My grandmother recently died. That was sad for those of us who loved her, but no great surprise. She was 88, in failing health, and she had had a good life.

But the process of her dying was perhaps unnecessarily difficult. She had a massive stroke which destroyed her left brain hemisphere. Her wishes for a situation like this were very clear, both in terms of explicit paperwork and statements to family and friends. She did not want heroic measures to keep her “alive” in a situation where her quality of life was to be negligible. So we took her home, arranged for hospice care to keep her as pain-free and comfortable as possible. And then we withheld all food and water, and waited out the week or so until she slipped away.

My family is not religious. (You can get some diffuse newagey supernaturalism, but not much.) My grandmother herself was a thoroughgoing nonbeliever. And it did come up in conversation, after it became clear that her stroke was devastating, leaving no hope of any kind of recovery, that some kind of euthanasia would have been the best option. That was the view of my grandmother about such situations, and her explicit preferences for herself in case such an event were to happen. That was what her husband, and all the family thought. But this option was not legal. My aunt even remarked that we were allowed to treat animals more humanely than humans in end-of-life situations in the state of California.

Now, I am not a bioethicist. I have some awareness of debates over euthanasia and terminal situations, but no expertise. It’s possible that there are compelling secular arguments against euthanasia, though I have not encountered them. Furthermore, it’s possible that even if euthanasia was the best option in my grandmother’s situation, it would be a bad idea to allow it as a matter of general public policy. I am inclined to think otherwise, but I could be persuaded I am wrong. But I am convinced that the rationale for most existing relevant laws in the United States does not really turn on secular considerations. At heart, there’s a religious conception of humans behind our laws, whether it comes down to explicit considerations about the soul or fuzzier pronouncements about “human dignity.”

I resent being subjected to such a religious view of life and death. My grandmother’s quasi-alive last weeks were gut-wrenching for the family, but that’s not something I can complain too much about. I can’t demand that death be easy. But I still resent that my family, who has nothing to do with organized religion if we can help it, were so constrained by what I suspect are religiously motivated concerns.

Apologetics Infographic #1: Atheism and Nothingness
Geisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8
Rape them Atheists!
G&T Rebuttal, Part 5: Chapter 6
About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • CyberKitten

    TE said: It’s possible that there are compelling secular arguments against euthanasia, though I have not encountered them. Furthermore, it’s possible that even if euthanasia was the best option in my grandmother’s situation, it would be a bad idea to allow it as a matter of general public policy.

    Basically its all about consent. If a person is in a mental state to consent to be euthanised (in a living will for example) I have no great problem with it. I do however, have a huge problem with the state deciding who lives and who dies no matter what or who else is involved.

  • Mike aka BigWhiskey

    I don’t agree with the current way that the US handles terminally ill people. We euthanize our pets if we think they will suffer at all.Then we would call it the humane thing to do. Though if a human suffers we just medicate them to make them feel better, maybe mask their pain in a drug induced delirium. Then say that is the humane thing to do. How does that make sense at all?

    If a person can say during a time of sound mind, that they don’t want to live as a vegetable or have a long drawn out death, then who are we to stop them.

    If someone doesn’t want to live anymore, why should we force them to keep going?

  • Robert_B

    Please accept my condolences and sympathy for your families great loss. I commend your courage and good sense in honoring your loved one’s wishes. May good fortune and success occur to you and your family in all endeavors.

  • Sheldon

    My condolences as well.

    It just seems insane that we have all this rhetoric about freedom in this country, yet when it comes down to something as basic as the freedom to end ones’ life in this state of pain and suffering, we are unfree to act.

    Absurd really.

  • Mastigando cinzas

    Hi. Euthanasia will one day be the rule, rather than the exception; and we all desire it. However, to “euthanise” a person by retain or removing the drinking of WATER is cruel. I saw a friend of mine die of cancer, without the possibility of drinking water, and he in fact die of thirst. We could read “thirst” in his shrinking face. It would be much better to feed a dying person water one way or another. At least water, please.
    But, sure, religious folk will quickly arrive to defend their gods and the spectacle of THOUSANDS dying every hour of terrible diseases. They are gods with no guts. They just look and hear our cry, the crooks. But, gods were always of that insensitivity and coldness. We will one day sentence them to eternal perdition, the beasts!

  • Jim Lippard

    Taner: My sympathies for your loss and the painful ending. It’s a pity that in such a circumstance we can’t legally do as well for our dying relatives as we can for our animals.

  • Shreyas

    One of the reasons why Euthanasia is so controversial may be due to its legal implications apart from the "ethical" view point.If Euthanasia was allowed, then no doubt it would alleviate the sufferings of thousands of terminally ill patients, but in some cases it might lead to some pretty unpleasant situations- precisely why the UK Government rejected an appeal on the same issue some time back. Ailing Elders will find themselves in a situation where assisted suicide is legal and there may be a pressure on some of them in relation to things like property, land..(You get the drift). If Euthanasia is legalized, it has to be implemented with the utmost care and caution after assessing the condition of the patient or there will be rampant exploitation of this new found "boon or bane"?