you're reading...
Atheism, Christianity, Culture

Assisted Dying

I suppose it’s old news now, but back in the 1990s, assisted suicide was all the rage.  “Dr. Death,” more politely known as Jack Kevorkian, served over eight years in prison for an assisted suicide.    The problem was that unlike other cases, the patient was unable to “pull the trigger” himself.  So it was a homicide.

Legal details aside, there’s still a nagging moral question at the bottom of this issue.  “Murder” is just a scary word we use to avoid asking the tougher questions.  (Remember, in the vast majority of these cases, the “victim” initiates the lethal agent.)  Murder and death and killing are not the same things, and we shouldn’t go throwing the words about willy-nilly.

We as a nation are perfectly happy killing people and thinking ourselves morally good.  We especially like movies where the bad guys get their just desserts.  We support the death penalty for certain kinds of murderers.  Much more important than that, we start wars, sacrificing innocent civilians in the process, for the express goal of fitting select dictators with thick twine neckware.  There are instances where we are ok with “innocent people” dying.

As far as I can tell, the assisted death debate hinges on that very premise — that all life is sacred, and innocent life must not be taken for any reason.  It’s certainly a premise rooted in religion.  Christian values tell us that our bodies are temples, and we must not defile them.  We must not drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex, or otherwise spoil our inherent purity.  (If this doesn’t ring of Old Testament law, then you haven’t read your Bible carefully enough.)

There’s also the religious notion that suicide is a mortal sin, for which the punishment is eternal damnation.  And anyone who helps with such a dastardly deed must be as horrible as the person committing the sin.  But like the temple argument, this one falls by the wayside if there is no religious justification for it.

But it’s more than a religious issue.  Many non-religious Americans are opposed to assisted suicide.  For them, the logic is a little fuzzier, since they can’t appeal to Jesus for justification, but the emotions are still strong.  It’s wrong for someone to die before their time.

The more secular arguments are shaky at best.  Issues with life insurance, car payments and such can be worked out by the legal system.  Clauses addressing suicide are already part of the system, and whether or not the act was assisted seems irrelevant.

The “slippery slope” argument is a red herring.  Every time we allow or restrict an action, we are on the verge of a slippery slope.  If we withheld legislation on everything which could lead to more draconian rules, we’d never make anything legal or illegal.  Allowing an individual to decide their own fate is about as far away from enforced “death panels” or euthanasia programs as optional 401Ks are from communism.

In the end, we seem to be left with an emotional sinkhole, but no rational objections.  And while the emotional objections are probably not entirely inspired by religious beliefs, it would be naive to think that the cultural impetus of the “pure body” meme doesn’t have a strong influence on believers and non-believers alike.  The emotional pull is, I believe, the final argument.  That is, suicides are painful to surviving loved ones, and the idea of them being assisted is even more painful to many.  Harsh feelings towards the assistant abound, and many people view them as morally offensive people.

To which, the proper legal response is… So what?

We have no “right” in America to not be offended.  We have no right to demand that others take our religious mores seriously, or to legislate them.  To those of us wishing to live “Life Without a Net” — that is, intentionally remove the pull of religion from as many decisions as possible — we are left with a glaring question.  Why does anyone care whether a suicide is assisted or not? To be consistent, we must admit that if a person has the right to live her life the way she desires, she also has the right to end it the same way.  For us outspoken critics of religion, we must apply our rule to ourselves.  If we have the right to offend the religious and their practices, then we also have the right to offend those who are emotionally hurt by suicide and assisted suicide.  If we cannot come up with a legitimate, tangible harm to ourselves — beyond our hurt feelings — we cannot in good conscience prohibit another from taking their own life.

Advertisements

Discussion

13 thoughts on “Assisted Dying

  1. This is a subject that has concerned mt most of my life; even more now as I am 60.
    I’ve taken many cats to be put down when there was no longer any purpose for them to remain.

    Posted by critter8875 | January 23, 2011, 4:11 pm
  2. Thanks, critter.

    I feel you on that subject. I have had to have several animals — which I cared for very deeply — put down, and even though I knew I was making a morally sound decision, it was very tough. If I had it to do over, I’d do it exactly the same way, even though I know the pain that follows. Sometimes suffering a little is the right thing to do.

    Posted by hambydammit | January 23, 2011, 4:25 pm
  3. Nice article Hamby,

    I just recently put down a pet to spare her of an excruciatingly painful death. This was a first for me, and easily the hardest thing I ever had to do. Without a doubt in my mind though it was the right thing to do. Letting go is never easy, but why let anything suffer needlessly especially when death is inevitable.

    I feel like we already have to some extent assisted suicide. What about the do not resuscitate orders, or when they pull the feeding tubes and turn off life support. That in my opinion is with holding means that could keep them alive and so it’s assisted suicide, at least to me. (I consider pulling a feeding tube and letting someone starve to death not at all humane though, I watched my grandfather pass this way and it was not pleasant or quick). So if we can have legal documents to declare our will, as to life support, feeding tubes, or resuscitation… I don’t really see what the difference would be in having a legal document saying you also desire assisted suicide. I think of it as a humane means for the inevitable.

    I certainly hope if I’m ever doomed to a death like my beloved pet was that I’ll have the means to be spared from unnecessary suffering just like I did for my pet.

    Posted by Sabbysu | January 24, 2011, 2:40 am
  4. I would like to point out that a lot of the times the other side [the ones that want to commit suicide] is appealing to emotion as well.

    I think one of the best ways to make the world a better place, is to address the emotions and get over them, when they get in the way bad things happen.

    You keep asking me what I would do different, or how I would change things, that’s one of them. It’s also why I think that the atheist movement in it’s current form will fail, or succeed in the wrong way.

    In the end, when the smoke clears, it’s all based on emotions and intuition which can too easily lead us astray.

    I also know it’s not so easy to ditch your emotions and charge in like a robot, but if it’s emotions vs rationality, 9 times out of 10, emotions win.

    Posted by cptpineapple | January 24, 2011, 12:29 pm
  5. I would like to point out that a lot of the times the other side [the ones that want to commit suicide] is appealing to emotion as well.

    Alison, you’re doing your thing again. Yes. I know it’s an emotional decision to decide to commit suicide. We all know that.

    In any emotionally charged decision making process, there will be emotions on both sides, the morally correct side and the morally incorrect side. The presence of emotion does not make an argument right or wrong, and that’s the entire point. People who want to commit suicide in this situation are emotionally drawn to their decision, and they’re on the moral high ground. So thanks for pointing out the obvious, but I don’t see what your point is.

    I think one of the best ways to make the world a better place, is to address the emotions and get over them, when they get in the way bad things happen.

    Which is exactly what this article attempted to do. So I’m still confused as to your point. Are you suggesting that because terminally ill people feel emotionally drawn towards ending their lives, they are wrong? Are you offering a counter-argument to mine? All I can find is the obvious — it’s an emotional issue. Which is why I tried to address it without emotion. Which is what you’re talking about… so…

    You keep asking me what I would do different, or how I would change things, that’s one of them. It’s also why I think that the atheist movement in it’s current form will fail, or succeed in the wrong way.

    I’ve heard you say this a thousand times. But it’s useless as any kind of argument, since it doesn’t offer the two things I offered in this piece:
    1) A specific emotional issue
    2) Non-emotional, rational arguments for what you believe to be the correct answer.

    I also know it’s not so easy to ditch your emotions and charge in like a robot, but if it’s emotions vs rationality, 9 times out of 10, emotions win.

    We both agree that most humans make most decisions based primarily on emotion. So what exactly is your criticism/critique of my argument?

    Posted by hambydammit | January 24, 2011, 3:06 pm
  6. Sabby, it’s a pleasure to see you. It’s been far too long. I’m sorry about your pet, but I’m proud of you for doing the brave and kind thing.

    I consider pulling a feeding tube and letting someone starve to death not at all humane though, I watched my grandfather pass this way and it was not pleasant or quick

    I agree with you. I have seen the same thing, and agree that it is anything but humane. A massive overdose of anesthesia or morphine would be a far more pleasant way to go. It would be less expensive, less traumatic for the family, and certainly more dignified than lying around as a brain-dead skeleton for two weeks.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to cater to the irrational idea that all human life must be preserved at all costs, especially when we so glaringly ignore it everywhere except the hospital?

    I have a living will with a DNR order, and I encourage all my friends and loved ones to do the same. Unfortunately, there are far too many instances of doctors ignoring DNRs due to personal religious bias. I witnessed such a case where a patient suffered for many years with no quality of life for that very reason. So talk to your doctor and your loved ones about it, and make sure you also give someone you trust power of attorney so that the doctor can have a live person instructing him not to resuscitate.

    Posted by hambydammit | January 24, 2011, 3:20 pm
  7. Hamby, I was more or less agreeing with you I don’t know why you thought it came of as disagreeing. I think it’s because of my objections to abortion, that you thought I was objecting to suicide which was wrong, I think their two different things seeing as the people actually have a choice.

    What I got from the article is that we shouldn’t rely on emotions alone especially when it affects other people. Which I think is a good approach, I can’t just ban something or deny somebody’s right to do something just because I’m offended by it.

    Oh, and BTW the last person who said I was too emotional, I chopped his balls off and carry them around in my purse.

    Posted by cptpineapple | January 24, 2011, 11:13 pm
  8. “Oh, and BTW the last person who said I was too emotional, I chopped his balls off and carry them around in my purse.”

    That’s hot!! Hahaha

    Posted by Sabbysu | January 25, 2011, 3:43 am
  9. The point was that Hamby seems to think that I’m this emotional drama queen to that extent, I do seem to lash out but he seems to assume that every emotional response to him seems to be a critisizim of him. That’s I’m the Diva to whine about his arguments so he may read me agreeing with him, or even making general comments about his articles and get his panties twisted because he thinks mine are.

    I do get angry and emotional when I hear things I don’t agree with [particularly stupid things from people who are suppose to lead the future into rational and critical thinking] but at least I admit to myself that my panties are knotted.

    I would assume that this goes back to my Theist days when he was on RRS and was constantly pointing out my knotted panties.

    Posted by cptpineapple | January 26, 2011, 12:32 am
  10. I’m sure I’m overly sensitive to your panties, Alison. And I wouldn’t say that to just anybody. But in this case, I wasn’t extrapolating to abortion or anything else. I really just didn’t get any agreement from what you were saying. I know I’ve been after you for some time to work on expressing yourself clearly. A good start in that direction would be to adopt a simple formula:

    I agree with you that X, Y, and I would add A, B.
    I disagree with you that X, Y, and I would counter that A, B.

    That simple statement of exactly what you agree or disagree with, and what your comments are directed towards, would help immensely in your communication.

    Posted by hambydammit | January 26, 2011, 2:24 am
  11. It seems completely insane that we provide “humane” treatment for our beloved pets and deny it to our beloved humans.

    Posted by Interested | January 26, 2011, 2:49 pm
  12. Speaking of emotional responses Hamby, I can’t help but wonder what your reaction would have been if Dr. Death here had put his actions in a religious context that he was granting god’s mercy to the patients.

    If you want a meta-statement that summerizes my [dis]agreements.

    I agree with you that religion is irrational and probably not the best thing to have in society, but you seem to overestimate the dangers of religious ideas and underestimate the effects of non-religious ideas. That is you seem to want to replace religious ideas that are harmful to society with non-religious ideas that are harmful to society.

    I also agree that non-religious ideas such as Communism/Juche are just as dangerous and dogmatic as religious ideas, and you put them is the same category as religious ones.

    But that’s my point. The fact that we have ideas that are just as dogmatic and dangerous as religious ones without appealing to the super-natural or some magic sky daddy.

    And finally I agree that we should be spreading rationality and logical thinking, but I don’t think we should forfeit it and spread it with emotional responses.

    Posted by cptpineapple | January 29, 2011, 5:20 pm
  13. Speaking of emotional responses Hamby, I can’t help but wonder what your reaction would have been if Dr. Death here had put his actions in a religious context that he was granting god’s mercy to the patients.

    I would approve of the action but not the motivation. Very comparable to how I feel about Christian charity.

    Posted by hambydammit | January 29, 2011, 7:58 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Me On Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: