtub?

"Or shall we continue to view all human life as valuable,"

What is the author's view on removing life support of a braindead patient or the feeding tube of a patient in a persistent vegetative state? Is there ever a point where a life for the sake of life doesn't make sense?



At 10/24/2005 11:46 AM, Blogger Rusty said...

This may sound strange but I am supporter of suicide but adamantly against doctor assisted suicide.

There are several reasons for this.

First I think that 100% of the efforts of the medical community should be focused on sustaining health and quality of life.

Second, I do not trust doctors who get paid less by medicare to give patients who have medicare alone the best treatment options. Both my grandmothers died of cancer. One who was relatively poor was ignored by her doctors. The other who was fairly well off received excelent care. It would be to much of a temtation to not mention many of the expensive treatments available to control pain to those who can not pay but offer them the simple solution for ending pain for ever.

And last, all terminally ill patients have enough medication to end their life peacefully if they want with out the aid of their doctors.



Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Links to this insolence:

Create a Link

<< Home