Why I Believe In Voluntary Euthanasia


Why I Believe In Voluntary Euthanasia

There are at least two forms of suicide. One is
'emotional suicide', or irrational self-murder in all of it
complexities and sadness. Let me emphasis at once that my view of
this tragic form of self-destruction is the same as that of the
suicide intervention movement and the rest of society, which is
to prevent it wherever possible. I do not support any form of
suicide for mental health or emotional reasons.

But I do say that there is a second form of suicide --
justifiable suicide, that is, rational and planned self-
deliverance from a painful and hopeless disease which will
shortly end in death. I don't think the word 'suicide' sits well
in this context but we are stuck with it. Many have tried to
popularize the term 'self-deliverance' but it is an uphill battle
because the news media is in love with the words 'assisted
suicide'. Also, we have to face the fact that the law calls all
forms of self-destruction 'suicide.'

Let me point out here for those who might not know it that
suicide is no longer a crime anywhere in the English-speaking
world. (It used to be, and was punishable by giving all the dead
person's money and goods to the government.) Attempted suicide is
no longer a crime, although under health laws a person can in
most states be forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital for
three days for evaluation.

But giving assistance in suicide remains a crime, except in
the Netherlands in recent times under certain conditions, and it
has never been a crime in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and
Uruguay. The rest of the world punishes assistance in suicide for
both the mentally ill and the terminally ill, although the state
of Oregon recently (Nov. l994) passed by ballot Measure 16 a
limited physician-assisted suicide law. At present (Feb. l995)
this is held up in the law courts.

Even if a hopelessly ill person is requesting assistance in
dying for the most compassionate reasons, and the helper is
acting from the most noble of motives, it remains a crime in the
Anglo-American world. Punishments range from fines to fourteen
years in prison. It is this catch-all prohibition which I and
others wish to change. In a caring society, under the rule of
law, we claim that there must be exceptions.


ORIGIN OF THE WORD

The word 'euthanasia' comes from the Greek -- eu, "good",
and thanatos, "death". Literally, "good death". But the word
'euthanasia' has acquired a more complex meaning in modern times.
It is generally taken nowadays to mean doing something about
achieving a good death.

Suicide, self-deliverance, auto-euthanasia, aid-in-dying,
assisted suicide -- call it what you like -- can be justified by
the average supporter of the so-called 'right to die' movement
for the following reasons:

Advanced terminal illness that is causing unbearable
suffering to the individual. This is the most common reason to
seek an early end.

Grave physical handicap which is so restricting that the
individual cannot, even after due consideration, counseling and
re-training, tolerate such a limited existence. This is a fairly
rare reason for suicide -- most impaired people cope remarkably
well with their affliction -- but there are some who would, at a
certain point, rather die.

What are the ethical parameters for euthanasia?

The person is a mature adult. This is essential. The exact
age will depend on the individual but the person should not be a
minor who come under quite different laws.

The person has clearly made a considered decision. An
individual has the ability nowadays to indicate this with a
"Living Will" (which applies only to disconnection of life
supports) and can also, in today's more open and tolerant climate
about such actions, freely discuss the option of euthanasia with
health professionals, family, lawyers, etc.

The euthanasia has not been carried out at the first
knowledge of a life-threatening illness, and reasonable medical
help has been sought to cure or at least slow down the terminal
disease. I do not believe in giving up life the minute a person
is informed that he or she has a terminal illness. (This is a
common misconception spread by our critics.) Life is precious,
you only pass this way once, and is worth a fight. It is when the
fight is clearly hopeless and the agony, physical and mental, is
unbearable that a final exit is an option.


DOCTOR AS FRIEND

The treating physician has been informed, asked to be
involved, and his or her response been taken into account. What
the physician's response will be depends on the circumstances, of
course, but we