Monday, March 15, 2010

Mercy Killing

Tomorrow the subject of euthanasia will be debated again in the Canadian house of commons. A private members bill to legalize what is sometimes called "mercy killing" will be addressed. There are jurisdictions around the world where euthanasia is legal, including the state of Oregon in the US and the Netherlands. The practice has become much more widespread in the Netherlands during its thirty-year existence, moving from an option for the terminally ill to a variety of instances. One of the people responsible for the legislation there now has misgivings about the broadening of application.

Most Christian denominations are either opposed to or very cautious about euthanasia because of a commitment to the sanctity of life and concerns that abuses could take place. I did a paper on the subject many moons ago while in seminary and became aware then that a significant number of people desire euthanasia, not because of physical pain, but because they become isolated from others in their illnesses or feel that they are a burden to family. While distraught family members or the individual who is ill will make comments such as "we wouldn't make a dog suffer like this" the dynamics of our human relationships and our awareness of suffering and death are different. There is no simple or simplistic answer to this challenging ethical dilemma.

While I believe strongly in the provision of palliative care and accept that death is inevitable for us all, I have always been opposed to legalized euthanasia. I will point out that I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death with people many times through the years and rarely felt much differentl, although there have been a few occasions. Here is ethicist Margaret Somerville's outlook on euthanasia from today's Globe and Mail.

What are your thoughts about the bill, and this subject in general?


IanD said...

This is SUCH a difficult issue emotionally. I'd have to say, however, that ethically? This thing is black and white.

No-one has the right to kill another. By extension, one should not have the right to kill oneself. One could, in particular circumstances, refuse treatment so as to not prolong an ebbing life and/or outright suffering; but being able to choose one's expiry date by circling it on a calendar? The line must be drawn there.

I know there would be difficult situations to consider, (the thinking facing someone with an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease comes to mind) but by allowing citizens to beat death to his punchline would only lead us onto a slippery slope where anyone could end their life "just because."

Progressive thinking is good, and examination of any issue from a multitude of perspectives is required in this 21st century; but the issue of euthanasia is an one where the greater good needs to be placed over the perceived 'rights', 'needs' or dare I say whims of individuals.

Susan said...

I read Ms Sommerville's article and found it very interesting and informative but what appalled me was all the negative and personal comments of the people responding to her column. I don't believe in mercy killing and if we step onto that road we start down a very slippery unknown hill.

lionlamb said...

You mention the "greater good" Ian and I think that is essential. While we often struggle to see loved ones in pain, euthanasia could become a huge social problem. I have spoken with doctors who don't want the role of "playing God."

I find that Margaret Somerville is fearless Susan. She often takes unpopular positions as an ethicist and receives nasty criticism. I'm glad she is providing a social conscience, even though not everyone appreciates her positions.

IanD said...

Susan, I don't know HOW many times I have thought that to myself with respect to commentary left anonymously on blogs and websites.

I guess it's easier to be brave or "tough" when you're hiding behind a nom de plume in cyberspace, huh?