Do Euthanasia Advocates Really Just Want To Kill The Elderly?

Do Euthanasia Advocates Really Just Want To Kill The Elderly? February 20, 2019

GM Note: I originally posted this back in 2015. Since then, both of the elderly relatives I mention in this post have passed. They are dearly missed but no longer living lives they would not have wanted. 

I have this relative. It’s a distant relation, through marriage, but I spent a lot of time with her. I visited her, enjoying tea in her pristine apartment. She was interesting. She was never particularly cheerful, but she was interesting. Her husband died years and years and years ago.

In the last 10 years, she’s deteriorated to a hunched-over sack of bones. She’s still interesting, but she’s miserable at the same time. She can’t get around; she can’t do anything herself. A once completely independent widower, who kept herself well fed, clothed and housed on her own for years, is now completely incapable of even brushing her teeth. She is all there, mentally, able to take in the degree to which she has disintegrated into a broken, nonfunctioning vegetable. She watches herself, fully aware, struggle with the most mundane tasks. Understandably, this has destroyed her emotionally.

Recently, she asked a couple of my family members to help her move on. We all wished we could have fulfilled her request without going to prison for murder. And so she sits, rotting away in a home, loathing every day, every hour, every minute of her existence. Time seems to slow as she watches her body reject her and she can’t even muster the strength to press the on button on the TV or lift a book to distract herself. We’ve forced this on her and no one can help her.

This morning I read a post on Patheos by Rebecca Hamilton, a Catholic blogger. She talked about her mother who is ageing, slipping away and losing her memories. She complained,

“Every time I write a post about Mama, a few sick souls comment that situations like this are a fine argument for euthanasia.”

I have no evidence to back this up, but I highly doubt those were the words the advocates for euthanasia used. She goes on,

“What is wrong with someone that they could look at a frail elderly person and their first thought is to kill them?”

Is that really what they’re saying, Rebecca? Or are they saying that in situations like these, the elderly and the family should be able to choose euthanasia, should they feel it’s the right option for them?

“I start stammering when I try to formulate a response to this. Kill my mother? That’s their advice?”

Again, I doubt that’s what they said. I think you’ve built yourself a straw man whose shoulder you can cry persecution on.

Advocates of euthanasia do not “look at an elderly person and their first thought is to kill them”. What happens instead, Rebecca, is that we look at the shell of a person, a small, tiny portion of who that person used to be and wonder, “Are they okay with the state of their life right now? Do they actually want to endure this deterioration?” If that answer to that is no – and of course, it differs for everyone – then euthanasia should be a totally legal option.

Who are we to look at someone who’s led a long, eventful life, who’s tired, over it, and miserable and say, “No. You must endure this”? And more importantly, why would we want to?

My own grandmother will be 98 this September. She’s the opposite of my other relative in that her body is just fine but her mind is completely gone. She has zero recollection of who she is, where she is and who she is related to. She doesn’t know me, or her 4 daughters or her son. She spends her days cooped up in a nursing home, just waiting for her body to catch up with her mind. She is not herself in any way. Some days she sits in the cafeteria and shouts (and she can shout) for pudding until it arrives. Other days she gets shushed by everyone as she sings out of tune at the top of her lungs. Every once in a while, she sits at the piano and plays part of a tune she once knew, only to forget it 30 seconds in.

I knew my grandma well when she was “with it”. My grandfather died in 1987 and since that time, she’s travelled the globe, started dating a multi-millionaire, and kept her apartment clean, her Cadillac Eldorado in perfect working order and even found the time to cook me, my brother and my 7 cousins a meal from time to time. It wasn’t until just a few years ago, that her mind began to leave her.

She was proud and strong. She drove until my aunts physically removed her car from the grounds of her apartment. When others offered to drive, she would elbow them and pinch them and demand to drive until they gave in. She walked every day, had a beer or two on special occasions and at every family get together she would start dancing, draw everyone up to dance with her and then start poking them and elbowing them to get a rise out of them.

My cousins and I all agreed. She had all of our unending respect. If there was anyone we knew who could kick ass, it was Grandma.

If she had been made aware back then that her mind would vacate her head and she wouldn’t even know who she was, she would have said, without a moment’s hesitation, “Well then, I suppose one of you is going to have to do me in!”.

She would not have wanted to live this way. Her dignity, which she cherished, stripped from her. She would not have wanted this to be her life, and yet it is. The best we could do for her is sign a do not resuscitate declaration on her behalf. Aside from that, there’s little we can do. She’s haemorrhaging money just to keep her alive through a life that is no longer hers.

She had 5 kids in 4 years, as she reminded us each time she got the chance. She worked with 5 kids. She took care of my dying grandfather, and then took care of her dying boyfriend. She played a huge role in the lives of her 9 grandkids and now we want to strip her of the right to end her life with her dignity intact.

Not every situation is the same, Rebecca. Maybe your mother is someone who would have never wanted you to help her leave this world under any circumstances. Maybe her own dignity wasn’t as important to her as her faith in God was, but you have to understand, not everyone is that way. A good case for euthanasia means if you can remove your own feelings from the equation, being as it’s not your life and you should have no authority over it, would your mother want this life she’s living now?

If the answer is yes, then no euthanasia supporter would suggest you “kill your mother”. Chances are though if we’re all being honest, the answer isn’t yes.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Elizabeth Berry

    I have never understood the “Christian” need to make people suffer. It’s selfish. My gods, if I know that my suffering will make others suffer more, I’m done. I know everyone would be sad. I know people would try to stop me. I know others would scream WHAT ABOUT ME!?!? The person asking to end the suffering IS thinking about others. They are thinking about you and all those that would have to watch in agony as they deteriorate. I have watched people die horrible, painful, and grotesque deaths because of selfishness. They let their husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers lay in a bed doped up and barely able to say good bye just because the family is afraid euthanasia will keep them from seeing their “loved one” in Heaven. If a person wants to end their own suffering, let them!

  • Anne Fenwick

    Of course it’s not just about elderly others, however much we love them, it’s also about ourselves. Unless we have literally no imagination and forethought. I know what I want for myself, and it isn’t a long and agonising half-life.

  • sdsures

    My god, we treat ANIMALS with more dignity if they are suffering, than we do our fellow human beings. Aren’t humans worthy of that same option?

  • Raging Bee

    This Rebecca person isn’t quite as stupid as the “Culture of Life” lot got over Terri Schaivo, but she’s kinda close. That lot have absolutely ZERO common sense about life, death, or old age.

  • Polytropos

    This is a topic I feel very strongly about. People who find their lives have become intolerable should be able to die in a humane and dignified way, if that’s what they want. It should be recognized as a human right. I understand why families might want a loved one to stick around as long as possible, but if they care about their loved one they should respect their wishes.

    And really, Christians shouldn’t have any reason to keep people alive at all costs. They’ll get to meet their loved ones again in heaven, right? Or do some Christians still believe people who commit suicide can’t go to heaven?

  • SecMilChap

    Final Exit Network exists in the USA to help people like me, watching my own brain deteriorate very slowly. Compassion&Choices exists to work on changing the legal environment in each state. OR, WA, and a few others have implemented a very restrictive version of the law. It won’t help folks like me; by the time I need it, my brain will be non-functional. I’ve already made plans to go to sleep and never wake up with none of my Friends&Relations present so that they may be protected from laws that religionists lobby (with their UNtaxed funds) to keep in place and extend my useless suffering as long as possible. A final farewell is denied people like me by those who profess “Xian Love”. I’ve gone from apatheist to antitheist as I’ve aged into my 80s. Tolerance for religonists? No, I hate them.

  • SecMilChap

    The latest initiative by the Death With Dignity folks in Nederland is to seek a “Completed Life” category to enable Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD). After age 70, with grown kids, grown grands, a comfortable pension and medical care from a responsible .gov, operated by ethical people, it’s just a good time to take a terminal rest. No luck, so far, in getting that into law there.

  • Polytropos

    Hopefully they’ll get there.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    Many people do not put all their cards on the table.

    You describe here infirm people who apparently express a desire to die. We must take that at face value here. At the same time there is the reverse. People who desire to try to go on, but they are thwarted in doing so. When I was a pastor, I saw this. I saw medical authorities and family collude in denying care when the person wanted the care they denied. This was possible because the person had signed over health care power of attorney to family…because they trusted. The reason was always the same: money.

  • MadScientist1023

    I know Catholics believe people who commit suicide aren’t allowed into heaven. The Catholic view is that suicide is the only sin that can’t be forgiven. If I’m not mistaken, suicide victims aren’t allowed to receive Catholic funerals or be buried in Catholic cemeteries. I don’t know if there are any Protestant denominations that share this view.

    I think Daniel raises a worthwhile counterpoint. Our current system is already vulnerable to abuse by relatives who make decisions based on their best interest, not the best interests of the person in question. One would think that problem could be significantly exacerbated if euthanasia became legal. If a relative with power of attorney over someone decided they were sick of paying medical bills for someone, what would stop them from directing the doctors to euthanize that person? Especially if that person wasn’t entirely there mentally, as in GM’s second example.

  • HematitePersuasion

    This is deflection. Saying yes, but this other problem! does not address the problem under discussion, which is persons suffering, without hope of relief, who wish to end that suffering.

  • MadScientist1023

    I have absolutely no problem with euthanasia in the first example. That one is a person who is clearly mentally capable of making their own decisions and making a rational and informed choice for themselves.

    The second example, however, bothers me. The elder in that case is no longer capable of making an informed decision, and does not appear to have actually left instructions prior to losing their mental capacities. GM imagines she would want euthanasia, and perhaps that assessment is completely accurate. The problem is that we, as a people, are very bad at talking about this subject. What’s more, we’re very bad at guessing what our loved ones would want in the absence of these conversations. I heard about a study where they asked people to record what their end-of-life choices would be, essentially asking about keeping someone alive by artificial means. They then had both relatives and strangers guess what the person wanted. Relatives did no better than complete strangers at guessing what a person wanted.

    If euthanasia is allowed in our current medical system, and it remains analogous to something like a do-not-resuscitate order, there will be situations where a relative with power of attorney is guessing at what a person would want. It is also a statistical certainty that some of the relatives doing the guessing will get it wrong. They will kill people who would not have wanted to die while they were mentally competent, or do not want to die now. There’s no way to know or even find out how often that’s the case, but it will happen. I guarantee that allowing family members to decide if a relative is euthanized will result in the death of people who didn’t want to die. I think that’s something pro-euthanasia advocates should address.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    In my mind, it’s caution…to make sure of the difference between the two.

  • Polytropos

    I knew the Catholic church used to regard suicide as a sin, but wasn’t aware that’s still a mainstream position in the church. Thanks for the clarification.

    Yes, I completely agree the decision to end someone’s life has to be made by the individual. No one else can make it for them and it absolutely cannot be covered by power of attorney. This means people need to think about what they want before they get to the point where they’re no longer mentally competent and make instructions about what they want to do, and assisted dying legislation needs to incorporate this requirement.

  • MadScientist1023

    Unfortunately, people are bad at doing that. People are bad at thinking about what they want to do in regards to end-of-life care, and even worse at effectively communicating that to their relatives. Few people decide what they want and make it clear to their relatives. I agree that there should be legal requirements for people to prevent unwanted euthanasia, but I think it’s going to be hard to get people to jump through those hoops.

  • Polytropos

    It’s something we, as a culture, will need to adapt to. Assisted dying hasn’t been an option for us before, and of course advances in medical technology have made end of life care a more complicated issue than it used to be, so we have to develop a new cultural framework for it. We will. We’re already starting to do so. Where I live doctors bring up the concept of advanced care planning even with fit, healthy young people, so we’re learning to think and plan more.

  • Vincent Owen Gonzalez

    I am a Christian and I do not believe my God wants anyone to suffer. I am in favor of euthenasia when the decision is between the individual, their family and physician (hence we should encourage everyone to have a living will). My biggest concern/fear is government intrusion on either side. The hard religious right trying to prevent, the hard left when the government decides a persons time is up. As with many other issues no one has the right to tell me or anyone else what I can and cannot do with my body. And it irritates me to no end when others think they have the right to tell everyone else what they can and can’t do.

  • Connie Beane

    Modern medicine has many miracles to offer the aging. I have ocular implants that give me vision better than I had in my 30s, and prosthetic knees that allow me to walk without a cane or a walker. But even so, modern medicine is much better at simply keeping the body alive than it is at preserving mental acuity or providing a decent quality of life. I have no children, and my husband and I have had extensive discussion about what each of us wants to happen as we get older, but both of us live in fear that if the other dies first, family members with a different religious agenda may one day make decisions about when and how we end our lives. Even a “living will” offers only passive options in its current form.

  • Raging Bee

    When has ANYONE on “the hard left” ever even suggested having any government agency “decide a persons time is up?” I only hear of that scenario in bad SF TV shows and Republitarian propaganda about Obamacare death panels killing our grannies. Seriously, who are this “hard left” you speak of?

  • Graham Heron

    I’m currently in a similar situation to the post. My mother suffers from pulmonary fibrosis (incurable), is deteriorating fast. Last 12 months have seen her go from moderately socially active to housebound, in pain, continuously severely out of breath, scared, confused, embarrassed and ashamed (due to side effects of medication for the pain). Soon to go into hospice, DNR already agreed.
    I spoke with a friend earlier today about this and expressed a preference to less suffering and shorter life rather than long suffering and monger life. Her immediate response was ‘How can you want your own mother to die?’
    Over the next few minutes, I explained (again) about the level of suffering and she slowly considered the problem more deeply and eventually seemed to agree to a quicker end (still not convinced she agreed, perhaps just to end the conversation).
    It’s difficult for everyone in the family and her close friends to choose between a rock and a hard place. I’m still heavily conflicted myself but more from a feeling that I shouldn’t want my mum to die. Personally, I would have taken a bullet to the head, or an overdose or something several months ago. All I can do is to support her the best I can (difficult as I am 6 time zones away) and respect her choice. To be intellectually honest with myself, I still needed to know which choice I would have made. I couldn’t just ignore the choice and claim ignorance and be in denial.
    It’s horrible to be in this position.

  • pasapdub@gmail.com

    “waiting for her body to catch up to her mind” is very well said! My fear is being in that situations. The challenge is being able to ”off” yourself before it’s literally too late!

  • pasapdub@gmail.com

    First–I agree with you about religion! Second…thanks for the information about Final Exit Network! This is very useful and I appreciate it.

  • Raging Bee

    First, how do you know the family’s motives were money and nothing else?

    And second, when you say you “saw medical authorities and family collude in denying care,” what do you mean by that, exactly? You’re a pastor, not a doctor — are you competent to judge the validity of the consensus those people reached? (And if it was really all about “money,” then there’d be a conflict between family who wanted to spend less money, and doctors who wanted to keep on treating the dying patients and getting paid for it.)

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    In regard to money, I write mainly from the family perspective. I’ve had people overtly express concern over treatment costs eroding estate…you can’t get on Medicaid until you spend down what there is to spend down. Of course my perspective is anecdotal. On the medical side, the motivations are more complex having to do with professional culture(s) including concerns over liability, risk, and paths of least resistance.

    An iconic article on the medical side is:

    https://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/28/us/passive-euthanasia-in-hospitals-is-the-norm-doctors-say.html

    What the article describes is consistent with my experience. My particular anecdotal haunts involve people who overtly expressed desire to live…to try…but they had already signed over health care power of attorney. One man fully believed he was going home to his brother’s house. They removed him from equipment that night, after family avoided speaking with me in the hospital in the presence of the medical authorities who just stood there not looking me in the eye…they had just come out of a meeting on the patient’s disposition. I was apprised of the meeting by the patient who assumed they were arranging for his release from the hospital to his brother’s house. The patient was fully aware that the meeting was in progress and urged me to go down the hall and enter it. As I did so, they had just come out of the conference room, and they had nuthin’ to say. I wanted to throw up. So, he died. And, that was entirely it. The body was immediately transferred to a crematory. There was no funeral, nothing. The obituary stated the mans name, age, and date of death…and nothing else.

    I keep a photo of him. He was a nice man. Very nice.

  • Raging Bee

    That sounds like either conspiracy to commit murder, or a total lack of communication with the patient regarding his true condition. Either way, it’s VERY unusual for doctors to go along with such a decision if they’re not sure the patient is truly beyond all hope. That story, as you’ve told it at least, doesn’t add up. There’s something missing.

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Same here. I especially don’t want a long half-life with dementia!

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    It wasn’t that acute. The brother and sister were just done, and the hospital was letting them be done.

    It may not be news to anyone, but a lot of clergy and doctors do not agree on things. It’s not dissimilar to the same between nurses and doctors. Maybe that’s why a lot of clergy marry nurses…I dunno…would make an interesting PhD dissertation.

  • Raging Bee

    If “The brother and sister were just done, and the hospital was letting them be done,” then why couldn’t they have just taken the patient home and let him die there? Something is still not adding up here…

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    I agree. That’s life in ministry, social work, teaching, counseling. People do bad things for money or general selfish reasons that their money goes to fund…if only to just have things in the least bothersome state of affairs. It’s opaque by their design.

  • Lark62

    Why didn’t you call the police?

    You didn’t, did you? So you will use an anecdote, with no person, time or place identified, to deny choices to people you do not know.

    When euthanasia laws are in place, there are protocols to be followed that would actually provide protection in the (maybe true maybe not) scenario you describe.

  • Lark62

    What you describe is murder. Call the police or shut up.

    All that is legal in most states is to stop active treatment. A person will not die from that in an hour unless they are already essentially dying.

    Active measures, like a fatal does of narcotics, are illegal except in a few states and where specific criteria must be met, including the patient taking the medicine themselves.

  • Lark62

    Christians are more terrified of death than anyone, hypocrites that they are.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    Maybe. Maybe not. Law is a fragile thing these days.

    But as to civil law in my anecdote, I fail to see what was illegal. Medically, the man was due to die soon. He had signed over the power of attorney to them. What I encountered was a man in a moment who had a certain will and a certain belief that he was going home…at least for a little while.

    In health, many people flaunt a bravado in visioning their end, and then their end does not play to that script. Cognitively, they can present as quite different people in their late state compared to their healthy bravado day. Which person gets treated? And how?

  • Raging Bee

    “Law is a fragile thing these days” is no excuse for not at least talking to someone in law-enforcement about your concerns.

    …I fail to see what was illegal.

    Again, you could have asked.

  • Anat

    There are things one can do for mental acuity. The top one: Keep learning! Especially things that require memory, such as languages.

  • Connie Beane

    Thanks, but you’ve completely missed the point. Remaining mentally acute when your body has failed you and you’re only kept alive by painful, invasive methods is torture; it’s not much better when mind fails, along with the body, but family–or religious do-gooders–refuse to allow medical professionals to carry out your last wishes.