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Some thoughts on euthanasia and assisted suicide

"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
Philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty

This page written 2016/03/09
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David Clarke) – ©
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What right does anyone else have to tell me how and when I must die?

There is no good reason for people to be denied the right to die at a time and in a way of their own choosing.

Euthanasia or assisted suicide should be available to anyone of sound mind whether or not they are suffering from a terminal illness or experiencing unbearable suffering.

Euthanasia or assisted suicide should not just be legal, but should be socially acceptable, even commendable, options for ending one's life.




The quote from John Stuart Mill at the top of this page states the matter very well. While we necessarily have limitations on those of our actions that affect other sentient beings, due to ethical considerations, we should have full rights in matters that affect only our own bodies.

Why should a humane death be denied to a human being when any other sort of death is unacceptable for a domestic animal or a pet? Allowing an animal to die slowly and miserably can even be a cause for a criminal conviction, and rightly so.

 

Suicide in the young or mentally unstable

Of course it is not only the elderly who may choose to end their lives; young people who may be suffering from depression may also do so.

It seems to me that they should be strongly encouraged to seek appropriate psychological or psychiatric help. But if they see life as unbearable, not just in some time of deep depression, but over a long period, then surely they should be allowed to choose to end a miserable life.

Impact on others

Many of us have responsibilities to others. An important example is the parent of young children; he cannot consider his life to be intirely his own to do with as he chooses.

Death

Many people seem to have trouble thinking rationally about death. I suspect that this is the source of a large part of the resistance to accepting that people have a right to end their lives. I have written on death in another page.

The slippery slope argument

One common argument against voluntary euthanasia is that legalising it would lead on to people being euthanased against their will. This argument is so absurd as to hardly be worth any consideration at all. You could say that no government should be allowed to lock up anyone in prison, because once they start they'll want to lock up all their opposition. Just as there are safeguards to stop this from happening, so there will be safeguards against euthanasing those who want to continue living in any free and civilised society.
It has been suggested that euthanasia or assisted suicide be available to the terminally ill and those who are experiencing unbearable suffering. I am suggesting that one or the other, or both, be available to anyone of sound mind who feels that death is more desirable than life. It is a life choice – the ultimate life choice – to which we all should have a right.

The burden of looking after more and more aged people is not just expensive for society, it makes life harder for young, working people who have to pay the necessary taxes. It is simplistic to say that "you can't put a price on a life"; our society puts a price on life all the time – for example when deciding how much to spend of making a road more safe or how much to spend on health care – it is right to do so; to not do so would cripple society with unsustainable taxes and costs.

So long as elderly people can look after themselves they do not place a great burden on society, but once they have to be looked after by others and/or they develop serious health problems, costs go up steeply. They should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to continue living – whether their quality of life justifies continuing – and whether they want to be a burden to others. Certainly they should not be pressured into ending their lives, but the decision should be available to them. They should not feel bound by custom to wait until they 'die a natural death'.

A person who has been responsible for his own welfare and is accustomed to contributing to society suffers a loss of dignity when he becomes dependent on others and can no longer usefully contribute. He should not be forced to accept this loss of dignity and self respect.

I am seventy years old. At present I am fortunate enough to be reasonably fit and well. I can still contribute to society. Once I am no longer able to contribute I would prefer to not be a burden to others; I want the option to be able to end my life when it suits me. Certainly I have no desire to suffer the indignity of going into a nursing home and relying on others for my basic needs. I have been happily married for about forty years, and should my wife die before me, I'm not at all sure that I would want to continue with life. (I fully intend to end my life when it suits me, whether or not doing so is legal at the time.)

Not only is there nothing ethically wrong with a person wanting to not burden others; it is commendable, it is simply altruism.

The world is grossly over-populated. Why force a person to live against their will when, again, they would be behaving in an altruistic way to end their life? To keep people alive when they would prefer to die is not only immoral, it is also cruel and absurd.

I am not advocating encouraging people to end their lives, but they should be given the option of doing so if they want to and there should be no stigma attached to ending your life when it suits you.





Links

Why Australia hesitates to legalise euthanasia; The Conversation

The right to die with dignity – euthanasia; Appendix 1 of Human Rights by David Swanton



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