Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Euthanasia A Dignified Death

Most people would prefer to live a long life, but not too long. There is nothing wrong with a dignified death after a long life. The mores of America are rapidly changing according to those who only a decade ago thought that gay marriage and gays in the military would never become accepted. Sadly ideas like euthanasia and even discrete breastfeeding in public still drive many Americans crazy. With people living longer and technologies ability to extend a person's life well beyond where they feel it has any "real quality" the issue of euthanasia will not go away.

A big problem with the Universal Health Care model in the United States is that we have a much more death-averse and drug-centric mentality than any other nation working such a system. Americans, generally, expect to receive the latest advances in life extension therapies and life-enhancing drugs. A completely different ideology will have to be established in the relationship between our population and the medical community for this to function in a cost effective way. Accepting death as part of the natural order would go a long way in solving many of the problems. I contend that a person of reasonably sound mind should have the right to say, "I have had enough! End my life Now!"

In the United States, with its culture of optimism and its religiosity, many people want to postpone dying at any cost often including that of pain. Why religious people tend to feel this way is unclear. For some Christians, dying in pain is welcomed or at least endured because it makes them feeler closer to Christ. Others believe that the decision as to when a person dies is reserved to God, this is the stated basis of the official Catholic position that sees suicide as a mortal sin. But not all Americans feel that way and many people who are suffering acutely, anticipating suffering acutely, or find themselves lonely or depressed may want to die.

Teaching and thinking about death without heavy religious connotations often sheds more insight onto life and strip away illusions of one's immortality. Watching an elderly loved one die in pain from an incurable illness or watching a life cut short without notice can bring many issues into focus. The last few grains in an hourglass always seem to rush by faster, we should never take for granted how many good years we have left. Confronting our own mortality sooner rather than later is conducive to living a better and more balanced life, mortality influences our values and feelings about everyday life.

Recent opinion polls show many people want laws changed to allow people to get medical help to die. The word "euthanasia" was first used in a medical context by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, it refers to a painless and peaceful death, during which it was a "physician's responsibility to alleviate the physical sufferings of the body." Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and several U.S. states (Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington). It is quasi-legal in France and tolerated in a number of countries in which it continues to be illegal. Where euthanasia is allowed checks and balances exist to protect against coercion and decisions make by a person depressed or not of sound mind.

Current governments laws are in conflict with the changing views of many citizens. Some people who want to die commit suicide, but others do not out of fear that their attempt will fail and leave them even worse off than before, or because they lack confidence that they can kill themselves discreetly and painlessly. Suicide also carries a huge social stigma, because of the public character of a suicide one cannot dispose of one’s own corpse. People who want to die often shy away from committing suicide because of these issues. Even if one argues that by their inaction they actually are choosing to live many would be far better off if they could deal with their problems in an open way.

In the case of physician-assisted suicide, the "stigma cost" of suicide is reduced or disappears, because if a person who wants to die is allowed to chose a lawful form of medical “treatment,” this signals that suicide is acceptable at least when a physician oversees the act. The religious people whom I mentioned will not be assuaged; but religious people shouldn’t be permitted to impose their sectarian values on others, including both religious and non-religious people, who do not share the abhorrence that some religious people feel toward suicide. Allowing physician-assisted suicide could improve many lives by reducing apprehension about the future and at the same time reduce the suicide rate.

The biography of distinguished federal court of appeals judge Henry Friendly reports that he committed suicide in his 80s because, suffering from a variety of ills that were not disabling and did not prevent him from doing his judicial work, he was afraid that he would become disabled and when that happened be unable to end his life though desperately eager to do so. If able to pre-arrange a painless physician-effected death to occur when he reached a specified stage of disability, he would not have killed himself when he did. Euthanasia is thus an option and a less costly one than killing oneself unaided. To me this is a non-issue, the government should not enter this area of individual autonomy and freedom of choice.

   Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for another post that may be of interest. Below is an article that focuses on how the young will be burdened in the future by having to support the older Americans that have been promised so much. Do not be surprised if the young come to embrace euthanasia.

Footnote #2; It appears this issue is becoming more important in China according to the Bloomberg following article.        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-11/do-not-resuscitate-china-s-elites-push-for-a-better-way-to-die-i61al0i2


  1. I agree totally that the right to die should be established so that people can exit without pain when they have had enough.

    I am starting to believe that the reason the medical profession fights this idea is based on monetary concerns. Most expenses for medical care occur during the last 6 months of life. If people were given an option of available drugs to cause a pain free death, many would take it. But how would hospitals fill their beds?

    It is an outrage that human beings are not afforded this right. THIS IS THE MOST SERIOUS FIGHT of the century.

  2. Penny thanks for your comment. I noted your comment when you first wrote it and now that I'm revisiting the issue agree this "right to choose" will be a very serious fight. Over the last few months I have become aware of what are called "vent farms" where people are held in limbo between life and death. Often these people have been totally unresponsive for years. Just as troubling I have discovered the term "euthanasia" is blocked from many sites and any article using the term is locked out.

  3. Interesting. I helped look after a grandmother in Phoenix in her final few years. Riddled with cancer. She was OK ish, but, we knew she was tired, generally unhappy and wanted it to end. She had the best medical insurance of anyone I ever met. The doctors kept her going for years. Every new technique, and old, was used on her. Expensive stuff. She eventually died in her sleep close to her family in California. Away from the medical professionals in Phoenix. We did our best to get her out and all that. Make life good as possible. Seems to me now that she was a cash cow for the medical establishment and its assorted hangers on - therapy of all sorts as well as drugs and operations.

  4. MarkN thanks for your comment. A old friend of mine often told me "getting old is a bitch" fortunately for him he left this world rather fast after his health turned south. Your comment concerning how we become "cash cows" for the medical establishment is a sad commentary on society today. Many people lay in bed for years fed through feeding tubes with neither friends or visitors. It is easy to make a case that nature never intended life to be this way.