September 21, 2006

The right to die, not just for the terminally ill anymore.

Why not for people who just don't want to live anymore, for whatever reason they find sufficient in their own scheme of thought?
Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, the Zurich-based organisation that has helped 54 Britons to die, revealed yesterday that his group was seeking to overturn the Swiss law that allows them to assist only people with a terminal illness.

In his first visit to the country since setting up Dignitas, the lawyer blamed religion for stigmatising suicide, attacking this “stupid ecclesiastical superstition” and said that he believed assisted suicide should be open to everyone.

“We should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience . . . If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

“We should accept generally the right of a human being to say, ‘Right, I would like to end my life’, without any pre-condition, as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”

57 comments:

Doyle said...

Ramesh Ponnuru will surely try to pin this on the Democrats.

Seven Machos said...

This is ridiculous. In practice, people have every right to their own suicides. You just have to do it yourself. It really isn't that hard.

And Doyle. You nut. Everything is not about Democrats and Republicans, or congressional races. As long as you want to see everything through that prsim, though, keep in mind that Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress. Also, President Bush is a Republican.

Doyle said...

Easy, Seven. It was a joke.

"Party of Death"? Fringe liberal Europeans eschewing religious values? It's not such a long walk, is it?

AJ Lynch said...

I happen to help out a suicide prevention group. Here is their website and I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about suicide. Re the article, it is proof there is no shortage of nitwits in this world (which I remind everyone each of us visits for only a relatively brief time).

www.feelingblue.org

Roger Sweeny said...

If you believe, as many environmentalists do, that there are too many people in the world, that humans are "a cancer on the earth," I suppose it's only right they should be able to easily and painlessly put their money where their mouth is.

George said...

The tip-off to the loathsomeness of this notion is the speaker's use of the word "discernment" when he says a person should be free to kill himself “as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”

Discernment means “good taste and judgment.” Its synonyms, among others, are taste and sensitivity.

In other words, those who are capable of knowing that they smell bad or offend society’s decorum (perhaps by using one of those ugly wheelchairs) should do us all a favor and die.

How monstrous.

The Exalted said...

you're reading far too much into the word 'discernment.'

i take it to mean someone who is capable of exercising free will, aka, someone is legally competent.

to take it otherwise is to put words and ideas into his mouth. i saw nothing about people in wheelchairs etc in that blurb.

Fenrisulven said...

I wonder if this is an indicator of Europe's will, their loss of faith in their civilization. Canary in a coal mine?

Its different for the terminally ill. When my father was diagnosed with Cancer, he asked me [b/c I was a Marine] to end it if he was stuck in a hospital. I think I could have done it, but fortunately Hospice was allowed to administer morphine in the Wound Care Ward. Three days of intense pain that he never felt and it was over. I can't imagine what it must be like for those who linger on for months or years.

SteveR said...

Well I would let you argue about someone with a terminal illness being able to make that choice (and get help) but otherwise hell no.

For starters, I assume many people who try and fail, later are glad they failed (correct me if I'm wrong AJ), but this would be a certain death.

Ann Althouse said...

Re “good taste and judgment"... well, consulting doctors in Switzerland certainly seems more tasteful than shooting yourself in the head.

And if anyone stops by here because they really are contemplating suicide -- I assume suicidal people these days Google as they are thinking things through -- let me make my opinion clear: don't kill yourself.

Doctors killing the depressed is an awfully cheap and easy way to deal with psychological troubles.

Doyle said...

I wonder if this is an indicator of Europe's will, their loss of faith in their civilization.

I don't believe that assisted suicide should be made available to non-terminally ill people.

However, I don't see any reason to think that people who do have lost faith in their civilization.

Rather, they seem to envision a civilization in which personal autonomy, as it pertains to one's own life, is absolute and unencumbered by the state.

I for one like the idea of a state that makes it difficult to kill yourself, but it's not like their position is philosophically indefensible.

altoids1306 said...

When the conversation turned from "life" to "quality of life", that was the point of no return. If it is not life that has value, but quality of life, then there is no moral ground to oppose assisted suicide.

We've been defining down the value of life for decades (a certain Supreme Court Justice litmus test comes to mind). Now we are just carrying it out to its logical, devestating conclusion. Don't act surprised now.

Pogo said...

Over time, the Netherlands has moved “from assisted suicide to euthanasia, from euthanasia for the terminally ill to euthanasia for the chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress and from voluntary euthanasia to nonvoluntary and involuntary euthanasia.”

Herbert Hendin, “Suicide, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Lessons From the Dutch Experience,” Summary for Congressional Subcommittee on the Constitution, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Oversight Hearing, April 29, 1996

johnstodderinexile said...

This would be a good time to pull out your copies of of Ian McEwan's Booker Award-winning novella, Amsterdam.

Fenrisulven said...
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Fenrisulven said...

I for one like the idea of a state that makes it difficult to kill yourself, but it's not like their position is philosophically indefensible.

For me its a libertarian [?] position - the state should not be allowed to prevent me from exercising my right to life. I'm against capital punishment for similar reasons.

However, I don't see any reason to think that people who do have lost faith in their civilization

I'm looking at it in combination with other factors: lowering birth rates and an unwillingness to defend their culture from Islamic bullying.

Mike said...

They're not after a right to suicide. As Seven points out, everyone already has that "right". They are looking for public approval.

The Drill SGT said...
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Gerry said...

Slippery slope? What slippery slope?

The Drill SGT said...

Pogo beat me to it. This icy slope take you ultimately to (knowing I'm close to invoking Godwin's law here though I think it actually is justified here) "showers" for Mental Defectives, gypsies and other undesirables.

Society should not be in the business of encouraging suicides, lest it legislate them.

Pogo said...

"Elderly people who are terminally ill have a ''duty to die and get out of the way'' instead of trying to prolong their lives by artificial means, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado said Tuesday.

People who die without having life artificially extended are similar to ''leaves falling off a tree and forming humus for the other plants to grow up,'' the Governor told a meeting of the Colorado Health Lawyers Association at St. Joseph's Hospital.

''You've got a duty to die and get out of the way,'' said the 48-year-old Governor. ''Let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life."

NYTimes 1984

No pressure Grandma, but, um, really, don't you just hate being old? And isn't the nursing home too expensive?

Cedarford said...

There are two sides to the argument. I certainly oppose suicide for those with a treatable medical condition. But the "pro" suicide argument goes well past those with an untreatable terminal illness like metastatic cancer not amenable to effective pain treatment where many say suicide is a logical course of action, Certainly, we - except the most religiously extreme - should be sympathetic and not condemn a cancer patient that ends his/her suffering on their terms rather than linger on weeks or months more in agony and declining dignity.

The problem is not just in terminal diseases, but a range of degenerative diseases from which people once weakened and died from fairly readily, but with new technology, we can keep them suffering and witness to their own inexorable decline for decades. Keeping them "non-terminal" but with the same existence as a terminal patient in terms of pain, slow loss of physical/mental function.

There are non-terminal diseases, or terminal diseases that now take 5-15 years to run their course with medical technology to delay death..but not give any quality of life or relief from suffering - that do seem to make suicide an option. An option we should not be quick to condemn without examining the nature of specific degenerative maladies.

Freeman Hunt said...

Isn't suicidal ideation a definite indicator that someone is lacking "capacity of discernment?"

Mayoor said...

I'd just like to say suicide is terribly selfish thing. Just 2 days ago I was on a train where someone jumped out in front and the driver stopped the train after seeing this person splattered all over the window. The driver will probably never have the same life again. I wish people who comitted suicide would just do it in a way that doesnt affect other people.


www.snowboarding.wares-are.us

Pogo said...

Re: "I wish people who comitted suicide would just do it in a way that doesnt affect other people."

But that would only be possible if one had no relationships at all.

Because it's not just the mess, it's the pain inflicted on loved ones whether or not they see anything at all that is so difficult.

The goofball advocacy of suicide here behaves as if there is little difference in deciding between suicide or having a snack.

Revenant said...

I wonder if this is an indicator of Europe's will, their loss of faith in their civilization.?

Only if you believe that your willingness to have the government tell you how to act correlates to your faith in civilization.

A case could be made that a society that feels the need to make suicide illegal is unhealthier than one which doesn't. Doesn't a belief that people kill themselves if the firm hand of government doesn't prevent it suggest a lack of confidence in your fellow citizens' will to live?

Gerry said...

Color me skeptical of your claim, mayoor. I am sure that such an incident would have made the newspaper where you are. Can you please provide a link to a report of this incident?

I was about to say that I would hate to think you were just coming up with something to post in order to give you a reason to post that advertising URL, but then it dawned on me that I would be hoping that it had happened, and someone was dead and another traumatized. So forgive me for hoping that I am right.

Eli Blake said...

I'm personally against suicide in that I would never do it and I would strongly advise anyone who is considering it to get some professional help instead, but I also believe in individual rights, even if it is the right to kill yourself (and really, how is scheduling yourself for a lethal injection any different than smoking cigarettes? The time frame is different, but ultimately it is the same thing.) Yes, it is stupid but then I firmly believe that adults have the right to be stupid.

And Mayoor had a very good point when he brought up the impact of seeing a person's insides splattered all over the windshield. To commit suicide in such a manner is indeed very selfish. So is to blow your brains out or overdose yourself on pills and let someone find you (plus the even more selfish aspect that you might in any of those scenarios fail and only succeed in turning yourself into a cripple or a vegetable that is a further burden on those around you.) In that sense, isn't what the society is proposing-- to have a doctor administer the injection in a controlled setting-- infinitely better?

Jeremy said...

Rev-
No. As was pointed out earlier, you can still commit suicide, and if successful, there's nothing anybody can do about it. But in order to express our society's displeasure and unacceptance of suicide, it's a reasonable step for the government to legislate against it.

Doyle said...

Yes, Revenant, it does. But some people are in fact suicidal. It's not a question of which society is "healthier." We can only play the cards we were dealt.

The policy question is should the government forbid doctors from facilitating suicides for anyone who wants one?

I think the answer is yes. While "back alley" suicides are certainly unpreventable, it doesn't necessarily follow that painless, cleaner alternatives should be made available.

Revenant said...

Yes, Revenant, it does. But some people are in fact suicidal.

True, but not all of them are suicidal due to mental illness. One can rationally decide that life is simply no longer enjoyable enough to be worth the bother.

In any case, a mentally-ill suicidal person is free to attempt suicide on his own, as it is. Making doctors available will at least bring him into contact with someone who is in a position discuss with him whether suicide is what he really wants (it usually isn't).

SippicanCottage said...
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Jeremy said...

One can rationally decide that life is simply no longer enjoyable enough to be worth the bother.

That's not a rational decision unless you know what happens to you after you die. If you don't, you may be ending your life only to move to a much worse situation.

Sushizuki said...

I don't know about Mayoor, but here in Japan people kill themselves by jumping in front of trains all the time. I've been on two trains that have hit people. Another fairly common method is to jump off a building, and it's not that unusual for that person to take someone on the ground with them. Euthanasia at least would be preferable to endangering others.

mcg said...

People who commit suicide need to be punished severely. I'm thinking life in prison.

Revenant said...

That's not a rational decision unless you know what happens to you after you die. If you don't, you may be ending your life only to move to a much worse situation.

I do know what happens when I die. I get buried and worms eat me.

But even if there was some rational reason to suspect that an afterlife existed, the fact that we don't know if it is good or bad doesn't make staying alive the rational choice. Either the afterlife is of finite duration -- in which case suicide just gives you a head start on it, good or bad -- or it is of infinite duration, in which case what difference will an extra few decades make? Infinity + 50 = infinity, after all.

I guess you could argue that suicide might cause me to suffer in the afterlife. That's true... in the sense that I might suffer in the afterlife for having eaten grapes, having had fewer than 117 wives, voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, or listening to the Dave Matthews Band. In the absence of some actual *reason* to think that I'll be punished for an action, however, assuming I will be so punished is crazy.

nunzio said...

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.

HaloJonesFan said...

Mayoor: It's a bit tasteless to link-spam in a comment thread discussing suicide. Unless this is some bizarre form of satire. "Contemplating suicide? Why not do it with some style, by snowboarding off a cliff?"

And, as an earlier commentor said, this isn't about healthy people with no mental problems not being able to kill themselves. This is about drama whores wanting to ensure that their last act will be interpreted as the Tortured Shriek Of A Damned Soul For Whom Life Was An Unending Torment, rather than What A Crazy Fuckhead.

NoAcuteDistress said...

Several years back a study was published in one of the trauma surgery journals reviewing a series of suicide jumpers. The series focused on the Golden gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was primarily a post-mortem study of the mechanisms of death. They did however come upon an interesting finding (and I"m paraphrasing): "Of the jumpers who survived, these individuals were uniformly cured of their suicidal ideations."

Jim said...

That "discernment" means "good taste" is a canard. The word discern occurs everywhere in the Bible, even in the King James, and it never means to show "good taste." Understanding, acknowledgment and good judgment are Biblical synonyms for "discernment." Good taste is "discrimination."

JorgXMcKie said...

Hmmm. As I remember, the number of people who attempt suicide once and fail (or are prevented) far outnumber those who keep at it until they succeed. It would appear that most attempted suicides aren't, perhaps, that sure that they want to do it.

I'm reasonably sure the reason we make suicide illegal in this country is so that authorities may reasonably restrain those who appear about to commit suicide until we can determine if they're serious (i.e. they keep trying until they succeed). Thus, in addition to suicide hotlines, etc that attempt to talk potential suicides out of it, there is the possibility of physical restraint (under color of law) so one has to seriously consider if one really, really wants to die.

As for throwing oneself in front of a train, try googling (I haven't, I'm going from memory) train, death, and DeKalb, IL and see what pops up. In the ten years that I lived there the average of people dying by being hit by a train while walking on the tracks in the middle of a town of 35,000 was about 5-6 per year. I really doubt that there were that many careless drunks wandering the tracks, but I could be wrong.

Also, the tracks were the wrong direction and too far from the NIU campus for that to be causal.

Revenant said...

Of the jumpers who survived, these individuals were uniformly cured of their suicidal ideations

Of course, so were the ones who *didn't* survive. :)

word verification: mcgoy -- the Israeli name for McDonalds?

AJ Lynch said...

Eli:
"(and really, how is scheduling yourself for a lethal injection any different than smoking cigarettes? "

Eli, I can always tell when someone really dumb enters the house. People don't smoke to kill themselves and many smokers don't die from smoking. Your argument is ludicrous. And as a liberal, I suspect you are OK with both smoking or assisted-suicide as long as it is done in private. God forbid any 2nd-hand smoke get near you.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Of the jumpers who survived, these individuals were uniformly cured of their suicidal ideations."

I remember reading a story a long time ago about a jumper who survived. He said that he was utterly determined to kill himself, but that the instant he jumped, he greatly regretted it and was filled with horror and regret during his, albeit quick, fall to the water.

I find it vile that someone would want to assist the mentally ill in carrying out their suicidal fantasies.

Anonymous said...

Count me with those opposed to encouraging suicide.

But one of jorg's comments jumped out at me:

As for throwing oneself in front of a train, try googling train, death, and DeKalb, IL and see what pops up. In the ten years that I lived there the average of people dying by being hit by a train while walking on the tracks in the middle of a town of 35,000 was about 5-6 per year.

I immediately thought of this:

"I've got ten volumes on suicide alone. Suicide by race, by color, by occupation, by sex, by seasons of the year, by time of day. Suicide, how committed: by poisons, by fire-arms, by drowning, by leaps. Suicide by poison, subdivided by types of poison, such as corrosive, irritant, systemic, gaseous, narcotic, alkaloid, protein, and so forth. Suicide by leaps, subdivided by leaps from high places, under wheels of trains, under wheels of trucks, under the feet of horses, from steamboats.

But Mr. Norton, of all the cases on record there's not one single case of suicide by leap from the rear end of a moving train."

Only Edward G. Robinson can make quoting actuarial tables interesting.

Revenant said...

I remember reading a story a long time ago about a jumper who survived. He said that he was utterly determined to kill himself, but that the instant he jumped, he greatly regretted it and was filled with horror and regret during his, albeit quick, fall to the water

The problem with those stories is that people who truly ARE determined to kill themselves aren't around to explain how they're happy to be dead. :)

I find it vile that someone would want to assist the mentally ill in carrying out their suicidal fantasies.

You appear to be assuming that all suicides are mentally ill. There's nothing intrinsically sane about remaining alive, particularly if your chances for having a satisfying life are essentially nil. That's one reason why the elderly have some of the highest suicide rates.

Johnny Nucleo said...

I dig science fiction, so this is fascinating, because in science fiction they almost always have suicide places and the suicide places are almost always luxurious and inviting.

If this kind of thing were legal, what would it look like? In science fiction it's usually a cross between a hospital, a spa, and a funeral parlor.

Steven said...

Eh, this isn't just a Europe thing.

Kevorkian was doing this ("assisting" the suicides of those not terminally ill, in some cases not even identifiably ill in any way whatsoever), and juries went out of their way to ignore state laws in order to acquit, to the point where the county (in which I was living at the time) elected somebody who said he'd stop futilely prosecuting. Switzerland is just catching up.

(Yes, Kevorkian did finally get prosecuted and convicted, after taking video of himself not even purporting to merely assist in the killing, putting the video on a national network broadcast, and refusing counsel, after taunting the new prosecutor to come after him.)

bearing said...

Yes, it is stupid but then I firmly believe that adults have the right to be stupid.

Except that many adults are responsible for people other than themselves. Should the mother or father of young children be allowed to commit suicide? How about a fifty-year-old who is the only relative of a disabled elderly adult? Sure, these folks might be induced to leave money to support their loved ones, but do they have the right to just --- murder --- the children's father, the grandmother's son? If someone else had killed these people, wouldn't we say a crime had been committed against the whole family?

leucanthemum b said...

I've said this at my own place and argued with a couple of friends on theirs, but my conclusion is going to remain this:

The worst part of this proposal to help would-be suicides is that it confirms the one absolutely wrong notion they have: "It's true, you aren't worth saving."

Life is hard enough without extra help from the opposition.

Revenant said...

Should the mother or father of young children be allowed to commit suicide?

Why not? We let the fathers and mothers of young children give them up for adoption, after all. Nobody is forced at gunpoint to be a parent.

How about a fifty-year-old who is the only relative of a disabled elderly adult?

I don't see the issue. The fifty-year-old in question is already under no obligation to provide for his relative.

If someone else had killed these people, wouldn't we say a crime had been committed against the whole family?

Metaphorically, sure. Legally, no.

Sigivald said...

Regardless of one's thoughts as to the morality or reasonability of suicide, the question that comes to mind is...

Why would anyone not terminally ill or otherwise incapacitated need assistance to kill themselves?

If you really want it, it's not hard to manage, if you're not confined to bed. (And even then, people have managed pretty well, from what I hear.)

Given that, I don't know why these folks really need to push for legal authorization for their "help" in killing people.

Seems to me that the vast majority of people who aren't terminally ill wouldn't need any help, if they were seriously inclined to self-killing (and anyone only half-heartedly inclined shouldn't helped with it!).

Hazy Dave said...

Is not life itself a terminal condition? I dunno, it's hard to imagine going to an organization founded by a lawyer in order to commit suicide. Seems like lawyers are better suited to devising temporary solutions for permanent problems, rather than the reverse.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why would anyone not terminally ill or otherwise incapacitated need assistance to kill themselves?"

Some people like to handle thing professionally. Do-it-yourself work can be bungled, and the really effective methods can be messy, and you (well, not you) still have to call in professionals to deal with that.

HaloJonesFan said...

And besides, guns aren't lawful, y'know.

Synova said...

"The worst part of this proposal to help would-be suicides is that it confirms the one absolutely wrong notion they have: "It's true, you aren't worth saving.""

My brother talked someone he knew off the Golden Gate Bridge.

What a difference if he'd pulled his truck over, run back to where that man was and said, "You're right to dispair, let me help you over the railing, no need to make this difficult."

I've not been suicidal, but I have suffered from depression and *approval* for suicidal feelings is a horrific thing.

It makes a person wonder if the doctors involved think that people in general really should be encouraged to kill themselves, to make the world a better place.

In which case... why not start with themselves?

Revenant said...

I've not been suicidal, but I have suffered from depression and *approval* for suicidal feelings is a horrific thing.

I've also battled depression, and had suicidal feelings for many years. But I don't share your sense of horror. While I no longer feel an irrational desire to kill myself, I can certainly think of situations in which I would want to. My eyes and my mind, for example, are of paramount importance to me. If I find myself 75 years old, blind and going senile, I wouldn't want to go on living -- even though I might otherwise be healthy enough to live another ten or twenty years.

I can't identify with people who fetishize having the longest possible lifespan. It is quality of life that matters -- not quantity. You don't win extra points for staying in the game longer.