Killing Me Softly

The British Media calls him “Dr. Death”. Dr. Philip Nitschke, the pro-euthanasia campaigner from Australia, is back in the UK in order to to host seminars on suicide methods. The Independent wrote: “He is unlikely to be welcomed”. While Dr. Nitschke is even facing possible prosecution, I ask myself what is he fighting for, and why is the UK so vehemently against it?

Dr. Nitschke, who was nominated for several humanitarian awards, writes: “It seems we demand humans to live with indignity, pain and anguish…” He is therefore arguing that people should be allowed to help suffering people – who cannot inflict their death upon themselves – if they want to die. In Britain, like most European countries, euthanasia is a criminal offense.

Arguments against euthanasia

The church argues that we should not decide upon or own death, since our life has been given to us by the lord and it is only his right to take it again. (Descartes even argues that God exists since that is the only way to explain why we keep on existing.) Euthanasia is especially attacked by religions that see value in suffering. In a modern society and a secular state religion should have no impact on the laws that concern people that are not of the same confession. Further, it is quite obvious that most religions argue with believes and not substantial facts or maxims. (Plus: euthanasia takes place in the bible too; what about the Christian compassion?; God gave humans a free will, etc.)

Immanuel Kant argued that human beings are ends in themselves and should therefore not be treated as means. He also said that life has a value in itself. Consequently people argue  against euthanasia by claiming it to be using the human as means and not respecting its intrinsic value.

I think, it is a common misconception that death does not have a value in itself as well. In addition, we have to differentiate between means and end in various contexts. We need means for action, otherwise we would not be able to act and therefore cease to exist.  Kant implemented this second formulation of the categorical imperative to avoid Millian opportunism, but whether the formulation is applicable to this case or whether it is justifiable at all is disputed.

Another concern is the slippery slope, which means that euthanasia would soon lead to involuntary euthanasia, if it became legal. “We concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary”, said Lord Walton from the House of Lords.

This includes concerns that:

  • Health cost could lead doctors to kill patients in order to save money
  • Murder is easier to commit as soon as euthanasia is legal
  • People would take the opportunity to die because they think they are a psychological and financial burden for their relatives

In my opinion, a proper structured law, which demarcates the group of potential death-patients precisely and which defines the permissible circumstances exactly, should circumvent these problems to a large extent. Cases in Holland, which proved the fear to be true, were predominantly due to an unrefined law.

Some people think that euthanasia would devalue the lives of people who are sick or disabled, since euthanasia would connote that some lives are not worth living. To me it seems far fetched, that the voluntary act to die (because of personal suffering) could cause us to change our view on the value of other people’s lives who are evidently not in the same situation.

Arguments for euthanasia

  • People have a (human) right to die
  • Libertarian Argument: It promotes the interest of everyone and does not violate anyones rights.
  • Utalitarian argument: The overall happiness in the world is higher with euthanasia and does not promote the suffering of any individual.
  • It is a contradiction in our justice system to prohibit euthanasia
  • Death is not a bad thing, etc…

As you might have already noticed, I do not have enough time to get into depths, since there are too many arguments on either side. As far as I am concerned, it is crucial to allow a person to live a life with dignity. In the Sartreian sense this dignity is achieved or lost through our own actions as well as decisions and should not be defined by external powers. External forces upon our will should only be permitted, if our actions harm other people, which can be avoided if euthanasia is conducted with the correct and ridged precautions.

To read further arguments and to see how the UK stands towards euthanasia click here.

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