Tag Archives: Euthanasia

In Which I Describe My Views on Euthanasia

Over at Bad Cripple, William Peace wrote an interesting post on assisted suicide. On my old blog, I had an entire category of posts on end-of-life issues, but here, I never discussed my views on euthanasia and assisted suicide as far as I remember.

I live in the Netherlands, the world’s first country to legalize euthanasia. Just days ago, I wrote on my Dutch blog about a book about a GP’s daily practice, in which he openly discusses euthanasia. I also read this book a few years ago that exclusively diiscusses a GP’s take on this topic. The subtitle of the book calls this GP an “euthanasia physician”.

Unlike Peace, I am not principly opposed to euthanasia or assisted suicide. I do realize there are people who are not pressured at all to kill themselves but want to die anyway. This includes people with a diagnosed medical condition as well as people who are “suffering life”.

I do, however, recognize the explicit and implicit discrimination in euthanasia-related law and ethics. People with terminal cancer can be euthanized if they so desire without much further ado. Infants with severe birth defects can be euthanized shortly after birth if the parents want this. However, a case where a doctor assisted in the suicide of a person who was “suffering life”, led to criminal charges.

The law in the Netherlands says, among other things, that a person must experience unbearable and hopeless suffering to be considered eligible for euthanasia. It isn’t stated that this suffering should be because of a diangosed medical condition. However, “suffering” is such a subjective, vague concept. Everyone suffers sometimes. In a society that is dominated by currently non-disabled people, however, it is a common assumption that people with disabilities suffer more than those without them.

As I said, I for one do not principly oppose euthanasia. It’s a much better, less painful way to end your life than conventional suciide methods. I do not say I advocate suicide – it’s a very sad, tragic thing. I also do feel that people who are suicidal need to be helped in every way possible to overcome these feelings. The thing is, we cannot fully prevent suicide.

What I do oppose is doctors suggesting euthanasia. About ten years ago, there was a case of a child born with severe spina bifida whose doctor suggested euthanizing the child. The doctor happened to be my former neonatologist, the one who said in 1986 that they were just keeping me alive and not to interfere, and who said in 2004 that he wonders about some preemies what the heck he’s done keeping them alive. The parents, like Heather Kiln Lanier and her husband (linked to in Peace’s article), believed the doctor was pushing them to consent to euthanasia, which led to a formal complaint. The doctor defended himself in the media, saying it was “just a suggestion”. Well, I do understand doctros have some say in euthanasia because they have to provide the means, but I think they only should be countering patients’ wishes when they do not want to euthanize them. Research on preemies, after all, shows that doctors are more opposed to aggressive treatments and want fewer preemies to be allowed to live than parents.

Speaking of parents, I mean no offense to Heather Kiln Lanier, but parents should not have the right to decide to have their children euthanized. As I said, newborns in the Netherlands can be euthanized under the so-called Groningen Protocol. Babies and children under twelve cannot, or maybe now they can, because the last time I checked on this topic was about a year ago. In any case, doctors are advocating allowing euthanasia on children under twelve with parental consent. You could say that a newborn does not have anything to want as they don’t have self-awareness (this is philosopher Peter Singer’s argument for infanticide). You could not say the same of a child. They may not have the cognitive ability to make informed decisions on medical treatment, but the darn well know when their parents want to have them killed.

I am almost anti-parent when it comes to this. Thankfully, parents like Kiln Lanier allow me to see how much some parents can fight for their children’s right to a fullfilling life with as little discrimination against them as possible. Kiln Lanier definitely respects her daughter’s right to self-determination.

My view on euthanasia basically comes down to this: no-one can decide for another person that they suffer so much that they should be “allowed” to die. Doctors only have the means to providde euthanasia, so they should be allowed to refuse to do it when a patient asks for it. However, they should never suggest a person be euthanized.

This does mean that children and people with cognitive impairmetns usually won’t be able to get euthanized. So be it. I’d rather keep a few people alive against their will than risk killing people who don’t want it. And just for your information, peoople with even the most severe cognitive impairments do have self-awareness, so sod your Singerian arguments there.

Disability and Quality of Life

A few weeks ago, I read a post on gratitude for people with disabilities. It made me think: are disabled people naturally presumed to be unhappy? And if so, do we have an obligation to put up a shiny happy face to make the world know we’re not unhappy? I think indeed we are often thought of as necessarily unhappy. While it would be great if we could show some gratitude, for ourselves and others, this is unrelated to disability. Everyone can be a pain in the ass when they’re constantly grumpy.

I am a relatively unhappy and a significantly disabled person. I do not feel these two necessarily go together. And what if they do? I sometimes do feel crappy because of frustrations related to my disability. Does this make me a pitiful crip? I don’t think so.

Let’s face it: life throws challenges at all of us. It’s not like living with a disability entitles us to be grumpy all the time. On the other hand, we are not required to put up the shiny face at all times either just to show the world that our disability is not a harrowing fate.

I remember when I was aroudn fifteen participating in a preemie folloow-up study. Part of it involved a quality-of-life questionnaire. I was honest that my quality of life was pretty crap, but made a big deal out of making clear this was not due to my disability. After all, I didn’t want the doctors to think that blindness is somemthing worse than death, and, let’s be real, neonatal specialists do use quality of life to base ethical decisions about life or death of future preemies on.

Are we, as disabled people, responsible for making the world believe that disability is not a big deal? I don’t think so. To give an example, when in like 2011 two deafblind twins were euthanized in Belgium, the National Federation of the Blind (U.S) responded by playing the Helen Keller card. See, she was a major achiever and was deafblind, so deafblindness is no reason to have a miserable life. Maybe so, and I agree that a disability in itself is not necessarily a reason for suicide, assisted or not. However, the NFB did not know the specific circcumstances of these people, and neither do I. Both sides of the euthanasia debate made the case of the deafblind twins about deafblindness. What if deafblindness was only used as an excuse for the twins to get assisted suicide, while the real reason was subjective suffering that may or may not have been related to their disability?

Since euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands in the early 2000s, the definition of unbearable suffering, which is required for euthanasia, has undergone significant inflation. Formerly, euthanasia and assisted suicide were only lejal on terminal patients, while just today, a man who euthanized his aging but non-disabled wife was found guilty but not sentenced. Maybe there’s a difference in that the man in today’s case was not a doctor, but people constantly make it about the wife’s non-disabled status. Let me make one point: if you allow euthanasia or assisted suicide but only on those with a disability, that’s discrimination. It’s not like non-disabled people can’t suffer. As sort of an inverted argument, are non-disabled people required to live in misery just because they don’t have a disability?