EUTHANASIA – can we live without it?

You may have heard of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the Paris-based editor, who suffered a stroke aged only 42. Left paralyzed, speechless and only able to move his left eyelid, he nevertheless used this rudimentary movement to dictate an entire book. Here he describes a moving occasion where he was taken out in his wheelchair with his two children…

……. While I have become something of a zombie father, Theophile and Celeste are very much flesh and blood, energetic and noisy. I will never tire of seeing them. ….As we walk Theophile dabs with a Kleenex at the thread of saliva escaping my closed lips. His movements are tentative, at once tender and fearful as if he were dealing with an unpredictable animal. As soon as we slow down Celeste cradles my head in her bare arms, covers my forehead with noisy kisses and says over and over “you’re my dad, you’re my dad” as if in an incantation. Today is Father’s Day. Until my stroke we had felt no need to fit this made-up holiday into our emotional calendar. But this time we spend the whole of this symbolic day together, affirming that even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a dad, is still a dad”.

It is heart-rending and it made me realise that sometimes the value of our human life may only be fully recognised by those around us — a tiny fragment of a dad is still a dad.

Dominique Bauby

The UK bill on Assisted Dying was debated in Parliament on September 11 2015. It sought to provide assisted suicide for people of sound mind with less than 6 months to live. (See Featured Comment below)

What’s Wrong With That?

In certain cases, there may be nothing wrong with passing a law such as this:

Bob Cole ended his life at the Swiss Dignitas Clinic in August. He suffered from aggressive lung cancer which had him bent double in pain, crouching like an animal. “That’s no life”, he said, “I should be able to die with dignity in my own country, in my own bed. The law needs to change”.

BUT changing the law leads to further and further changes. In 2002 when Euthanasia was legalised in Holland nobody imagined that by 2015 a mother suffering severe tinnitus and with two children would be legally killed. Nor did they foresee “Euthanasia on Wheels” mobile-units people can call if the family doctor is unwilling to authorise their death. There is always a “slippery slope”.

And note that the high profile cases in the pro-euthanasia camp such as Paul Lamb would not have been helped by this law anyway because they do not have less than 6 months to live. Even if this bill had been passed there would have been pressure for further changes. That is always the way to replace the law – a little at a time.

But there is a second, much simpler reason why assisted dying should not become a part of our law….. people change their minds. Alison Davies wanted to die for 10 years but had a change of heart even though her suffering continued. And you only have to “ask Google” to find recent cases of people requesting euthanasia and later changing their view.

Why Is This An Issue Now?

3 reasons:

  1. Medical technology and modern drugs have caused huge improvements in our care, but there are consequences. For example between 1991 and 2001 UK life expectancy increased by 2.2 years. Sounds great! But in the same period, healthy life expectancy increased by only 0.6 years. One effect of technological innovation is a growing period at the end of our lives during which we can expect to be chronically ill*.

Euthanasia - technology

  1. Ageing populations – the UK Government Actuary Department calculated that in 70 years time there will be many thousands of Britons aged over 110*.
  2. Choice – we live in a world where we expect to choose everything, my kids’ school, my supermarket, my pension provider. Death is the last thing we cannot choose ….. but we try.

Western countries that allow euthanasia include Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and several US states. In France a law is imminent.

Is There An Answer?

One thing we should not do is over simplify the discussion or minimise people’s suffering. It’s easy to get behind conversation-terminating clichés like “life is sacred — not ours to end when we choose”, but you could equally argue: Why is only length of life sacred? Why is a person’s quality of life not sacred? There are cliches in both directions in this argument.

Baroness Finlay who opposed this bill said: “licensing doctors in this country to help people commit suicide risks mistakes, abuse and pressure on people who feel they are a burden. ….  The law exists to protect us, especially the most vulnerable among us, from harm — including self-harm”.

I believe our current laws on assisted dying are imperfect but as good as they can be. Here euthanasia is illegal yet somehow possible in specific cases. Over 200 Britons have broken UK law by helping relatives go to Switzerland for an assisted death but none have been prosecuted.  The slippery slope starts with a small shift in culture, changing people’s perception by degrees so that those with devastating illnesses start to be viewed differently, and start to view themselves differently.

We can live without that.

Euthanasia Heartbeat

For an opposing point of view see Clerics Pro-Euthanasia letter to The Telegraph Aug 15
For an excellent summary of the Christian ethics see Keswick 2015 Seminar‑1 by John Wyatt
* Figures from Is There a Christian Case for Assisted Dying, Paul Badham

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Tony Powell
Tony Powell
4 years ago

Why is Al Qaeda more compassionate than pro-lifers?

The 9/11 hijackers got to die instantly.

Thanos Diacakis & Chris Goswam
Thanos Diacakis & Chris Goswam
5 years ago

Not everyone agrees with this article — and that’s OK. For a heated disagreement see comment thread on https://www.facebook.com/chris.goswami7/posts/10204812233656108?pnref=story

Kevin James Osborne
Kevin James Osborne
5 years ago

Here in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that patient-assisted suicide is legal. My concern is that people with medical issues with disabilities where they can’t communicate, will have their life terminated without their consent. Then, there is the larger question of what constitutes life. My stepfather signed a Do not Resuscitate order because my mother had suffered her third heart attack. The neurologist said there was 90% brain death. My stepfather made the painful decision to let her die with dignity. She was taken off life support. No matter what stand a person takes on the issue… Read more »

Marek Waszkiewicz
Marek Waszkiewicz
5 years ago

Taking off life support is not euthanasia, see point 2278 of Catchism of Catolic Church.

2278
Discontinuing
medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or
disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal
of “over-zealous” treatment. 

Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely
accepted.

The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if
not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will
and legitimate interests must always be respected.

michnavs
michnavs
5 years ago

wow… i am honestly sad and thankful i got to read this.. i live in a country where we value life so much and that euthanasia is not even an option even to the “dying of the dyings”…what i am saying is it breaks my heart ….thanks for sharing …

michnavs
michnavs
5 years ago
Reply to  Chris Goswami

i am from the Philippines… ever heard about it?

Marek Waszkiewicz
Marek Waszkiewicz
5 years ago

Hi Chris,
As you know I am catholic and thank God, I do not have any doubts about euthanasia. It is easy for my as the You shall not kill commandment. It is suicide. My faith is simple on that matter, any person who committed suicide goes to hell, that is it. I looked into link you post about clerics view on euthanasia, it is really sad for person calling themselves as Christians go against “You shall not kill”

Marek Waszkiewicz
Marek Waszkiewicz
5 years ago
Reply to  Chris Goswami

Chris, It cannot be justified for Christian, but It can for non beliver. Non beliver cannot wait for miracle, Christian can. Christian have hope, faith and knows that his God also has suffered.

Nanda Veerman (Holland)
Nanda Veerman (Holland)
5 years ago

I do agree with euthanasia but also feel in some instances that it is a subject that needs a lot of discussion, for instances euthanasia when people have dementia, that is now very much in the publicity here in Holland. My mother in-law had dementia and she was of a generation who probably did not know about how to ask for and get euthanasia so she went into a nursing home and had good days and bad days and very often when we had visited here, we felt very saddened by the way she was but for me it would… Read more »

Colin
Colin
5 years ago

But what do you do with the person who is forced to live through excruciating pain every day? Every day is a day they don’t want to be there. Their quality of life is zero and there’s no way out?

Elaine Brooke
Elaine Brooke
5 years ago

hi chris think your discussion is well researched and balanced. The abortion act was originally brought in as a last resort, for exceptional cases. We are all aware of the high rates of abortions at various stages of pregnancy…yet there are accounts of parents who went against advice and continued with their pregnancy to have a baby they would not be without. Euthanasia may start off as rare but runs the high risk of becoming the norm or in some situations expected. Imagine the situation where loving family members disagree on euthanasia , where elderly people or the terminally or… Read more »

Elaine Brook
Elaine Brook
5 years ago

hi chris think your discussion is well researched and balanced. The abortion act was originally brought in as a last resort, for exceptional cases. We are all aware of the high rates of abortions at various stages of pregnancy…yet there are accounts of parents who against advice and continued with their pregnancy to have a baby they would not be without. Euthanasia may start off as rare but runs the high risk of becoming the norm or in some situations expected. Imagine the situation where loving family members disagree on euthanasia , where elderly people or the terminally or severely disabled feel… Read more »

Dylan P
5 years ago

Great piece Chris.
Not an easy one. If we look at the achievements of Steven Hawking, clearly we have to go with the adage of ” where there’s life. And I completely agree with the selfish tinnitus case.
That said we also have old people with cronic illness where maybe it would be kinder to let them slip away to their maker.
It’s not a call I want to make but one thing is for sure. It shouldn’t be easy — a la mobile vans ! ( but in the case of Katy Hopkins I’ll make an exception — joke )