just met Charles. He tells me about a friend of his, an old
man with a tumour. This man is full of metastases and suffers
incredibly. The doctors have given him three more months. He
is desperate and would like to put an end to his suffering,
he even seeks help from his friends. Charles would like to do
something. But we have no law on euthanasia. Helping a terminal
patient with no hope of recovery to die is out of question.
You would be facing a murder charge.
only places where euthanasia is legal are Holland, Belgium and
Oregon State in the U.S., I think. Instinctively, I would say
that choosing the moment of one's death is a question of freedom,
a personal right of every single individual. I've read somewhere,
though I don't remember whether it was in Benjamin or elsewhere,
that the ultimate value is not existence in itself but rather
a proper existence, worthy of a man. If someone finds his life
no longer bearable why shouldn't he have the right to end it?
are there so few countries with legalised euthanasia?
such strong resistance to allowing a doctor to help a person
for religious reasons. Nah, I don't think so. Sure, if one believes
life is God's gift, one is likely to feel that only God can
take that gift away. But many objections to euthanasia do not
have religious foundations.
I've asked my English friend, Paul, who is opposed to euthanasia
though not a religious man, to throw some light on the issue.
He claims that being opposed to euthanasia doesn't mean being
opposed to suicide. And, in fact, you will hardly find a country
where suicide is illegal, or rather, the attempt of suicide.
If you want to kill yourself and succeed in doing so, the law
does not stop you. If another person saves you and your attempt
fails, you will not be prosecuted. But euthanasia means that
someone (usually a doctor) helps another person die: with a
lethal injection, with poison, or simply, by disconnecting the
machine that keeps a terminal patient alive. It is just what
the American doctor by the name of Jack Kevorkian, also called
"Doctor Death", did: he helped more than 130 persons
die and was found guilty of murder in the end.
What does Paul say? "One must be contrary to euthanasia
because no group of people, not even qualified doctors, should
be given the right to decide over the life or death of other
people. It is an ethical and a legal question, not a religious
me just find Montaigne's Essays.
I've even placed a bookmark. Michel de Montaigne stood in favour
of suicide just like the Stoics in ancient Greece.
says here: "Life depends on other people's will, but
death depends on our own will."
law on euthanasia should simply recognize that there are objective
reasons, not subjective, that make us prefer death to life:
truly intolerable pain, degrading life conditions, certainty
that death will come soon and in pain. In these cases it should
be allowed for an expert, a doctor, to help the suffering person
die in the best possible way, in peace and surrounded by family
and friends. The word itself explains everything: eu-thanatos,
"easy death." So, it is, first, a question of personal
freedom, and, second, a humanitarian question. It is all about
fighting extreme suffering.
Paul says it is not quite like that. It was exactly in the name
of alleviating extreme suffering that the law in Holland legalised
also passive or involuntary, not just active, euthanasia. This
means that a doctor, acting on his own responsibility, can also
put to death incurable patients who have not asked for euthanasia:
it doesn't just apply to patients in a permanent coma but also
to mentally ill or disabled persons.
some cases, the patient's very old age is enough to make the
data I got from Paul is impressive: approximately one half of
euthanasia cases in Holland are involuntary or passive ones.
A research from 1990 revealed that as much as 0.8% of all deaths
in Holland are as a consequence of euthanasia, performed without
the patient's request.
all, even the question of a tranquil and dignified death is
not such a clear matter. I've read about a case in Portland,
Oregon, that happened in December 1999. The patient took the
lethal medicine and felt sick. There was no doctor with the
patient, so the wife took him to a hospital. Just in the midst
of a crisis when he already seemed dead, the patient was resuscitated
and died some time afterwards. Anyway, the assisted suicide
didn't really work in that case.
are also economic issues. The methods of keeping the terminal
and the incurable patients alive are very expensive. The sustainers
of euthanasia argue that the money could be well spent on medical
cures, like treating malformations in foetuses or providing
better living conditions for non-terminal patients.
seems to be a rational choice of helping those who can still
benefit from it.
even this argument can be overturned. What if euthanasia becomes
a handy tool in the hands of governments and medical structures
to keep down the costs of medical cures and balance hospital
all, lethal medicine is the least costly of all possible cures.
Just try to imagine what would happen in countries like the
U.S. where there are millions without access to free or low-cost
medical service. In a situation like that, assisted suicide
or euthanasia would prove not to be the free choice but the
only economically viable option for the poor.
you put it, freedom is always a tricky question:
is what appears to be a more liberal choice also the
more socially just one?
can tell? And finally, is it right or wrong to legalise
DemoKino - Virtual Biopolitical Parliament - Euthanasia.