Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 01 Jun 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

A defence of euthanasia

My granddad died in agony. His prostate cancer had gone through his entire body and he was wracked with pain for months before the end. If the doctors had given him sufficient medication to take the pain away, it would have killed him or put him into a coma. Medical wisdom had it that he must stay alive until the end, which he did. No cause was served by the last year of his life, which was a slow retreat from existence until he lay in his bed and thrashed and writhed and finally died.

If you’re a certain type of Christian or otherwise an opponent of euthanasia, this is at it should be. Morality was paramount, probity was observed at all times and his suffering was never alleviated until he died, soiling the bed in final relief. I find it impossible to say how much I hate this position. As a Christian, I believe that life is a gift but, like any gift, it is yours to do with as you see fit. When you no longer need it or it actively causes you pain, you don’t say that it was given to you for your birthday and keep it forever. You give it or throw it away. It’s not for anyone else but the recipient to say what they do with it.

No end was served by my granddad’s agony but the most abstract and obscure, a philosophical stance airily maintained but significantly harder to live through. He should have been given a cocktail of pharmaceuticals long before the end that brought the curtain down early and ushered him out of life as painlessly as possible. That he wasn’t is down mainly to the shrill pipings of a vocal minority who abhor euthanasia or anything that looks like it. Better that you endure a lifetime in agony than that their morality is made to feel compromised.

In this respect, the debate on euthanasia looks an awful lot like the debate on abortion. Everyone who opposes it has strident views on how you should live your life and what you should do with your body, and will legislate to make sure they’re carried into law. Even if a foetus is growing in you and nourished by you, incapable of independent existence, they’ll decide that because they happen to think abortion is wrong, you should do too. And the same with euthanasia. If someone thinks that your suffering is redemptive, then you’ll have to suffer. Never mind what you think.

These thoughts come, unbidden, into my head since reading Douglas Murray’s essay on euthanasia cited at the end of this blog. He finds it unconscionable that people in Holland and Belgium are allowed to choose to die, often for no more reason than because they are ‘tired of life.’ At first, I agreed with him. Suffering, as he says, is part of life, as impossible to take away from it as breathing or going to the toilet. And it is absolutely a part of my life as I can attest, as I suffer from moderate to severe depression. But what we have no right to do is to say that somebody else’s pain is not sufficient to deny them the right to take their own life.

There is no objective measure by which we judge pain or suffering. None. I have quite a nice life, but if someone said that I had no right to be depressed, I’d just laugh at them. Or turn my face to the wall, depending on my mood. Equally, if someone said that they were tired of life in a way that disposed them towards ending it, I might have some counter-arguments, but ultimately the decision over what they did with that life would be theirs alone. Neither me, nor the medical profession nor the legal profession should have any say over it.

Murray takes implicit issue with people who decided to die but who were otherwise able-bodied. In 2013, one Dutch clinic killed nine psychiatric patients who simply wanted to die because they’d had enough. I’ve been there and am still there occasionally, although less so. But Murray has no role in saying that he finds their decision to die unpersuasive or without merit. He was not them. He did not know what was going through their heads, did not know what the sum total of their life experience was or why they wanted to die so badly. Of course, he has a right to his opinion. He can express that all he wants. But he has no right to sit in judgment.

He ends by saying that the sustaining conceit was that, for Judaeo-Christians, there was always some form of hope. There was no hope for my granddad. He was always going to die. For some people with depression, there is also no hope. Just an existence that is being eked out, unseen, because society doesn’t want to face the icky moral problems of letting them end it. People need to pretend that there is a point to this. People saying there isn’t might frighten the others.

And here again, we’re brought face to face with another similarity with abortion. When abortion is outlawed, people tend to do it themselves with different results. Sometimes, it kills the foetus. Sometimes it kills them both. And sometimes one or the other is maimed forever. The same with suicide. A friend of my parents’ suffered incurable tinnitus and decided to take an overdose of tablets, only to wake up with his liver and kidney function severely impaired. He finally succeeded in killing himself months later. Another person whose case was described to me decided that with grown up children, she no longer wanted to live. She was repeatedly sectioned as the state told her that she should want to live. In the end, she succeeded in killing herself.

People are going to have abortions. People are going to decide that they don’t want to live anymore. Medicine has a role in the process, making sure that neither thing happens on a whim or as the result of serious mental imbalance that, once restored, will bring back normal function. But for some people, wanting an abortion or wanting to die is normal function. Society needs to realise that, whatever benefits some people think that society has, there are some people who don’t agree. Douglas Murray and the other opponents of euthanasia, however trenchant, need to realise that.


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