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Some thoughts on euthanasia, assisted suicide and 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

One of the milestones in the development of an intelligent species must surely be when the individuals of that species realise and accept that they can choose the time of their own death and the method for bringing it about. The alternative, leaving one's death to 'natural causes', seems to me absurd.

This page written 2016/03/09, modified 2019/12/31
Contact: David K. 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 for the elderly in declining mental and/or physical health should be available to anyone of sound mind whether or not they are suffering from a terminal illness or experiencing unbearable suffering.

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

Suicide too, should be quite acceptable, so long as one has fulfilled whatever obligations one may have to the living, for example, to one's children.

The suicide of a young person in the grip of depression that may be treatable or may pass is plainly a very sad thing and a very different case to a carefully considered suicide of an old person (such as myself). While suicide might seem to be the best course to a young person for a time, it is very likely that conditions will change and that person will go on to enjoy life for many years.

One of the objections to suicide has been based on religion; "God gives life and only God has the right to take away one's life". Of course, not only is there no evidence for the existence of a God or gods, but the whole idea of a divinity is absurd. Yet the prohibition on suicide seems to have remained stuck in the minds of many; even of those people who have removed the god-delusion from their beliefs.



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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; yet we humans are often condemned to die very unpleasant deaths when it could easily be otherwise.

 

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 (or she) cannot consider his life to be entirely 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 euthanised 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 euthanising those who want to continue living in any free and civilised society.

Religion

Some people would claim that life is God-given and only God has the right to choose when a person should die. Of course there is no evidence for the existence of a God or gods, so this argument is without any basis.
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 or her 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.

At the time of writing this I was seventy years old. At the time I was fortunate enough to be reasonably fit and well. I could 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 or socially acceptable 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.

Update, July 2019

I am now in pain fairly often, probably at least partly due to a serious car accident in November 2017. It seems to me that the time to end my life may not be far off.
 
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Related pages

External pages

Death by design: "We can chose how we live – why not how we leave? A free society should allow dying to be more deliberate and imaginative"; an article on Aeon by Daniel Callcut

ABC News, Sydney, 2017/12/03, by Elizabeth Jackson; "Euthanasia: It's not just about unbearable pain, it's about self determination, expert says". Professor Kathy Eagar, executive director of the Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration and director of the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong said "People elect euthanasia for a lot of reasons, but the most important is that they don't want to lose their independence and autonomy". "You're finding life less enjoyable, you're finding you can no longer do the things you loved to do, you believe you're starting to lose your dignity – that's the major reasons people are electing euthanasia internationally."

Why Australia hesitates to legalise euthanasia; The Conversation

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

Old people suiciding

Too many Australians living in nursing homes take their own lives; 2018/03/06; Briony Murphy, Joseph Ibrahim.
This article discussed the results of the study below.

Completed suicide among nursing home residents: a systematic review; 2015/05/25; Briony J. Murphy, Lyndal Bugeja, Jennifer Pilgrim, Joseph E. Ibrahim.
More than 3/4 of the suicides were from either hanging or falling from a height. Assisted dying would be much more humane. Perhaps, rather than simply trying to stop these suicides, society should be looking into whether many of these people clearly and consciously have made a decision to die and whether society should provide a humane death alternative?

On this site

The most undemocratic and unethical act passed by Australia's Parliament, the Euthanasia Laws Act of 1997, otherwise known as the Andrews Bill, that overruled an act passed by the Northern Territory's government legalising assisted suicide.

Some thoughts on death

Ethics

Suicide as a rational decision

Ramblings on religion, superstition and pseudoscience



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