Monday, January 16, 2012

Assisted suicide is compassionate, forced living is not

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Douglas Noble
Douglas Noble

This is the first time I’ve ever seen the argument that love and caring are why people shouldn’t be allowed to die on their own terms. From Douglas Noble, writing at the British Medical Journal:

Perhaps, though, it is ultimately because of an inability to accept that suffering is an integral part of our world, common to all who share the human condition. Dealing a fatal injection and dressing it up as dignity is not a solution to suffering and pain. High quality palliative care is part of the answer, but so too is the effect of the affection, love, and commitment (sometimes over long periods of time) that we can show to one another when the worst hand is dealt.

So, in short: “Suffering from a debilitating or terminal illness with no hope of recovery? Too bad. Just stay in pain while people get to watch you lovingly as you slowly waste away. No taking the easy way out for you!”

I’ve never seen such a hideously amoral sentiment disguised as compassion before. See, here’s the thing: Accepting that suffering is an unavoidable part of life does not translate to standing aside and letting people agonize endlessly if we have the means to take away their pain. Yes, people get hurt, they fall ill, and many even become terminal, but our moral imperative is to help them, and if we are unable to do so, or if they want something other, then the least we can do – other than absolutely nothing, which is what assisted suicide opponents advocate in every practical sense – is to offer them the means to help themselves, even if that means allowing them to end an existence that has become unbearable.

This is the biggest problem with those who rail against human euthanasia. When all other options run out, the only solution they offer is to stand by the side of the suffering, gently hold their hand and smile all benignly at them whilst forcing them to linger on for ever longer, effectively preventing them from receiving the help they so desperately need. While this may assuage their consciences by deluding themselves into thinking they’re doing the right thing, it does nothing beneficial whatsoever for those whose lives have become an endless and inescapable torment. Forcing someone to live against their will is neither noble nor compassionate. It is rather the epitome of selfishness and heartlessness: prioritizing their own beliefs about the supposed sanctity of life over the needs of others. It is cruel and nothing more, regardless of however well-meaning they may be.

(via The Agitator)