Re: Euthanasia and Suicide
Mercy killing is appropriate for animals, but not people. Putting a living creature out of its misery, when misery is the only
future it has, is both humane and reasonable. Humans are not animals however. Yes, physically in every way we are animals, but animals do not possess eternal souls. Animals were not created in the
image of God, nor do they have the ability to make moral choices.1 In fact, mercy killing is unknown among animals.2
Question: What species puts to death one of its own because it is sick or feeble? With the animal kingdom, the sick and feeble are driven out or left behind or brutally killed. Indeed, what animal inflicts a mortal bite or breaks the neck of one of its own, unless it intends to eat it?
Now if it is posited that it is a mark of human superiority and condition that we recognize that we have it in our power to kindly eliminate suffering by a premature painless death, I tell you that it is indeed a hallmark of humanity that we believe that we know better than God what should be our fates3, but common sense, our consciences', and eternity will not permit such macabre conclusions.
The relief of suffering is the assertion. But I ask, by what rule do you measure it to determine how much suffering is too much? Everything I have heard thus far has been subjective. But then is it not true that all suffering is by definition subjective? How can then you say to a broken-hearted teenager that she ought not to take her own life altho her suffering is to her now4 become unbearable?
Oh? A physician must concur before such relief can be rendered? I'm sure one can be found. If we look hard enough, or provide the right kind of incentive, there can always be found someone who will share our opinion. And if not now, then surely later.5 The point being that without a "rule" as to what constitutes "unbearable suffering", suffering, because it is quite unqualifiable and unquantifiable, is an unfit justification of mercy killing.
Assisted suicide is suicide nonetheless. The only thing different is that 2 people are now culpable instead of one. Euthanasia is not assisted suicide. In euthanasia, the one killing is doing so without the consent of the one being killed. Note, unplugging life support is not euthanasia. It may seem like it, but the death that overtakes the body is because the body is not able to resist it. It is natural, albeit delayed, death.
Instead, euthanasia is the active intervention and administration of procedures or chemicals that will stop life. And it is done without the knowledge or consent of the one being killed. (If it were with their knowledge and consent, it would be assisted suicide.)
Which broaches the question, "Is assisted suicide legal?" Now it is true that the one who is dead cannot be brought to trial (in this life6), but if suicide is in fact illegal (which in all states it is), assisted suicide admits of no ambiguity of guilt.
Living Wills that dictate that life support systems may not be used, or must be withdrawn after a period of time, do not cloud the issue. For those for whom death is not the enemy, to request that heroic measures not be taken to preserve their life is simply an acceptance that death comes to all people. To resist death when it is in our power to do so is normal. To have others resist death for us invites abuse, especially in this age of medical marvels.
The abuse is not about saving life when we have become incapacitated. That is expected and appreciated when we are unable to help ourselves. Rather, the abuse is when, after having stabilized the body, the question is asked, "Is further treatment possible?", or, "Will the body begin healing itself?". If the answer to both questions is "No", then preserving life becomes a profanity instead of a deliverance.
This question of suffering is at all times answered by our ability to relieve pain. And pain relievers abound. To say that a life on pain relievers is an "unacceptable existence" is to also point suspicion at the infirm, the elderly, the incapacitated, the mentally retarded, the diseased... indeed, if we were to become altogether inclusive, then the gay, the alcoholic, the clinically depressed, the homely, the obese, oh so many people who society casts off or marginalizes.
Point of fact, an "unacceptable existence" is not well judged from an earthly point of view. In Eternity shall "what is fair" and "what is unfair" find their true perspective. That, of course, is a moot point for those who believe that nothing happens when we die; no reconciliation, no restitution, no righting of wrongs... in short, a universe without morals and without God. (Somebody, I guarantee, is in for a big surprise!)
It is our duty to relieve suffering the best way we can. Our humanity shows when we do. But if we must resort to killing the patient, then it is because we do not deem our efforts to be sufficient, a cowardly and self-willed conclusion. One that is worthy of the condemnation of God and civilization.
1- Moral choices as exercised by humans are not to be equated with pack behavior as exercised by animals, nor the instinct to
survive, nor the cleverest ruminations of the best educated, sign-language speaking gorilla, whose moral ability is childlike at best.
2- Behavior exhibited to ensure the survival of the pack or the species is not mercy killing. A mother-cat, or dog, or pig, who doesn't worry if the runt of the litter won't get enough food is not mercy killing.
3- If you were not able to choose the time of your birth, how is it you have the right to choose the time of your death? You didn't create yourself. So where did you get the authority to terminate your existence? There are, actually, many things in your life that are quite beyond your choosing: your parents, your siblings, your culture (which has indelibly left its mark on you), the color of your eyes, indeed, "Who by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?"
4- The "now" is actually the key issue of suffering. As wise, we recognize that most suffering is temporary, and the choice to end life is unwarranted. As to permanent pain, whose cessation is unforeseeable... read on.
5- It is painfully obvious that what was unthinkable 50 years ago, is common practice now. Some of it for the better, most of it not. It requires no imagination to foresee "Quality of Life" issues will likely have broader and broader interpretations (and advocates) as time passes.
6- I'll bet in eternity there is 1st, 2nd, & 3rd degree charges of murder regarding suicide. e.g. (in descending order): Heroic self sacrifice; imminent capture by a ruthless enemy; extreme stress upon an emotionally\mentally ill person; intense fearful stress upon a morally compromised person (i.e., one caught in the act of doing something they know is wrong, and much worst, something which will ruin their reputation); someone who is in despair and/or pain and sees no hope; someone who is not in despair but sees no future or reason for living. How did I do?
There arises a legitimate question about euthanasia from the preceding. This question involves the close relationship between external life support systems and medication administered to delay death or control the symptoms of the terminally ill. Whether conscious or unconscious, whether mentally competent or incompetent is a separate issue. The question runs thus: If it is not euthanasia (or assisted suicide, in the case of the willing) to disconnect life support and allow death to overtake a living body (and person), is it not then also permitted to discontinue medicine which is sustaining the life of a terminally ill person?
The answer is "Yes". If the questions, "Is further treatment possible?" (that may offer improvement of the condition), or "Will the body begin healing itself?" (as opposed to stasis or deterioration) have been answered in the negative, then the answer is yes, let die who would have died without intervention, to die.
Presumably one takes time when considering such questions. Moreover, if the patient is alert and competent, then any requests to remain on life preserving medication must be honored. Pray be it that accepting death never becomes trivial or arbitrary, much less expected of the infirm by the healthy. But I see no point in prolonging life if an illness is in fact terminal (another large and philosophical issue). (Don't get me started.)[But what about a debilitating condition like parkinson's disease which ultimately brings prolonged suffering and premature death?]
Indeed I suspect that if we owe a debt of gratitude to modern science, it is that we have been given an extra space of time to prepare ourselves for death (or, the death of a loved one), that others, most others, never get. It makes a difference. I can tell you from first hand experience.
So then, again, the answers are not obscure or technical. They are plain, practical, and pure. We're all going to die. None of us is in a hurry to do so. And when we do, for those who remain, the pain felt by our absence will take awhile to get over. It is the nature of things. Let it be.
For Sarah, "Good and Dead"
Question: When is a person who has died declared "dead"? And..., If a body is being kept alive by mechanical or chemical means, when do we "pull the plug"?
Second question first: If the person is unconscious and the questions of "Is further treatment possible?" and "Will the body begin healing itself?" have both been answered in the negative, then one may discontinue treatment at the request of the legally invested guardian (spouse first, then child, then relative, lastly doctor). Presumably such a person will wait till hope and prayer have received their peaceful answer. Death is not the enemy, but no one hurries to embrace it.
If the person is conscious and the same questions have been answered "no", then at the person's request, treatment may stop, tho palliative care should continue. That is what hospices are for.
Ah, but the first question, when is a person who has died "good and dead"? How can we know if they really are dead, that is to say, how can we know if is resuscitation is impossible? Obviously in this case the person is always unconscious (except in the case of the living dead... ), and also, the verdict is rendered by the doctor, or more specifically, by the state's definition of death.
First, let it be agreed that "death" is not an event, but a process. Seldom does one die instantly. Therefore let a duration of time be part of the definition. Second, it must be a head thing because all the ways society chooses to execute criminals involve making sure that the head is dead (except maybe execution by firing squad in Utah). Therefore let the head (the lack of EEG's) be part of the definition. Third, a coma is not "dead". See above for directions. Fourth, if the heart won't pump and the lungs won't breathe, then the 2 things we must have to survive: air and blood circulation, have been denied the body. Therefore let lack of spontaneous life functions be part of the definition. Lastly, [this is where physicians and scientists need to insert their protocols].
Bear in mind that many people (like myself) wish to donate organs, and so any derived definitions are a very necessary part of medical jurisprudence. I presume that everyone is in agreement that there shall be no "harvesting" until the fruit is ripe, meaning, until we are truly dead. And there is also this: When we are 'clear' in our definitions, then there is no regret. When we are ambiguous, there is no peace. Let us all work towards a peaceful definition. Amen?