Aid in Dying

In 1994, Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The Bush administration filed a lawsuit to overturn the referendum, but lost at the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, despite this victory, for many years Oregon stood alone in allowing doctors to ease their patients’ passing. But that’s now starting to change:

In January, a district court in New Mexico authorized doctors to provide lethal prescriptions and declared a constitutional right for “a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” Last May, the Vermont Legislature passed a law permitting it, joining Montana, Oregon and Washington.

As humanists, we should applaud this. The New Mexico court got it exactly right: there is and should be a fundamental moral right for a person to receive aid in dying. This right stems from the core value of autonomy, the principle that we own our own lives and can steer them as we wish. And just as freedom of religion includes the right to choose no religion at all, autonomy over one’s own life encompasses the choice to stop living, if suffering has become too great to endure.

Obviously, we don’t need a court to make this a reality. There are many ways for able-bodied people to end their lives without a doctor’s help, and even wheelchair-bound or bedridden people can choose to stop eating and drinking (as Tony Nicklinson did). But there’s no reason why a person who wishes to end their life should be denied humane and reliable means to do it.

Of course, there are people who are against all of this, and you’ve probably guessed who’s leading the opposition:

“The church teaches that life is sacred from conception through to natural death,” Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., told legislators at a recent breakfast as he criticized the court decision there.

“This assisted-suicide thing concerns me,” Archbishop Sheehan added, according to The New Mexican. “I foresee dangerous consequences.”

You see, the church disapproves of assisted dying – and as far as they care, that should be the only thing that matters. It’s not enough for them to preach their beliefs to those who willingly show up to hear them; they want the opinions of a handful of unelected bishops to be the basis for law in a secular, pluralistic democracy. In this case, they claim, the “sacredness” of life necessitates keeping people alive against their will to prolong their suffering.

And Sheehan isn’t even the worst of the lot. PZ points to an even more horrible ad from a Catholic organization, the American Life League, which claims that a slow and painful death is an “opportunity to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ”, and euthanasia “selfishly steals” that opportunity. (Here’s the original source.)

What these comments amount to is the worship of pain and suffering: treating a drawn-out death not as an evil to be avoided, but as a blessing to be welcomed. (No surprise, really, coming from a faith whose icon and symbol is a man suffering one of the most excruciating deaths imaginable.) And although the ad doesn’t address this, it’s hard to imagine why this same logic wouldn’t apply to the use of painkillers in general. Wouldn’t giving morphine to cancer sufferers, say, also “steal” their exciting opportunity to suffer the same way that Jesus suffered while he was being tortured to death?

What makes this much worse is that there’s a serious problem of Catholic hospitals gobbling up secular chains and then imposing their religious views on non-consenting patients. So far this has hit women the hardest, denying life-saving abortion care to miscarrying women or emergency contraception to rape victims, but if laws permitting physician-assisted dying become more widespread, it’s all but certain that this battle will spread to a second front. As I’ve already mentioned, the bishops have banned voluntary end-of-life measures at Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, a directive which seemingly implies that they’d ignore a patient’s wishes not to be kept alive with respirators or feeding tubes (notwithstanding the obvious legal jeopardy a hospital would be in if it crammed a feeding tube down someone’s throat against their will).

As with many other issues, this is an area where the decrees of the church hierarchy clash sharply with the opinions of most people, and that’s something humanists should exploit. Although support fluctuates depending on how the question is worded, polls have found that as many as 70% of Americans support allowing doctors to assist in granting terminally ill people a painless death. When we point out that church officials are seeking to deny others this freedom, while we support the right of choice and self-determination, it’s a contrast that will work to our advantage.

Image credit: Shutterstock

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Errant Endeavour

    This reminds me of that story of Mother Teresa, as reported by Hitchins:

    Teresa visited a terminally ill patient (he was dying from cancer) and told the patient that his pain was like Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and that it was like ‘Jesus was kissing him’. The guy turned round and said ‘Please tell him to stop kissing me’.

    She didn’t get it.

  • RayRobertson

    I agree that more states need to approve assisted suicide. But this post puts more effort into bashing the church instead of promoting a serious discussion. I think you are trivializing the issue by labeling it as something to be exploited…

    As with many other issues, this is an area where the decrees of the church hierarchy clash sharply with the opinions of most people, and that’s something humanists should exploit.

    While it is easy to riducule conservative churches on this and other issues, this topic is a complex one. Much of the suffering before death is caused by life-prolonging modern medical treatments. See the NYT article you linked to—where the Denver-based man is in fact attempting to refuse life-saving surgery and end his life. He would not be allowed to have assisted suicide in Oregon or any state at present because the laws only deal with the terminally ill.

    And what of support among our modern, highly educated physicians? Things have improved since the time of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross when doctors would not even acknowledge there were terminally ill patients in any hospital. While doctors themselves are more often choosing to die with dignity, they are still struggling with decisions about prolonging the life of a patient who has no quality of life left. “We torture people before they die” is one quote from a physician in a 2013 article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/how-not-to-die/309277/

    Even if history were changed and no religion ever existed, I imagine this would still be a controversial issue at a time when modern medicine sometimes prolongs suffering.

    Perhaps assisted suicide would be accepted without question in an atheist society. Or would such a society allow even children to commit suicide without taking any life-saving measures? I’d love to read a serious discussion among atheists.

  • Jason Wexler

    Wouldn’t the logical corollary to “life is sacred from birth to natural death” be that medical care is against gods will? I know that is the position of the Christian Scientist community and I believe one of the Adventist communities as well. However isn’t it reasonable to conclude that god wouldn’t give you cancer or herpes or plague or massive injuries and trauma from accidents if he wasn’t ready for you to die? I can only see one logical conclusion to the the principles laid out by the Archbishop, we shouldn’t assist people in dying but we should treat them or prevent them from doing so either.

    For what it is worth I am just pointing out a logical inconsistency not actually endorsing it, I agree with Adam that we ought to have personal autonomy and the right to make the decision, and I would go a step further and say it shouldn’t be limited to even cases of great pain and suffering… if I’ve decided I’ve accomplished everything I want to and it’s time to move on, that should be permissible too.

  • B.J.D

    I cant see the rationale of allowing health care providers to intentionally kill their patients. If a terminally ill individual wants out, let them do it themselves.

  • John

    Wasn’t the supposed point of Jesus suffering on the cross to make it so the rest of us wouldn’t have to? Seems like they aren’t following their own scriptures here.

  • Cheryl in Tucson

    It might seem crass, but there’s a lot of money to be made from people in the final years and months of life. Why help them end their suffering, when you can put them in the ICU, run a bunch of CT scans, dose them with very experimental, very expensive drugs? Why let patients or families pull the plug if it means the Church’s profit margin would go down?

  • Snoof

    A great many terminally-ill patients are unable to commit suicide unassisted. They may lack sufficient mobility, or access to suitable drugs or other tools, or worry that they’ll do it incorrectly and end up alive but worse-off.

    Physician-assisted suicide is not “intentionally killing patients”, it’s helping people end their own lives comfortably and safely.

  • smrnda

    You make it sound as if the health care providers are going out Dr Benway style and killing patients who were sitting around, minding their own business and hoping to get better and live a long time. The patient is the customer. The health care provider is the vendor.

    If a particular health care provider doesn’t wish to do this, then the patient should be referred to a provider who will or who specializes in this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Even if history were changed and no religion ever existed, I imagine this would still be a controversial issue at a time when modern medicine sometimes prolongs suffering.

    Of course it would be! Physician-assisted suicide is a difficult, controversial issue and I expect it will always be so. The difference is that, without religion, we’d be arguing over real, tangible things: what course of action is most compassionate for terminally ill patients, which interventions do more harm than good, what would most reduce their suffering, how to respect a person’s free choice while ruling out mental illness or family pressure as contributing factors.

    When religion joins the discussion, by contrast, it inevitably begins with proclamations about the ineffable sacredness of human life, or about what God’s will is, or about how suicide is a mortal sin. These are mystical, nebulous concepts that can’t be demonstrated to anyone’s satisfaction and that mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean. They do nothing but clog and obscure the debate and take us away from the domain of what’s meaningful and real.

  • Azkyroth

    So, you’d be okay with, say, a law allowing the physician to provide the patient with a 10x LD-50 syringe of barbiturates, if the patient injected him or herself?

    Because the law currently doesn’t even allow that.

  • Azkyroth

    Or, if you prefer, it’s the professionalization of a service which has a high rate of undesirable results when performed by people without the proper training.

  • Azkyroth

    If suffering on one’s deathbed is the kiss of Jesus, voluntary euthanasia is a restraining order.

  • TBP100

    “Wouldn’t the logical corollary to “life is sacred from birth to natural death” be that medical care is against gods will?”

    Now don’t go applying logic or expecting consistency.

  • Crimson

    It doesn’t “seem” crass, it is crass, and more than likely at least part of their reasoning.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com/ Leo Buzalsky

    Hmmm…if he’s refusing life-saving surgery, it really bothers me that he can’t then be labeled terminally ill. I suppose the point would be that he’s not terminally ill because life-saving surgery exists…

    Also, I’m not sure how “complex” this topic really is. I’d be careful about confusing controversy or the existence of a variety of opinion on a topic with complexity. Your first example seems rather simple to me — if you can’t live without some sort of technology, temporary or “permanent,” then you’re terminally ill. It seems to only have the appearance of complexity due to people trying to place unnecessary qualifiers to the topic. In this case, as surgery is a one-time thing, many probably feel about it differently than something more permanent like life-support systems.

    Then to Adam’s point about religion clogging the issue, how much of the failure to admit the existence of terminally ill patients was due to religion? It’s probably hard to say, but, again, there is likely an appearance, or rather a facade, of complexity that doesn’t have to be there.

  • Pattrsn

    As an RN I’ve seen a lot of death and easily the worst I’ve ever seen was a Roman Catholic, the amount of suffering she endured because of her religion was beyond just about anything else I’ve ever seen.

  • ImRike
  • Nathaniel

    You should be honored. Your post apparently got noticed by another Patheos blogger, Public Catholic. Of course, she didn’t actually link to your post. Too dangerous. She decided it was much safer to snipe at you from afar, without revealing any way of knowing who she was talking about without having prior knowledge of your blog.

    Such a profile in courage, that one.

  • Hanan

    I don’t know. The law now in Belgium that a child can request death scares me a bit. I mean, no matter how many safe guards you put, how much does a child really understand the issue. I fear a lot of misuse here, and as many don’t appreciate it, I think one can make a slippery slope argument that if you do this now, who is to say that in the future these sort of laws would not broaden exponentially and that other children, without proper mental faculties, would’t be killed? We all remember the Robert Latimer case and a nice percentage of people felt such mercy killings should be legal. His daughter had no say.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Thanks for the tip! I went and posted a comment; we’ll see if she allows it to see the light of day. I doubt it.

  • Hanan

    “They do nothing but clog and obscure the debate and take us away from the domain of what’s meaningful and real.”

    Well, for arguments sake, the sacredness of human life is just as meaningful and real as anything tangible that you can bring up. Yes, it IS a sort of meta reason, but it is meaningful and real to countless people. Remove the sacredness of human life and what you may get is campaigns such as PETA’s moral comparison between Holocaust to chicken slaughter.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Fr. Robert Benson put it best in his science fiction novel _Lord of the World_: Euthanasia isn’t to put the suffering patient out of her misery. It is to put the survivors who detest the concept of suffering out of their misery.

    Solving the problems of life with death, results only in the peace of the grave.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    And yet, both Adventists and Catholics are willing to found hospitals, and Atheists aren’t.

    I wonder why.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    They are in Belgium, where they just legalized euthanasia for children.

    They are in the Netherlands, where one study reported 75% of euthanasia was involuntary.

    They are in Oregon, where the Oregon Health Plan now refuses second rounds of cancer treatment in favor of euthanasia- giving patients a choice between 9 grams of rat poison or bankruptcy.

    Involuntary or coerced euthanasia is rampant wherever it is legal- except of course for those patients able to pay to live.

  • Jason Wexler

    I think you are confusing willingness to do something with having the resources or expertise to do so. How many hospitals have you founded after all?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    How do you know how many hospitals have been founded by atheists? Do you have a list of all the hospitals in the world and the religious beliefs of the people who founded each of them? Please provide it, if so.

    Or were you possibly drawing an erroneous conclusion from the fact that atheists apparently don’t feel the need to be as ostentatious as Catholics and Adventists when it comes to advertising their beliefs above the hospital doors?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I think there are good reasons to value human life more highly than animal life, but those reasons are grounded in qualities that are real, well-defined, and evident to all observers.

    “Sacredness”, by contrast, is a nebulous quality that can’t be measured and isn’t even clearly defined. Think how many religious beliefs have asserted that certain inanimate objects are sacred! Yet we wouldn’t consider their value equivalent to the value of a living human being.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Hi, Ted! Were you going to get around to providing evidence for any of these assertions at any point, or did you just expect us to take your word for it?

  • Nate

    so if 70 percent of people support it why isn’t it legal? this is supposed to be a democracy right?

  • Snoof

    So when a person says, “I don’t want to live any more”, they’re what? Lying? Deluded? Stupid?

    (It’s fascinating how often the anti-euthanasia position ignores the desires of the person who’s actually doing the dying.)

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    A good takedown of the misuse of the Netherlands euthanasia statistics can be found here:

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/29/fake-euthanasia-statistics/

    The statistics used by opponents of euthanasia are almost universally built on the same misinterpretation of a 25 year old report – a misinterpretation that takes its numbers out of context, which willfully misclassifies non-euthanasia causes of death as euthanasia, which ignores better and more recent data, and which has been soundly condemned as a perversion of their data by the authors of the report itself.

  • Donalbain

    Of course it will see the light of day, you wouldn’t expect her to delete comments that she doesn’t like, would you? After all, that would make her a massive hypocrite as well as a liar and a fucking loon.

  • Donalbain

    You should see his ideas of what constitutes rape. He is not exactly up there on the ideas of consent, and respecting the wishes of other people.

  • DavidMHart

    How many atheists have you actually polled on this? How many, when asked something like: “If you had the money to set up a hospital, would you do it?” answered ‘no’?

    Or if you haven’t personally run a poll yourself, where are you getting your data from?

  • Austin

    I have a question Adam, are you willing to follow your very sound ‘core value of autonomy’ argument to its logical end? That is to say that people should be allowed and be provided with assistance to stop living if they are of sound mind and have decided they no longer want to continue living regardless of whether or not they have been diagnosed with a disease that has been officially designated as terminal?

  • cipher

    They never do.

  • pagansister

    Children have no concept of death, IMO. I cannot see a child saying they want to die, even though very sick. Unfortunately if they have been fed the “life after death” concept of many Christian religion, they may think they will just wake up with “God and company”.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I’m saying, where’s the cooperation in atheism that would allow them to band together and set up a hospital? Where is the Pope of Atheism?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I’m saying that most hospitals I know about were started by Catholics, Lutherans, and Adventists- and have names of saints.

    I don’t see Richard Dawkins Memorial opening up any time soon, because atheists are not cooperative. They can’t band together to do anything, because each one is a religion to himself.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    All of the above.

    Consent does not exist in that situation. Only lying, deluded, stupid people choose euthanasia, because they’ve been fed a lie.

  • Donalbain

    Having a pope is not co-operation, it is obedience, and authoritarianism.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Well, she posted the comment and then changed her mind and deleted it, so yeah. I think I feel a follow-up blog post coming…

  • DavidMHart

    How could you possibly know? How could you possibly tell that someone who is not you isn’t suffering so badly, with no prospect of recovery, that they are not entirely reasonable not to want to prolong their suffering any longer? If you have access to such powerful mind-reading technology, you really ought to be sharing it with the rest of the world.

  • Jason Wexler

    There is no Richard Dawkins Memorial, yet because Richard Dawkins isn’t dead.

  • DavidMHart

    Firstly, if you think that a group of people need a pope in order to be able to co-operate, then you are probably playing Humpty-Dumpty with the ordinary meaning of ‘cooperation’ (or perhaps also with the ordinary meaning of ‘pope’ though I concede that’s less likely).

    Second, you are here on a blog written by someone who is part of an organised atheist movement. I’ll grant you that, in an ideal world, ‘people who don’t believe in gods’ would have no more reason to band together than ‘people who don’t believe in vampires’, or ‘people who don’t believe in Atlantis’, but since, in the real world, people who do believe in various gods are doing far more to distort public policy and curtail people’s freedoms than people who believe in vampires or Atlantis, it is not surprising that non-believers in gods have started to coordinate their efforts.

    And their efforts include things like, say, Foundation Beyond Belief, an atheist and humanist charity dedicated to channelling funds to worthwhile projects like the first one that comes up on their website at the time of writing – a project to provide clean water, and hygiene advice, to an Ecuadoran town that was beset with waterborne illness. Not a ‘hospital’ as such, but still a major public health infrastructure project. If you call that ‘inability to cooperate’, then I literally do not know what you are talking about.

    And, as I suspect you already know, the question of ‘where are all the atheist hospitals’ is a deeply misleading one. First, it presupposes that all the nominally religious hospitals are actually funded exclusively or predominantly by religious organisations, which is not the case. Second, it sort of implies that unless atheist organisations set up hospitals in the name of non-belief in gods, using entirely their own funds, it somehow doesn’t count – which is an absurdly high bar given that nominally religious hospitals are perfectly happy to take secular government money.

    I will concede that during the times when religious institutions controlled much of societies’ wealth, they were the only institutions with the wherewithal to set up and fund hospitals, but with the advent of secular government, it became possible for secular goverments to set up hospitals, not in the name of atheism as such, but not in the name of religion either.

    I dare say that organised atheists could focus more on setting up expressly atheist hospitals, but many of them already live in countries where they can contribute to the setting up and funding of hospitals just by being a taxpayer, and feel no particular need to go out of their way to get the A-word on the lintel above the front door, as long as the hospital is actually functioning well (and not arbitrarily denying people some medical treatments for entirely superstitious reasons – a problem that is associated with religious hospitals). Why would it be worth their while when good secular hospitals are already a thing?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Authoritarianism is required to get anything done.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    The pain itself destroys consent- it is a form of coercion.

    The pain itself destroys reason, and thus, no decision made under pain or threat of pain can be called reasonable, any more than you can trust information from a man being tortured.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    By this logic, if someone in agony begs for painkillers, they are incapable of making that decision for themselves as well.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Yes, they are incapable of making a rational decision in that situation, which is why we limit them to asking for a prescription to begin with, and why we punish doctors who do what was done to Elvis and Michael Jackson.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    True, but people are not always so incapacitated by pain. It may be they suffer from a disease that is known to cause pain down the line, and can anticipate that, making their wishes known ahead of time. Living wills already spell out a patient’s wishes beforehand. They could easily cover this also. Not to mention of course those diseases which do not cause pain in the manner you mention, but are incurable and for whatever reason (such as robbing them of dignity) lead a person to desire euthanasia. Suffering is not always simply physical pain, after all.

  • DavidMHart

    Authoritarianism is required to get anything done.

    Unless you’re playing Humpty-Dumpty with the ordinary meaning of ‘authoritarianism’ here, I’m going to have to say citation extremely needed.

    Secondly, I already gave you an examples of atheists and secular humanists cooperating without authoritarianism, yet managing to get things done. Are you just going to pretend you didn’t read that? Let’s just take the specific example of the Ecuadorean clean water facility that I mentioned in the earlier post. What authority ordered the donors to contribute to the project? What authority compelled the volunteers (a word that wouldn’t even exist if your claim were true) to travel to a remote island to build it?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Euthanasia is in and of itself the ultimate loss of dignity beyond anything any disease brings.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Oh, the atheists and secular humanists you mentioned are authoritarian as well, just in a slightly different way. They’re even as evangelical as Jehovah’s witnesses, one came to my door just yesterday. My wife informed him we’re pretty happy with being Catholic.

    The key to any organization is centralized authority.

  • DavidMHart

    Maybe by your understanding of dignity. But who on earth are you to impose it on those who feel that it is more undignified to endure all the things mentioned above than to slip quietly away into peaceful non-existence? Why should you be the one to decide for people who are not you what indignities they should or should not be allowed to put up with?

  • DavidMHart

    The key to any organization is centralized authority.

    Even assuming that were true, that’s extremely different from ‘authoritarianism’ as the word is commonly understood. So I think it’s fair to say that you are playing Humpty-Dumpty with the ordinary meaning of the word. You should probably try to stop doing that; it’d be much easier to understand what on earth you’re talking about (and of the people I’ve interacted with on the internet, you’re probably the person I’ve had no idea what you’re talking about the most often). If you’re going to use a word in a way that is radically (or even subtly-but-importantly) divergent from the most common everyday use of the word, you really need to flag up the fact that you’re doing so.

    That and it’s really annoying, but you may, for all I know, be doing that deliberately.

    Anyway, if you’re saying that any organisation larger than about a roomful of people needs leader to organise things, then I don’t have an issue with that. But that encompasses everything from, at the most consensual end, one person delegated to count the votes of everyone in the organisation, every one of whom is free to address the others and argue their case, and to leave the organisation if it no longer matches their aims, to, at the other end, a god-king exercising Kim Jong-Un levels of life-and-death power over his or her voiceless subjects, who have no prospect of escape, or of even being ackowledged as having any value except as the private property of the almighty leader.

    If you cannot understand any meaningful differences between these two situations (the second of which fits the commonly understood meaning of ‘authoritarianism’ very well, the first not remotely), then, frankly, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe anyone competent enough to operate a computer, typing in grammatical English, could simultaneously be dim-witted enough to think that there is no meaningful difference between an organisation in which everyone is entitled to a say, and the leaders lead only by popular consensus, and an organisation where one person sets the agenda, regardless of what the other members may feel.

    So … do you agree that, even if we accept your radically broad definition of ‘authoritarianism’ for the sake of argument, a project like the Ecuadorean water station project involves significantly less centralised authority than a project like, say, North Korea, and that if you were to put things on a scale, the atheist movement is further away from the North Korea end than the Catholic Church is, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t accomplish things?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I’m saying they’re going to accomplish far less, unless they’re willing to use the concept of authority.

    There is a reason why Somalia is the way it is. Anarchy doesn’t work.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    There is a universal right and wrong beyond me that I must obey. Only fools rebel against it.

    And fools are always undignified.

  • silentsanta

    I can’t speak for Adam, but I am willing to defend that. In fact I wrote an essay defending exactly that position, for my ethics class for medical school.

    I recognise that providing support to people who aren’t ill or aren’t terminal, but wish to end their own lives is a somewhat more radical position than most proposed legislation, but it is a natural consequence of respecting the rights of a human being to self-determine when they aren’t harming other people (See J.S. Mill’s principle of harm.) . It should not be the State’s job to force people to live against their wishes, though the state should not provide any support without due process and evaluation of their mental state by at least two qualified professionals, to protect against coercion or inability to provide consent.

    However: It’s important to evaluate each claim on its own merits, and people can reject my proposal without rejecting supporting euthanasia for the terminally ill.
    So, there’s not a great deal of point debating my (fringe) proposed system outside of acadamia, when there is already significant broad public support for assisting those with terminal or untenable illnesses in their end-of-life decisions, who are in a great deal of pain, and who are denied euthanasia on legal grounds (grounds which have little public support, and a very spurious ethical basis)

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    There is no dignity in the slow decay of a person’s body and mind, before at last dying, as both my grandparents had to experience. I know for a fact they were happy to die, as both stopped eating or drinking. Had they been allowed or willing to ask for it, a painless injection would have been a far better way to go.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    There’s far more dignity in that than suicide- which is always undignified and always speaks to cowardice of the person who takes it.

  • Hanan

    If they have no concept of death, than how do you make sense of this new Belgium law? There are only two options: You are wrong and they do have a concept of death or, they don’t and the adults around them and pushing them to accept death. I assume you can envision the moral issue with the latter.

  • Hanan

    Right and no religious person puts those inanimate objects above that of a human life. So for example, as a Jew, nobody would allow someone to run into a burning synagogue to save a prayer book. Also, the fact that sacredness might be nebulous doesn’t put anything more concrete on the side of your reason. YOU may find excellent reason, but Ingrid Newkirk may not. If anything religious doctrine tends to steer toward more applicable practices. It’s more predictable. Now, you may not like those rules, but they are there. Leaving something up to reason alone and your well defined reasons does not guarantee anything in societies at large nor if it will change in the future. I mean, seriously, would anyone have predicted a law that allows for children to request to end their life?

  • DavidMHart

    Did you really just insinuate that all non-Catholics are fools (or, taking you at the most ecumenical I could possibly expect from you, that all non-Christians are fools)? I suppose if your definition of a fool is ‘someone who doesn’t believe the tenets of Catholicism’, then fair enough, but you’d be playing Humpty-Dumpty for about the fourth time this comment thread as far as I can tell. Have you any idea how condesending you come across as?

    Anyway; to your substantive point:

    There is a universal right and wrong

    Evidence needed. Or, at the very least, clarification needed – if you think that ideas of right and wrong should be applicable to all beings sentient enough to benefit from them, then fair enough, but if you are saying that ideas of right and wrong somehow just exist regardless of whether there are beings capable of being wronged, then you will need to demonstrate that.

    beyond me

    Okay, now assuming you mean that to be generalised to ‘beyond all humans’, then you’ll need to show that that is the case. As you well know, atheists do not believe in a top-down morality imposed by a supernatural lawgiver. That doesn’t in any way prevent us from being concerned with moral questions, but it does mean that the only viable sources of morality are our own moral intuitions, backed by the best reasoning and evidence we can muster, which are by definition not beyond us.

    that I must obey.

    Fair enough – if you want to obey a code that you think has been given you by an imaginary being, then go right ahead. But you are never entitled to arrogate to yourself the right to impose that code on anyone else – not even your fellow Catholics, unless and until you can demonstrate that
    a) Your alleged higher power actually exists,
    b) your alleged higher power actually is a moral authority (an important step, since there’s nothing about the facts of this universe apart from our wishful thinking that make an evil or capricious god less likely than an omnipotent and omnibenevolent one); and
    c) you have actually correctly interpreted the moral instructions of this higher power – again an important one, since not even the people who already are religious seem to be able to agree on what their god or gods actually want. Unless and until the Catholics, the Protestants, the Hindus, the Sunni, the Shia, the Zoroastrians, the Yazidi, the Mormons, and so on and so on can get together and work out a reliable way of figuring out how many gods there are, and what exactly they want, the only reasonable position for anyone to take is that all religions are just making stuff up and demanding that their make-believe be taken seriously, and therefore we have no reason to expect them to do better at morality than our best honest, reasoned efforts.

    Unless and until you can prove that your god actually exists, actually wants what you say it wants, and is actually good, saying ‘X is wrong because Theodore Seeber says that God says so’ is functionally indistinguishable from saying ‘X is wrong because Theodore Seeber says so.

  • DavidMHart

    There is a reason why Somalia is the way it is. Anarchy doesn’t work.

    Taking your claim at face value – assuming that Somalia’s problem is too many people who don’t want government (as opposed to too many people asserting competing claims to be the government, arising out of the collapse of a deeply unpopular military dictatorship), then that can still be contrasted with something like North Korea. I’m not at all sure whether it is worse to live in a failed state at the mercy of Islamist bandits or in an Orwellian dystopia under the iron thumb of a self-serving personality cult, but I’m sure anyone reasonable would agree that
    a) North Korea is not somewhere you’d want to live, and
    b) whatever North Koreans problems are, they do not spring from a lack of strong central command.

    We could look at countries that are less authoritarian than North Korea, such as, say, South Korea – a particularly instructive example, since they share the same ethnic and cultural make-up, yet South Korea, where people are free to choose their leaders, and which is not exactly a paradise of free expression, is easily far less authoritarian than its northern neighbour, and yet on just about any index of human flourishing you could possibly imagine, is doing better. Clearly the less authoritarian state here is achieving greater things (unless the only achievements you value are military brinksmanship and keeping your citizens in brainwashed, half-starved subjugation, but I don’t think even you are that contemptuous of your fellow humans).

    But the greater point is this – you’re comparing nation-states, which need to have some degree of law enforcement to be viable, with voluntary organisations of people for religious or political purposes. If you’re going to complain that the atheist movement (which, by virtue of not being a country, is not exactly able to have its own police and its own army), is not going to achieve anything much, then draw your comparison with religious groups or other political or ideological movements that have the allegiance of a comparable percentage of the population.

    You would also need to explain why other movements, such as, say, the Civil Rights movement, the Suffragettes, the Gay Rights movement, and others have managed to organise themselves to achieve massive changes in our culture, changes which in some cases have been enshrined in the US constitution, despite none of them having had any ‘pope’ either (there were popular figureheads, sure, but they earned the place by popular consent, and none of them had the power to ‘excommunicate’ anyone, or to unilaterally dictate policy, or have a lifetime occupancy of a movement headquarters or any of the other popely powers the actual Pope has).

    The point is that if enough people voluntarily come together to achieve an abjective, and have a clear enough agreement on a practical way to achieve it, there is no reason in principal why they should be unable to do so while maintaining a consensual, reasonably horizontal power structure – and no reason to expect them to need to resort to ‘authoritarianism’ in anything remotely like the ordinary meaning of the word.

    Of course, if you will concede that you were playing Humpty-Dumpty there, and that by ‘authoritarianism’ you just mean ‘some sort of leadership delegated by popular consensus’, then we are closer to being on the same page.

  • Donalbain

    Then a person in pain cannot consent to a medical procedure. So, what happens when they are brought into an emergency room?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Triage, normally. Nobody’s given a *CHOICE* in an emergency room.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    You are factually incorrect as well as rude and arrogant, Ted. Of course emergency-room patients have a choice, so long as they make arrangements in advance. Have you never heard of a DNR bracelet?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Just for the record, Ted, you are rude, arrogant and unpleasant. Since you’re not capable of civility, you are disinvited from my site. Do not attempt to comment here again.

  • Donalbain

    Wow… lets add ANOTHER thing to the list of things that you you know fuck all about. A doctor who does any medical treatment without consent on a concious patient would be struck off.

  • Donalbain

    They don’t even have to make the decision in advance. If the patient is concious, a doctor must obtain some form of consent before they offer any treatment.

    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Consent-to-treatment/Pages/Introduction.aspx

    According to Ted’s new criteria for consent, a patient who has a broken leg would be unable to give consent for any treatment for that broken leg, since pain prevents consent.

  • Austin

    But that is exactly my point, If the main reason an individual gives for advocating for euthanasia scares you when you follow it to its logical conclusion, you can hardly expect other people to take you seriously.

    This is effectively saying…We need to legalize this because it respects an individual’s autonomy and that’s important until it makes ME uncomfortable.

    Full Disclosure: I’m pro assisted suicide in any instance where the individual is of sound mind and free of coercion regardless of whether or not they are terminally ill.

    Any argument for euthanasia that has individual autonomy as the main focus but fails to extend this privilege to a different situation where the same argument applies, is hypocritical, and the problem is that anti-euthanasia advocates will see that as well.

  • GCT

    But that is exactly my point, If the main reason an individual gives for advocating for euthanasia scares you when you follow it to its logical conclusion, you can hardly expect other people to take you seriously.

    The implications of lots of science scare people as well, so I guess we should expect that they shouldn’t take science seriously, right?

    This is effectively saying…We need to legalize this because it respects an individual’s autonomy and that’s important until it makes ME uncomfortable.

    This is a straw man. No one has argued that.

  • Austin

    “The implications of lots of science scare people as well, so I guess we should expect that they shouldn’t take science seriously, right?”

    Please read the entire initial question and the responses that follow. My statement is clearly stating that a hypocrite cannot expect to be taken seriously. I’m not even sure what you’re speaking about at this point.

    “This is a straw man. No one has argued that.”

    Again, please read the entire thread and understand my comments in context

  • silentsanta

    I don’t think it’s any more hypocritical than recognizing that the main supporting arguments for same-sex marriage applying to legalized polygamy as well. Which is to say, it’s not hypocritical at all, but simply an informed decision based on which legal battles can be successfully fought just at this moment.

    The point is, in terms of hearts and minds, the scales have already tipped enough that public support for SSM is high enough to have the current legislation challenged that this point, and reduce a significant amount of injustice immediately, whereas the public support for polygamy isn’t there, although it will (hopefully) be discussed better in future.

  • GCT

    Please read the entire initial question and the responses that follow.

    I have, you arrogant twit.

    My statement is clearly stating that a hypocrite cannot expect to be taken seriously.</blockquote.

    Who is being hypocritical here? You've invented a straw man that is, and are beating it relentlessly.

    I’m not even sure what you’re speaking about at this point.

    That’s quite evident, although it seems that you haven’t had a good idea from the start.

    Again, please read the entire thread and understand my comments in context

    I have, and I answered you. You are quite content to argue against straw men and fictional characterizations. You claimed that X leads to Y without knowing if that’s the case. You then claimed that Adam is a hypocrite for not advocating Y without even knowing whether he agrees with you or whether he does or does not support Y. You are the one who hasn’t the foggiest, yet you continue to argue as if you do. That’s pretty dishonest.

  • Austin

    The person I was addressing clearly understood the argument. You just came by screaming and uttered nothing…please continue, I’ll go back to discussing this with them.

  • Austin

    If you’ll not my original question is not whether Adam is willing to ‘fight’ the political battle for all assisted suicides, but just whether he’s personally willing to accept and embrace the logical conclusion of his argument. I understand that you pick your battles and that’s ok as long as you’re comfortable with the logical conclusion of any argument used. In short, I’m not willing to ‘stand’ with people who use the ‘autonomy’ argument but don’t actually believe that assisted suicide for non terminally ill people is ok.

  • GCT

    Apparently pointing out your bad arguments and logical fallacies now counts as “screaming and uttering] nothing.” Considering that you can’t even formulate a coherent argument without engaging in erecting straw and don’t understand the terms being used in the debate, perhaps you should actually listen a bit before asserting that everyone else is wrong.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I see no moral value in trying to force people to remain alive against their will. That said, if a person wishing to end their life wasn’t suffering from some severe or terminal illness, I’d have to be persuaded that they weren’t mentally ill or otherwise suffering from some condition that deranged their reason before I’d countenance the idea that society should help them.


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