A Secular Take on Euthanasia January 10, 2012

A Secular Take on Euthanasia

Over the weekend, the Ottawa Citizen compiled this collection of perspectives on euthanasia from various religious leaders in Ottawa.

Image via Shutterstock

I won’t bother quoting most of them because I’m sure you can imagine what was said. For the most part, there was a lot of talk about “God’s plan,” “Life is sacred,” “Condemn murder,” “Life in relation to God…,” etc. You get the picture.

Regardless of your personal views on euthanasia, whether it is passive or active, the one thing that most religions have in common is the view that your life is not really yours; it belongs to “God.” It is not yours to live as you choose and it is not yours to take, regardless of how much pain and suffering you may be experiencing as you approach inevitable death. As an atheist, I have a serious problem with this viewpoint.

I was pleased to see that this article included a perspective from Kevin Smith, who is on the board of directors for the Centre for Inquiry. He made this statement:

“In our secular society, euthanasia must be a personal decision between the terminally ill and their families, without idle threats of supernatural damnation. It is ethically criminal to toss guilt and shame into a tragic situation.”

In Canada, suicide is legal, yet “counselling, aiding or abetting another person to end their life will result in imprisonment.” I don’t know if I take comfort in the fact that, if I chose to end my life right now, I could do so and not face a prison sentence (which would really impede the whole plan…), but if I were to be faced with a terminal and sufferable disease that prolonged my life in the most painful and dreadful way imaginable, I would be unable to legally seek assistance to make that suffering stop.

I don’t appreciate Smith’s example of Robert Latimer as justification for why the laws should be changed because I don’t believe he was acting out of pure compassion for his disabled daughter when he killed her via carbon monoxide poisoning, but I do agree that something needs to change. Simply legalizing euthanasia could open up many problems and provide opportunities for malice. If the laws were to change, strict parameters and regulations would need to be established.

Various faiths may believe euthanasia is “immoral” and equate it to murder, but I believe it to be immoral to let human beings suffer in agony when they’re begging to be put to rest, telling them that the choice is not theirs to make. Life is precious, but when the time comes, we should have the choice to die with dignity because, after all, it’s our life.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve always found it very disturbing that we routinely utilize euthanasia to limit the suffering of our pets but do not accord the same level of respect and mercy for our own kind.

  • I’m with sunburned. We wouldn’t let Fluffy suffer and suffer, yet we bankrupt ourselves, both morally and financially, to keep from extending the same decency to Granny. What a choice this so-called “christian” culture offers us at the end: Excruciating pain, or an mindless opiate fog.

  • J2j3

    I was happy with the death with dignity act in Oregon until I had a friend that wanted to use it but couldn’t because you have to be able to swallow pills and his cancer prevented that. On the whole though it’s a good law and people don’t use it as much as feared by the religious wackos out here. Washington state adopted something similar last year. 

  • Nude0007

    Youth in Asia. what’s the big deal?  Personally, I’d rather have to deal with people who try to illegally off people than deny people their right to check out if they want.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t believe he was acting out of pure compassion for his disabled daughter when he killed her via carbon monoxide poisoning

    What’s wrong with mostly compassion (even if you could possibly know how “pure” his motive was)? He loved his daughter and she was in constant pain with even worse pain on the horizon. If she were my daughter, I’d have wanted to spare her that too. It’s shameful that the man spent any time in prison.

  • Chris Harmon

    My dad nursed my step-mom thru terminal cancer.. watched the system milk her for all she was worth so to speak the last two weeks of her life as she died in hospital. So when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer the next year.. he didn’t want to go out costing the system a million $$.. hospice was mad at him when he tried to talk about euthanasia.. so he had to do it all on his own. It still makes me mad that his death certificate reads suicide and not cancer- he didn’t kill himself- cancer did. He just took charge of the when.

  • How are we having this discussion without mentioning Eric McDonald? 

  • Eivind Kjorstad

    In many jurisdictions where you cannot legally offer active euthanasia, you nevertheless *may* give pain-relief, even to such an amount that the patient dies. That is, if a patient is in pain, you’re not breaking the law by upping the dosis until the pain is gone — even if that dosis may also kill the patient.

    That’s the status in Norway and Germany for example. You can’t ask the doctor to kill you. But you *can* ask the doctor to make the pain stop. (the difference is small I agree, but there you go)

  • Jackie

    Last August, we had to euthanize our cat.  She was diagnosed with abdominal cancer then her kidneys shut down.  It was the humane thing to do, no matter how hard it was.  Two weeks later, I was called home.  My father was in hospice, at the end stage of an aggressive adenocarcinoma.  The last weeks of his life were hell.  I still am angry that I could help my cat but do absolutely nothing to help my father. 

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It is ethically criminalWhat does this mean? This guy needs to learn the language. Criminal refers to crime, things that are legally prohibited. ethical refers to morals, i.e. what is right or wrong. These are not the same thing. Is he saying that it is wrong, or is he saying that it is illegal, or both? Actions can be either unethical, or illegal, or both.

  • gski

    Those that want assisted suicide to be illegal because our lives belong to god, should also refuse life saving medical treatments.  Until they do they are hypocrites.

  • ‘ethically criminal’? He can’t be making those type of statements in a secular society can he? I mean, how can he be bringing his beliefs about right and wrong to the table and shove it in the faces of others?

  • And, why should we be aloud to die with dignity and what is dignity? You simply can’t say such things from a pure atheistic worldview. If you’re not going to measure it against an external standard it can’t be defined can it? An atheistic stance or a secular one as presented above is simply not practical when developing a legal system or when ethics are discussed.

  • BUMP!

    Anyone who cares about this issue should be reading Eric’s blog at choiceindying.com

  • Was it her decision?

  • It’s an ironic thing that the punishment for disobeying god – including ending your life when it is no longer worth living – is being sent to hell. Hell is defined by pain and suffering that you cannot put an end to.  When clergy assert that people cannot end their lives even if their suffering has become unbearable, they are essentially consigning them to hell.

    God is good.

  • I’m old enough that I’m starting to think about whether I would seek medical treatment for a terminal illness.  They’re very good at prolonging death until bankruptcy.  They’re not so good at prolonging life.  If you can’t get off the medical train once it starts, why get on?

  • Seladora

    “I don’t know if I take comfort in the fact that, if I chose to end my life right now, I could do so and not face a prison sentence (which would really impede the whole plan…)”
    I’m from Canada, and I don’t quite understand how this doesn’t make sense to others. I don’t see why the desire to take your own life should result in a prison sentence. As long as it doesn’t harm the lives as others along with your own; as you said, it’s *your* life. After you’re dead a prison arrest is useless, and if you live through the suicide attempt what good would a prison sentence do? You’ve probably got enough problems as it is, why would that help you? People do get treatment afterwards, it’s not like we let them walk around after an attempted suicide. 

    I do agree with everything you’ve said about euthanasia though. If it is legalized, it should be strictly monitored.

  • Oh for pete’s sake! Just because there’s no such thing as objective morality doesn’t mean that there aren’t right and wrong answers to ethical questions, given that any discussion of ethics implies that fundamental concern for human wellbeing. Given the premise of wanting to create a society that negotiates the needs of the many against the wellbeing of the individual, the atheist perspective absolutely has plenty to bring to the table (and, by the way, “secular” is not the same thing as “atheist”). 

  • It’s all about cost-benefit. How much life can you hope to gain versus how much standard of living would you be giving up, and how much weight do you give to each.

    Many of these life-prolonging cures are extremely invasive. Chemo, for example, can make patients extremely nauseous. And at some point, you reach an age where even if you beat this one, there’ll be something else right around the corner, and it makes more sense to just life as best you can for the time you have left. 

    I’m not there yet, but my father is. The problem there, however, is that he’s too quick to see every little illness as The One. His wife makes him seek treatment, he gets better, he carries on, then it’s something else and he’s ready to die all over again. 

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head.  The medical industry is in cahoots with the religious right because those end-of-life treatments with “the machine that goes bing” are fantastically profitable.

  • Anonymous

    I have always been a supporter of euthanasia. One of my former college instructors asked my class about our thoughts on suicide. Is it “selfish”? I answered that it wasn’t and that it was more selfish to want to keep someone who doesn’t want to live alive. If someone wants to kill themselves, that’s their choice. Sure it will cause their loved ones pain and everything but they (the loved ones) don’t take into account the amount of pain their loved one is in just by simply being alive. It may sound cold hearted but sometimes all the therapy and anti-depressants in the world can’t make someone want to live.

  • Anonymous

    I have always been a supporter of euthanasia. One of my former college instructors asked my class about our thoughts on suicide. Is it “selfish”? I answered that it wasn’t and that it was more selfish to want to keep someone who doesn’t want to live alive. If someone wants to kill themselves, that’s their choice. Sure it will cause their loved ones pain and everything but they (the loved ones) don’t take into account the amount of pain their loved one is in just by simply being alive. It may sound cold hearted but sometimes all the therapy and anti-depressants in the world can’t make someone want to live.

  • Terry Pratchett did a programme about assisted suicide and the right to die.
    As far as I recall, the person had to go to somewhere in Europe where the laws allow it.

  • Wendy

    This is one of the few issued that makes be grateful to follow the baby boomers into retirement.  Regardless of their religious beliefs today, I think laws will change when hundreds of thousands of boomers realize what it means to suffer without a choice until you die.

  • Silo Mowbray

    I find it richly (and tragically) ironic that many theists get all up in arms over euthanasia, equating it to murder, while at the same time they’re gung-ho about capital punishment.

  • Emilyb62

    I work in a cancer hospital, and it breaks my heart to see such suffering. I agree, if a person does not want to spend thier last months suffering, why make them, and charge them for it?? I think it is cruel, myself. We put our animals ‘down’ when they are too sick to recover, why not give humans an option? Are we humans not more important than our pets?

  • Nena

    We were having this discussion on Thanksgiving and a good friend of mine brought up an interesting point. What about sufferers of depression? Should they be given the choice/assistance to end their own life? What if you can’t get a clinical diagnosis for depression, but you are convinced that you are depressed and will never get better?

    If you say “well, it has to be physical pain,” then you have clearly never suffered real depression. It is physical pain, and it is really, really terrible.

    If you easily say “yes,” then what about those who recover? Some people recover fully from depression, and it isn’t really possible to tell who will and who will not.

    I, personally, couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

  • I think it all boils down to supernatural reasoning. According to our society’s most popular religion, human beings have “souls” that belong to God. However, animals are soulless creatures and man was given dominion over them. So animals don’t have “souls” that belong to God, and it’s okay to kill them whenever we want. It’s why euthanizing a suffering pet isn’t the same as euthanizing a suffering person.

  • Anonymous

    Even if it were selfish, why shouldn’t someone be allowed to be selfish when it comes to determining how they want to die?

  • Regardless of your personal views on euthanasia, whether it is passive or active, the one thing that most religions have in common is the view that your life is not really yours; it belongs to “God.” It is not yours to live as you choose and it is not yours to take, regardless of how much pain and suffering you may be experiencing as you approach inevitable death.

    This is such a disturbing view. It’s also why I can’t admire religious people who oppose the death penalty. They don’t actually think that killing people is wrong. They just think that only their god should have the right to kill people. So they might be against the death penalty, but it’s only because it involves humans killing other humans. If it was their deity doing it, suddenly everything would be okay. Because human beings belong to their god, their god can kill people whenever it wants, and they will never say that their god’s actions are immoral.

  • Meika_b

    I’ve found that, for all the supposed trust religious people put in “god’s plan,” they still think of death as a terrible, horrible, bad thing. Death for a serial killer is considered okay because death is bad, so it’s a suitable punishment. Death for your ailing grandmother, though? Why would you want to do that to her, you monster?

    It’s ironic, really. They spend their lives hoping and preparing for the chance that they will someday get to meet their lord in heaven, and then they shy away from the actual act like it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to them. It just adds more fuel to the idea that religion is simply a social manifestation born out of fear.

  • None of this is hypothetical any more. Places like Switzerland have had euthanasia for years, so we can look to their model and see how it works.

    No country lets you just walk in and take a few pills. There’s a process, and it involves counselling. Rather than create a mess for people with depression, I’d say it would actually help.

    To give you an example, my sister was suffering. We knew she wasn’t doing well, but none of us knew how bad it was until we got that phone call that she’d taken her life. What if assisted suicide had been an option? Would she have pursued it, which would have put her in the hands of professional counsellors who might have helped her? Would it have told us just how bad things were so we had the chance to wake up and give her the support she was so badly in need of?

    I’m too young for euthanasia to really have a visceral meaning for me, but I support it for all the lives it might save; people like my sister who might have had a better avenue to get help rather than taking matters into their own hands alone and in desperation. 

  • SJH

    This is a very complex issue and one where we need to speak with compassion, love and without judgement. It is difficult for me to allow suicide because I feel that by doing so we start down a road where life is not cherished and adored and we place suffering above love and affection. This world seems to me to be one where love and compassion decreases and apathy and irresponsibility increase. I know that suicide often seems like the compassionate thing to do and it would be difficult to watch someone I love suffer but I think, in the end, the it is actually not compassionate. We are amazing creatures and have the ability to do amazing things. Perhaps we should encourage each other to overcome and transcend the suffering. Our suffering can be redemptive and bring us closer together. By allowing someone to commit suicide you diminish this truth and the potential end result which can be beautiful and enlightening for all parties involved.

  • Anonymous

    Suicide would be a shortcut to heaven. Can’t have that. If only because those people would no longer be under the church’s control

  • Marcie

    I suffer from depression and spent several months talking myself into living.  I’ve since gotten help and am very gratefully that my family didn’t have to suffer through dealing with a suicide.  Depression is treatable and people can and do recover.  I think it’s an entirely different issue than a terminal illness.

  • Transcend suffering? How does one do that? I urge you to read through Eric McDonald’s blog (
    http://choiceindying.com/about/) and even to contact him if you still have trouble understanding what it means to have a terminal illness.

  • TSC

    Huh. That’s interesting. The secular view made the online version of the article, but it wasn’t in the paper itself, as far as I saw. Perhaps I just missed it, or perhaps there’s more content online. (Note that secular viewpoints do make the paper version fairly frequently, just not this time).

  • They rotate who gets in print, but all the “experts” who submit for the given week are given a place online.

  • Nena

    I wish I had known all that on Thanksgiving. 🙂

  • Mihangel apYrs

    at present a very dear friend is lying in bed in a hospice close to death.

    He’s drugged against severe pain, and confused, hallucinating, and lacking the dignity of his years.

    His distress is obvious, and those of his friends heartrending after each visit – which may be the last.

    I am appalled that a civilised secular society could not OFFER an escape if he wanted it

  • katied

    Obviously nobody except for him knows what his “true” motives were and I won’t argue what a difficult position that would be. However, there is information elsewhere to indicate that there were aspects of her life that his daughter greatly enjoyed and she made no indication that she would rather be dead. Yes she was in pain, but pain is relative and so is this notion of “quality of life”.  It was not his decision to make, ESPECIALLY without HER or her mother involved. What an awful thing to have happen to her mother as well, and then to lie about it…even worse. Having children with severe disabilities would be extremely challenging, but I would vehemently argue that a parent has the right to make the decision if/when a child should die. I’m not implying that he acted out of purely selfish reasons because the burden was getting to him, but his behaviours don’t scream altruism to me. Where would one draw the line? 

  • Anonymous

    Suicide, the only crime that you only get punished for if you fail.

    Besides the matter of the faulty notion that any life, no matter how horrific and painful, is to be judged as more worthwhile than death, I see a matter of pure principle here.

    My life belongs to me. It does not belong to any nonexistent god, and it most certainly does not belong to the state. It is the one thing even the most destitute can claim, ownership of a life. It’s my life, and I find it outrageous that I cannot decide to end if it is too unbearable.

    Of course there are complications. There is the matter of people who are not in their right minds, and how you diagnose that and provisionally deny them the choice of death. There is the matter of end-of-life decisions taken by family members. There is the matter of to what extent doctors should assist a person in making death painless. All of this requires discussion and regulation. But before you do any of that you must affirm that the full ownership of your life is yours alone, and that this includes the right to terminate it when circumstances force the matter.

  • Alchemist

    In New Zealand not only do we put animals down when they are beyond reasonable help and are suffering, we are legally required to do so by law. It both amazes and disgusts me that we do not make such a humane provision for each other.
    However, I have seen doctors “make the patient comfortable”, giving morphine tincture at a dose that causes the suffering patient to slip into a coma from which they never wake. I know it pains them to do this but it pains them more not to, and not nearly as much a the illness pains the patient.
    As I understand it, this can be done openly in Holland. Perhaps someone could confirm that?

  • Gothealth2

    saw a beautiful documentary about a man with ALS who wanted to be
    euthanized before he lost the ability to communicate. he said he was
    terrified of laying there in a body that felt aches or pains …that
    itched or needed to be moved…..but was
    unable to tell anyone and have to just lie there and deal with it. so
    they went to Sweden. the doctors were so loving and understanding of
    his fears…and his desire to end his life. arrangements were
    made…and when he got close to the time that his communication started
    to fail..his wife contacted the doctors. he held her hand and they
    began the process in a quaint little room. he said goodbye…and he
    died. his wife cried a little…but i cried like a baby! she was asked
    later why she didn’t cry much…and she said that she has been watching
    him die slowly for years, so instead of one big cry…she has had years
    of small ones. i cried because of how respectfully and lovingly the
    whole thing was done. i felt happy that he had his wishes and his
    family was at peace.

  • Nena

    Wow. I cried just reading your description.

  • Rich Wilson

    I have yet to see an external standard which is a) standard (consistent) and b) doesn’t contain provisions that would make anyone puke, unless they’re willing to say “God is allowed to do evil shit because he’s God”.

  • walkamungus

    I call bullsh!t on suffering being transcendental or redemptive. My dad died of multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. It’s very difficult to treat, even if it’s caught early, which it wasn’t in my dad’s case. I didn’t always have a good relationship with my dad — we didn’t talk much during the last few years of his life — but I watched him (a) gain the understanding that this was going to kill him, and (b) go through incredible physical pain as the cancer progressed. The last month or so of that suffering was unnecessary, imo; he was being kept alive for the rest of us, not for himself, and it was flat-out cruel. His experience didn’t  repair our relationship, or cause me to see him as a better person, but I did decide that no one deserves that kind of misery, not when we have the capability to avoid it.

  • Rich Wilson

    The Suicide Tourist (also available on Netflix)

  • Rich Wilson

    Our suffering can be redemptive and bring us closer together.

    Is that why you wear a horsehair shirt?

  • SJH, yours is clearly a religiously-inspired philosophy of suicide.

    First of all, life is cherished and adored because it is worth living. When it is not, when you, say, have been paralyzed by MS, are wracked with pain for many hours of the day, when you have no bowel control and must be constantly cared for by others, life – according to those who have been in these situations – becomes markedly less adorable. For someone who wishes to die, for someone who is suffering, assisting them in their wish is something done out of compassion. Anything else would be cruelty. It would be controlling another and subverting their right to make their own decisions.

    I notice that you do speak of controlling others, and here I would advise you be incredibly careful. You speak of allowing people to commit suicide, as if their lives were yours to control. There is nothing compassionate or just in denying someone the right to die because you aren’t okay with it.

    Furthermore, there is nothing beautiful and enlightening about being made to suffer. It is here that your religious bias most shows. Believers in an all-powerful, loving God are simply required to make a virtue of suffering, because otherwise they have no way of explaining its existence. But because it makes your philosophy look neater does not make it true. Life has painful moments. For some, life has become pain, and is no longer worth continuing. There is no beauty in that. Nor is there “redemption.” Redemption for what?? Again, this is religiously-inspired nonsense, and guilt tripping. That we gain something from unending pain (which is called “hell,” by the way) is one of the sickest claims a person can make.

  • dorothy30

    I wonder why Katie believes Robert Latimer was not acting out of compassion for his daughter Tracey. I followed that news story closely at the time (in the 90’s) and I believe he did. It’s a travesty that he was persecuted, and the religious right used this case to argue all sorts of right-to-life issues that were unrelated to the situation.

  • Yaello

    This was the only option my mother was given in her last days after a very long, very painful battle with cancer: to be made “comfortable” by an ever-increasing dose of morphine. She suffered anyway, despite her clear-minded, pre-emptive wish to die quickly and quietly. Thanks, New Jersey.

  • Redlady1979

    Frontline: The Suicide Tourist
    This is a moving documentary about a man’s end of life journey. It is available for instant play on Netflix.

  • AmyC

    If you really wanted to know more about the kinds of regulations that should be/are  put on PAS (physician assisted suicide), you should look at the laws Oregon has in place. They are the only state in America that allows PAS. The rules involved are extremly rigid and often times the patient actually dies before they are approved. You may want to see how these regulations apply to your own beliefs in the matter.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t even see it as selfish. We should be as much in control of our lives as we possibly can. It kind of reminds me of the movie The Pianist when one of the older men says that he won’t allow himself to be killed by the Nazis, he’d rather kill himself first.

  • Yeah, I don’t get the selfish angle at all. Far from it, I’d say the selfish ones are the people trying to keep their loved ones alive far beyond the point that they want to be alive, forcing them to suffer just so that they can delay feeling grief. 

  • aral

    I’m glad you were able to get help that really helped you, and it’s not the same as a “true” terminal illness, but as someone with extremely refractory depression, I contest anyone categorizing it as just straight up “treatable”, like a bacterial infection. I know you weren’t intentionally saying there aren’t exceptions, it just brings up something particularly close to home. I’ve unfortunately heard that so many times, often from people who DO think that it’s universally treatable.

    I’ve honestly wanted to “get better” and have pursued treatment after treatment for 15 years trying to find a solution, but the best I can get is a temporary numbness (and that’s only emotional numbness; the physical pain doesn’t go away, though it’s at least dulled). Intellectually, I’m unable to even pursue one of my favorite subjects (philosophy and ethics), because every time I study it again, the only logical conclusion I can reach is that no, life ISN’T worth living.

    While I’m not about to go kill myself, I would say that someone in my situation, who has fought against intense near-constant depression for so long, and who has pursued almost every non-alternative therapy without results, would be completely justified in pursuing assisted suicide. I’m not saying it should be outright euthanasia, and should clearly go through all the protocols first, but after a lifetime of pain, the least they deserve is a reliable and painless way to die.

  • katied

    I think you misunderstood me Seladora…or possibly my sentence was too long and nonsensical. I completely agree with you and was saying that I don’t take comfort in the fact that I could kill myself and not go to jail (seems rather obvious that I wouldn’t), BUT that nobody can aid in my death at my own request. I was somewhat pointing out the irony of the laws, not stating my displeasure that suicide was legal. I agree that suicide should be legal. Sorry if that was not clear.

  • Demonhype

    I think that by “criminal” he means it’s on the level of things we would usually consider criminal.  That the idea that a person should be forced to stay alive until the last gasp, no matter how much pain they are going through, is on a par with what is commonly accepted as criminal behavior.  Allowing your child to scream and vomit themselves to death and doing  nothing about it is criminal both legally and ethically (and fortunately religious exemptions for that are going bye bye) but that laissez-faire attitude is allowable when it involves a terminally ill patient who actually wishes to die and for some reason it is only criminal to actually respect that person’s last wishes to die with dignity and peace.  IMO, it’s a perfectly viable descriptor.

  • Demonhype

    Exactly!  It’s infuriating how they can easily push aside that “my life belongs to GOD and only GOD decides when I leave!” when they get  sick or when they are doing the suffering.

    Maybe God wanted you to have an enlarged heart from some untreated illness, maybe God wanted you to die because he needed you in heaven, but no, not you!  You couldn’t allow God to do as he wills with your life, to do with it as he wills and end it if he chooses, you just went ahead and thwarted his Divine Plan and his Mysterious Ways with your vile Satanically-inspired SCIENCE!!!!!

    There are few things more vile than the idea that “my religious beliefs dictate that your life belongs to God and so I should be able to force you to suffer to satisfy my religious convictions”.  Freedom of religion does not work that way.

  • Ben

    Want to know a truly disturbing result of the ban on euthanasia? In 2009 a man, Christian Rossiter,  here in Australia, was a quadriplegic who suffered immensely. Euthanasia is illegal here, but refusing medical treatment is not.

    Anyway, given that there was no legal way for him to end his life in a painless way (i.e. euthanasia), he was forced to petition the court to be allowed to refuse food and water. In other words, his only option was to starve to death. The court eventually granted his request, although he died of an infection before the starvation killed him (he had already refused to take the antibiotics). Infection or starvation, that’s an immensely painful way to die.

    This is fucking deplorable.

    To all you anti-euthanasia advocates: do you also support the choice of an adult to willfully refuse medical treatment? If yes, how can you claim to treasure life, and to honour people’s choices, but leave them no option but to die in such a degrading fashion? If not, then you’re even worse, forcing life, often painful and humiliating, onto people who don’t want it anymore.

  • Ben

    It is difficult for me to allow suicide

    Nobody asked for your permission, so what makes you think it’s your right to give or withhold it?

    If we can be said to own anything at all in this world, it is our bodies and our minds. What we do with those (consent issues not withstanding) is our own business. We’re not your possessions, your kids, or your pets for you to control. We’re individual human beings that have the ability and right to make our own choices for our own circumstances.

    If our choices aren’t necessarily the choices you would make, too bad. It’s not your place to force others to live their lives just likes its not your place to tell them how to live.

  • Ben

    The point Stev was trying to make is that people use the word “selfish” to try and make you feel bad, but there is in fact nothing inherently wrong with the word. It’s often justifiable to be selfish, and this is one of those cases. There is no need to try and redefine the word just because the anti-euthanasia crowd are trying to overload the meaning of it.

  • Demonhype

    I figured that out as a child that the main objection against suicide seemed to stem from the fact that dead peasants provide no  bon-bons for the aristocracy and clergy–can’t let them check out early or the privileged would have to earn their keep, and that would defeat the purpose of the whole scam.

  • THIS.

    I’ve been saying it for years, too.

  • +1 for “the machine that goes bing”.

  • Love and Compassion?

    I contend that the Loving and Compassionate thing to do is to let the loved one go. I would also contend that it is selfish to force life on someone who does not want it.

    We criticize people for being clingy and controlling in relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, w/e), but now… what? We suddenly encourage clinging to and obtaining control over the terminally ill, just so we can feel better? That’s insane!

  • CanadianChick

    Katie, she wasn’t capable of making any sorts of decisions…she’d basically been a vegetable since the minute of her birth due to oxygen deprivation during birth. She had the mental capacity of a five month old baby. Her biggest enjoyment in life was being held and rocked, something that could NOT be done after a time because of the rods inserted in her body to combat the scoliosis.

    Her cerebral palsy completely involved her entire body. She was in constant pain, but they wouldn’t prescribe anything stronger than Tylenol because of all the anti-convulsants she was on. By the 1990s her scoliosis was so pronounced it was impacting her internal organs (hence the rods).  In 1993, at the age of 13, she was so unable to take nourishment and keep it down that she weighed only 38 lbs at one point (while living in a care facility briefly).

    And while Robert did not discuss his actions with Laura, it’s not as though she’d never said their child would be better off dead.  She did, the day they found out that their child would have to have another operation that might make her life marginally less painful, but would cause extreme pain after the fact (basically severing her hip and removing the entire joint).

    So, what exactly was selfish about him ending his daughter’s suffering before yet another painful operation that would not significantly improve her overall quality of life and would cause excessive pain? The only thing that would have been more altruistic, IMO, would have been doing it earlier and with a MD’s help.

    I’d suggest you read “Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice & Mercy” by Gary Bauslaugh (one of the only journalists that Latimer would talk to in detail).

  • Stephroche4t

    I agree up to a point. If you want to die by all means go right ahead. I know that sounds cold but if that is truly what you want then that is your right. I think there are instances that suicide is very selfishly done. I have no other way to describe a man who shoots himself in his wife’s car after they argue other than selfish. But the act itself not selfish it was the trauma inflicted via the method that was selfish. Was he thinking clearly? Most certainly not, he was intoxicated. But what if we lived in a society where there was no stigma to mental illness? And suicide was an option for people who are tired of this life or suffering, physically or mentally? Here in the states for a man to admit he is depressed can be seen as a “sissy” way to be. How different could his life or death have been? How much less traumatized would his wife and children have been? I don’t have the answers but I think that a shift in the way depression and mental illness is even perceived is necessary before people can truly be helped. And please please let people take possession of their OWN LIVES!!! 

  • I know it’s not the same, therefore I used the words ‘or’ and ‘as presented above’.

    You can see positive results coming from certain behaviour yes, but you can’t call it right and wrong and expect others to agree with it if it is all subjective and relative.

  • Exactly, but until you see one you (as an example) can’t point to things and call it wrong and right.

  • If we agree on our goals, yes, we can talk about right and wrong. Because some actions will help achieve our goals and some actions will not. I really don’t know why some people are so intent on making this seem complicated…

  • Rich Wilson

    You’re right.  I think killing a woman who has been raped to protect the family honor is ‘wrong’, but not everybody agrees with me.  And I think keeping people as property is ‘wrong’, but not everybody agrees with me.  And I think not letting two consenting adults get married, no matter what their sexes are is ‘wrong’, but not everybody agrees with me.

  • Anonymous

    So right. His poor daughter was suffering horribly and she was scheduled to suffer even more. Try to picture having major hip surgery with plain Tylenol as the only post-surgical pain relief.
    I have no doubt that Robert Latimer did the right thing. The criminal aspect was that there was no legal way for him to do it.

    He could have escaped a long prison term if he’s been willing to say he’d done wrong. He wouldn’t.

    I suggest that the above book settles the case for people who aren’t blinded by theism.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think you could have taken care of someone with incurable cancer. Or even been around such a person.
    I have, a number of times. People with cancer are not uniform. Some people actually go out pretty much like Ali McGraw in “Love Story.”  Looking reasonably well and without a lot of pain. A friend who died last month had been diagnosed with metastisized lung cancer in February. She had some mobility issues  but she was alert, cheerful, and pain free until December. Then one day she had breathing difficulties and went to the hospital. The next day she was dead.

    Others with lung cancer (like my mother) suffer a long and slow decline accompanied by ever-increasing levels of pain. It took six grim months for my mother to die.

    The one thing both women have in common is that they SHOULD be able to make decisions about their own life. Obviously, not every dying patient wants to commit suicide but those who don’t are not an argument against those who do.

  • katied

    This wasn’t really what the article was about and I won’t have much other time to continue the discussion, but here goes….

    Tracy Latimer was not able to write or communicate in conventional
    ways. Although frequently portrayed as bed-ridden and in constant pain,
    Tracy’s pain was intermittent and she rode the bus to school every day.
    On the witness stand at Robert Latimer’s trial, Tracy’s mother Laura
    was forced to admit having written (in the journal/log book that was kept) that Tracy was happy, comfortable and
    doing well in the days before her father murdered her – she had
    previously supported the defense claim that she was in constant,
    unremitting pain. The misinformation about Tracy helped to create the
    myth of Latimer as folk hero. In fact, he got a lot of breaks from the
    justice system – a 10 year sentence for 2nd degree murder when he
    admitted the killing was premeditated (which calls for 25 minimum before
    parole eligibility). He was also not retried after his 1974 rape
    conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeal was based on the fact
    that the judge had not allowed the defense to ask the 15 year old victim
    of Latimer and his (also 21 year old alleged accomplice) about her
    sexual history. Little wonder the Crown was unable to proceed with a new
    trial with the prospect of such a cross examination of a 15 year old
    girl. The law has since changed and if it all happened
    today, Latimer would likely have been unsuccessful in that appeal. 

    many people accept Latimer’s defence arguments at face value and do not
    read the court transcripts in context. Latimer is a child abuser of the
    worst kind. People’s judgements about Latimer are clouded by their
    pessimism  and ignorance about disability and their inability to imagine
    that a kid like Tracy enjoyed life, which she clearly did – she liked
    hockey, having her fingernails painted, teasing other kids and adults.
    Yet people accepted the myth that she “had the mind of a 4 month old”.
    That rationale also begs the question of what level of intelligence is
    seen as worthy of life? The Nazis and modern bioethicists have been keen
    to offer ideas and remedies on that issue.

  • katied

    Please see my above response, but this is likely my last on the issue.

  • Anonymous

    Euthanasia goes on all the time. Quietly. Sometimes a doctor helps. Sometimes a family member.
    The reason legalization is needed is so it CAN be monitored/regulated. Right now we have no idea if the people being helped are being helped of their own volition. It’s illegal to assist a suicide so no one involved can or will  talk about it. Legalization is the only way to bring this out of the dark.

  • Rich Wilson

    Sure I can.  “Servaas is wrong”

    Whether or not you agree with me is another matter.

    You can claim an external standard exists, but since it’s invisible to us, and even people who think they know what it is can’t agree on it, it’s pointless.  We still have to work things out for ourselves.

  • Seladora

    That makes so much more sense! Thank you for clarifying haha.

  • Seladora

    Yes, you are very right. I agree.

  • RememberTracy

    I followed the Latimer case from the day it was reported to the present.

    I contacted people I knew in Saskatchewan in the disability/community living field when I heard about it and found out that Tracy’s disability was very similar to many children I had worked with in the past, and was working with at the time – kids that had cerebral palsy and who went through the scoliosis and hip release surgeries that alleviate the conditions that were causing Tracy’s pain. Yet the news reports made it sound like she had some rare form of CP that left her in constant pain. Untrue – she was happy and comfortable a lot of the time. She had times of real pain, no doubt – I’ve been with and cared for kids that are going through that and its no picnic. But, it would have been alleviated by the scheduled surgery. Latimer’s lawyer asked the surgeon (Dr. Dzus) in court if the pain would be gone the day after the surgery – obviously a ridiculous question – and he and others used the answer to suggest that she would (always) be in pain after the surgery. I followed every trial and read every trial transcript and watched as Robert Latimer was re-cast as a folk hero through poor journalism and the selective reporting of expert testimony and trial testimony. I learned about his 1974 rape conviction and successful appeal on grounds that would not be accepted today (ironically, that trial was heard by one of the judges who 20-odd years later called him “the salt of the earth”. I learned about Tracy and about how she spent her time and the things she enjoyed. Latimer and his lawyers were successful in painting pictures of Tracy and her father that were both grossly inaccurate. Tracy was murdered and robbed of her life at 12 years of age. That 15 year old victim of rape was greatly harmed by both of the men who assaulted her – not to mention being further harmed by the justice system of the day. Latimer got off easy both times. Tracy had a right to life. Those who support Latimer insult her further in death. CanadianChick repeats the basic misinformation that was “sold” to the general public in the superficial reporting that happened in this case. She says Tracy was a “vegetable”. Such is the quality of our compassion and mercy.  

  • Anonymous

    niceee wctube

  • flynn

    Agree that dignity is a relative concept. I’m annoyed by the phrase “death with dignity,” because it seems to insult people who live with conditions that others might find undignified: relative helplessness, chronic pain, inability to control movement, reliance on ventilators, etc. The disability movement often points out how euthanasia supporters sometimes play up fear of these kinds of medical conditions and interventions. (This kind of repulsion was my first exposure to the issue, if not yours.)

    I’d prefer some other term than “dignity”–aren’t we talking about “self-determination” or “preventing suffering”? But that ship has already left the port, and we now have plenty of wrenching testimony from people who are or were suffering, and their family members, so that the “oh, i’d never want to have an ostomy bag, it’s so undignified” and “i don’t want to be a burden” voices are mostly crowded out. If “dignity” is the word that gets the laws passed, keep it.

  • Right on, and you shouldn’t get angry/irritated/upset with them if they don’t agree with you because they are no more or less right than you are in doing so. It is only your perception of wrong while others perceive it as right.

  • So our goals determine ‘wrong’ and ‘right’? And should our goals change then ‘wrong and ‘right’ also changes?

  • What do you mean by ‘work things out’? It’s not like we should expect any resolve if there is nothing to work towards?

  • I don’t understand what you’re getting at. 

    When we’re trying to determine social policy, the first step is to decide what the policy is supposed to accomplish. For example, if your goal is to reduce the rate at which people become addicted to drugs, you’re strategy is going to be different than if your goal is to prevent overdoses among addicts. 

    Now, let’s say we’ve already decided that our goal is to prevent overdoses, and we have Politician A and Politician B. Politician A proposes that we just focus on arresting any drug users the cops can get their hands on. Politician B wants to build safe injection sites so that drug users have nurses present when they take drugs, while also giving social workers access to them. We try both strategies for a year and evaluate which strategy results in lower overdose rates.

    In this example, Politician A is making his suggestion because he believes that God wants us to be tough on crime and not to tolerate sin. Politician B, on the other hand, has a liberal agenda and wants us to turn all our jails into atheist/environmentalist brainwashing centres and make all police uniforms pink with Hello Kitty logos. Secularism is about ignoring the reasons why these two politicians are proposing what they’re proposing, and focus instead on the results – how do the two strategies measure up when it comes to accomplishing the stated goal of reducing overdose rates?It does get more complicated when we have different goals. For example, one society’s goal might be focused around God’s wellbeing, while another might be focused on the wellbeing of its citizens. And in that case, it is fuzzier and we have more room for discussion, although we might well argue that the wellbeing of proven entities is, by default, the worthier goal. Or if we have a contest between a goal that caters to the wellbeing of the entire population versus only a segment (as we might see if we have a slavery-based economy, for example), the more people encompassed by the goal may be a better default. Beyond that, you really can’t argue, nor do I think it’s worth bothering. If we’re designing a hypothetical society and the designers do not get a choice of what role they will get to play in it, it simply makes no sense to design a society that favours only one group (or, rather, disfavours one). That would run completely counter to self-interest. The only thing that changes when we start talking about the real world instead of hypotheticals is that roles are already assigned so people can safely work with narrower self-interest. 

  • Rich Wilson

    Someone else’s perception of the right or wrong of something has nothing to do with whether I care about it or not.  Even if it’s right in their view, if it’s wrong in mine, and wrong enough, I’ll be upset about it.

    I’ve had a strong desire to correct wrongs my entire life, which is the only reason I’m still here arguing with your silly prattle.

  • Rich Wilson

    If you live in the US, and drive a vehicle on the roads, you do so following rules of the Uniform Vehicle Code, and any modifications to such made by your state and local jurisdiction.  This particular set of laws was ‘worked out’ without the help of any ‘giver’.  If you live somewhere else, something similar applies.

    Your ‘nothing to work towards’ is your projection of nihilism on me/us.  Lack of belief in a ‘giver’ doesn’t mean what you really want it to mean.

  • YesThatChris

    Wrong way ’round, actually. Technically, since animals have no souls, they require a higher level of care from those that do. From a certain point of view this makes sense, since animals are instinctually wired for survival at all costs and even the most intelligent animals are rarely capable of destroying themselves. Animals rarely “just die” anyways… something almost always kills them and eats them.

    As doctrine, of course, this policy falls down in a number of ways, just as the doctrine of non-suicide falls down when applied indiscriminately. But that’s the essence of the doctrine.

  • Various faiths may believe euthanasia is “immoral” and equate it to
    murder, but I believe it to be immoral to let human beings suffer in
    agony when they’re begging to be put to rest, telling them that the
    choice is not theirs to make. Life is precious, but when the time
    comes, we should have the choice to die with dignity because, after
    all, it’s our life. It is very adamant matter.

  • YesThatChris

    Funnily enough, this comment reminds of similar remarks I’ve heard about divorce. In an age where ending what should be a strong relationship carries no stigma, less effort is made to build and preserve such a relationship. For similar, strictly secular reasons, I’ve always felt that removing the stigma from euthanasia would result in less effort made to preserve lives that might have been enlightening or enriching for all involved. Also, just as with divorce, there ought to be some way of accomplishing that goal when all other avenues are exhausted.

    And make no mistake, transcending one’s suffering is an admirable goal regardless of your thoughts on spirituality or religion. Think of pretty much every interesting story you have ever heard of, and you will undoubtedly find that every single one of them involves people who suffer in some way and transcend it. Hardly anyone ever lionizes those who have it good right from the beginning and stay that way their entire lives with no problems at all.

    Whether any particular person’s level of suffering means they they are not worth saving is, of course, unknowable. And I guess that’s always been my issue with euthanasia: the notion that anyone knows for certain what the future holds.

  • YesThatChris

    I’ve always treated the idea of euthanasia like I treat that other wonderfully divisive concept, that of abortion. I sort of passively believe that it ought to be legal, but I just can’t conceive of any circumstance under which I’d advise someone I truly cared about to actually do it.

    What I find most amusing is when people try to say it’s strictly an issue that revolves around religion. It doesn’t. The suggestion that assisted suicide be regulated, and that there be a process involved, reveals a subtle but well-defined idea about death: that even when someone states they wish to die, by default we should try to change their mind with counselling or other tools. Even the secular tend towards the belief that in the general sense, life is worth preserving.

  • Divorce is actually a good comparison. So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that if divorces are readily available, couples put less work into their marriages and are quicker to separate than if divorces were very difficult to get. Let’s say that this leads to wads of unhappy divorcees.

    It doesn’t get around the fact that these unhappy divorcees are adults who have the right to make their own life choices. Even if we think they’d be happier together, it’s still not our call to make.

    Same with euthanasia. We can write until we’re blue in the fingers about the beauty and value of life, but the value of life can only be assigned by the person living it. We simply do not have the right to make these choices for other people (assuming we’re talking about people who are still capable of making these decisions for themselves). 

    In the end, there’s something arrogant about a person who strongly values their own life trying to make end of life choices on behalf of someone who does not value their own. By definition, if you are against euthanasia, you are not qualified to see matters from the perspective of someone who is seeking assisted suicide. 

  • Terry Pratchett has Alzheimers? *sad*

    My aunt may have early-onset… she’s having testing done now.

  • I teared up at that. How beautiful and right, to be able to choose when and how you die, and to be treated with love and understanding about it. Doesn’t seem like so much to ask.

  • Replying to all other posts under this heading: I’m with you on the fact that we can agree on methods and rules etc and apply them as long as we can see that practically they work best and is sustainable for ongoing development towards other things we mutually agreed to build towards for instance. My initial problem was with the fact that someone made a moral judgement on something as wrong (or otherwise right) but I could not understand from his worldview what the source of authority is he drew it from? Every right or wrong has to be drawn from some source of authority. The laws that govern the roads could get drawn back to the body who lay them down and so forth, and if in the US for instance something is illegal then those who break the laws are only wrong with position to the US law system but not necessarily wrong because who says it is wrong in general to break national laws? A Christian for instance would draw on the Bible as his authoritative source who commands the followers of Jesus to obey such laws but what does an atheist, agnostic, and the like turn to? That was my issue.

  • To ourselves, to our philosophers, to our ethicists… If all you need is an authority, the atheist has plenty to draw from. But ultimately, regardless of  whatever your pet authority happens to be, it all comes down to secularism – the process by which we navigate competing authorities and arrive at the best goals and the best means by which we might achieve them.

  • Anonymous

    what wmdkitty said… grew up with my mom being a vet, so I got used to it.

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