Euthanasia


Some terminally ill people experience excruciating pain for prolonged periods of time before they die of natural causes. Thus I strongly believe that euthanasia must be legal and accessible for people who need it. Torturing sick people for no good reason is cruel and inhumane.

My maternal grandmother died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 66. The last few months of her life were horrifying. Two months before her death she experienced so much pain that she begged to be buried alive. Again and again she told her caretakers, “Bury me already.” My grandmother was Catholic. Even though her religion forbade euthanasia, all her cherished beliefs were thrown out of the window as soon as she became too sick to wait for her beloved God to finally kill her. By then all she wanted was to finally suffocate in a coffin.

Two weeks before her death my grandmother was unable to speak. She appeared to no longer recognize her family members, it seemed like she didn’t even know where she was or what was happening to her. The only thing left to her was constant and unbearable pain.

I was born in 1992. Thus I have no memories of my grandmother. Listening to my mother talk about my grandmother’s death, I have gotten the impression that the whole experience was traumatizing for my mother.

My grandmother spent the last few months of her life mostly at home with my mother and my aunt taking care of her. Taking care of a bedridden patient is a lot of work, but normally in itself it is not that terrible. But this time there was a catch. My grandmother was experiencing constant agonizing pain. She whined and complained all the time. When taking care of a bedridden patient, you have to change their clothes and bed linens, deal with their urine and feces, feed them. You have to touch and move them. But every time my mother touched my grandmother, she complained that being moved makes the pain worse. Of course, doctors couldn’t help and painkillers were ineffective.

My mother and grandmother didn’t have a particularly close relationship in the first place. Merely losing a family member with whom she had a lukewarm relationship wouldn’t have hurt my mother so terribly. Instead the main problem was the utterly horrifying way how my grandmother died. A few people are sadistic sociopaths and can enjoy the opportunity to observe how somebody else experiences what is essentially torture. But for a normal person it is traumatizing to spend several months in a close proximity with a person who is hurting so much. More importantly, every time my mother had to touch my bedridden grandmother, she complained about how being touched or moved makes the pain worse.

My maternal aunt died of breast cancer in 2017 at the age of 51. Two weeks before her death she could move around with the help of a wheelchair, she could independently change her clothes and get to the toilet, she could eat and even prepare meals for herself. Thus my mother who was taking care of her sister only needed to bring her bags of groceries and help with miscellaneous chores at her home (my aunt was living alone).

Of course, the last few years of my aunt’s life were hard enough (chemotherapy is no fun), but she never wished to die sooner, largely because she went from being able to still live somewhat independently to being dead in just a few weeks. She had a breast cancer and she was lucky to get metastatic tumors in her lungs, those caused her to suffocate rather quickly. Hence she could avoid months of being bedridden and in unbearable pain.

Of course, it is ridiculous that I have to use words “lucky” and “metastatic tumors” in the same sentence. But, since we live in a society that refuses to allow terminally ill patients to die painlessly, dying of cancer without the terrible suffering that my grandmother had to experience is actually an example of being lucky.

Euthanasia is a necessity. In my opinion, there is no room for debate whether it should be legal or no. Instead, people, at least those of us who are not sadistic, can only discuss specific details. Which patients should be eligible to ask for euthanasia? Which doctors should be allowed to approve these requests? Who exactly and how should perform this procedure?

Details certainly do matter. After all, we wouldn’t want sick people feeling pressured by their family members or doctors to agree to euthanasia when in fact they would prefer to live longer. But the fact remains that euthanasia is a necessity and should be accessible for those who really need it.

Opponents of euthanasia tend to argue that no person should die sooner rather than necessary. Personally, I perceive this argument as rather ironic. In my family people tend to die of cancers. Having heard about my grandmother’s miserable experience, I have thought about what I will do if I ever get a cancer diagnosis.

I consider myself a hedonist, and I don’t seek any higher meaning for my life. I’m willing to live only as long as my life remains enjoyable, and I would be willing to endure physical pain only as long as it is temporary and I would have reasons to believe that my condition is likely to improve in the future. For now, my life is still nice, and thus I do not wish to die, but if I were terminally ill and in severe pain, I would definitely prefer death sooner rather than later.

In my eyes, having access to euthanasia is a form of insurance. A terminally ill person can feel safe knowing that if at some point they become bedridden and suffer too much pain, doctors will end their suffering and help them die painlessly. This way a terminally ill person does not have to commit suicide sooner while they can still move their limbs out of fear that if they wait too long they will become bedridden and incapable of ending their own suffering.

Personally, I do not fear death, but I do fear the kind of fate my grandmother experienced—bedridden, unable to commit suicide, in pain, begging to be buried alive, yet with nobody who could alleviate her suffering. Thus, if I ever get terminally ill, I will probably have to commit suicide sooner rather than later, because in a society that forbids euthanasia hesitating for too long can result in months of unbearable suffering. Once a person does become bedridden, committing suicide becomes rather hard.

Of course, I do not know my future, I cannot tell for sure how I would act in circumstances that I have never experienced. For now I am merely thinking about “what if” scenarios after having witnessed the deaths of my family members. And who knows, maybe I will starve to death long before I get a cancer, because the humanity has decided to collectively change the climate on this planet, which is likely to result in crop failures.

If Christians believe that only their God should be able to decide when some person who wants to die actually dies, they are welcome to be masochists and endure whatever misfortunes life brings them. But they should have no right to use the legal system in order to torture other people who might even not believe in such a sadistic god.

Comments

  1. Allison says

    I don’t know how things are in Latvia, only how they are in the USA.

    1. One problem we have in the USA is the belief that prescribing strong pain-killers is equivalent to selling heroin or cocaine on the street corner. There’s a widespread puritanical attitude that if you’re suffering, it’s your moral duty to go ahead and suffer. (There’s even the idea that suffering makes people better people.) Doctors have had their licenses revoked or been put into prison for giving adequate doses of opiates to people in severe cronic pain. This is even done when the patient is terminally ill — after all, you wouldn’t want them to get addicted, now would you?\end{sarcasm} One of the narrative threads in To Kill A Mockingbird is about a terminally ill Southern (USA) old lady who wants to end her dependence on whatever pain-killer she is on; when I read that, I thought it was crazy.

    2. I think the main reason people (here in the USA, at least) are wary of legalizing euthanasia is the fear that it will be abused: that other people may be pressuring the patient to consent to euthanasia, or even that documentation of consent for euthanasia could be forged. After all, once the patient is dead, they’re in no shape to testify that they didn’t consent. Even DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders can be problematic — a friend of mine told about the oncologist treating his wife for brain cancer basically telling him he had to sign a DNR for his wife.

    There is also the feeling that doctors should be devoting their efforts to saving lives, and euthanasia is a violation of that obligation.

  2. Holms says

    Agreed, it is an absolute necessity. It struck me when my grandmother was dying of cancer that the word ‘painkiller’ is inaccurate, as only mild to moderate pains can be vanished away in their entirety. The agony of having internal organs slowly riddled with tumours however can only be reduced rather than eliminated, and as the pain gradually increases, the ability for painkillers to keep pace runs into a dosage problem: the amount required to make the pain bearable would be fatal. Pain management hits a ceiling, and cannot go further without killing the patient. But yet the dosage is high enough that the patient loses all awareness of the visiting family, the people holding their hand, the expressions of love… in short, everything except the pain fades out.

    And so my grandmother ended her 93 years groaning and staring sightlessly at the ceiling in a hospital, unaware of the family that was expressing how grateful we were that she brightened our lives and how much we would miss her, all because religion has convinced people that there is a god with some (sick, twisted) purpose in inflicting that final misery on people.

    I also remember her father – my great grandfather – about 25 years prior. His 97 year old heart was gradually giving out on him, and so he was bedridden and groaning for several months before he died. The christians that insist we stay alive for as long as possible sure have a lot of pain to answer for. I would like to ask them what plan is so important that it requires people to linger so? The certainly didn’t achieve very much, being in such pain that they couldn’t move or talk or hear or see. Perhaps the flagellants were right – godly life is all about suffering.

  3. billseymour says

    My mother spent her last couple of years in pain after meals. I can’t remember the name of the disease, but it was described to me as something like a heart attack in the small intestine.

    Mom was religious and wouldn’t have wanted to commit suicide; but on her last day, I was with her in the emergency room at the hospital and asked the attending doctor whether he could do a bit more “to control her pain even at higher risk.”  He said that, yes, he could do that.  This was at a Roman Catholic hospital, so I guess they’re not entirely evil.

  4. Jazzlet says

    Robert Baden I am so sorry your parents were forced to make that decision and that you are in danger of losing function or body parts to diabetes.

    I too heard stories about my grandmother’s later life, the pain she was in turned her from a lovely kind woman into someone who verbally eviscerated anyone who came near her, which frightened me. I now have a chronic pain problem and my greatest fear is that I will be forced to live beyond the ability of the available medications to keep my pain reasonably controlled. The reason I have pain is due to adhesions (sticky scarring) on my colon so in a couple of places it does not have the flexibility it should, and anything more solid than water that passes through causes pain. Most painkillers have a constipating effect which will cause yet more pain, so I have to take different medications to keep things soft and moving. Too much of the opioid pain killers will also make me sleepy, just enough and the pain will be controlled, but I’ll still be alert. I can’t always tell when I take the pain killers what my pain will be like in the next five or so hours so I don’t always take the amount I need. Too much or too little of the laxatives and stool softeners … well you know. The pain also flares up for no obvious reason, and varies from days with little pain to days with a lot of pain. When you mix all of that together the drug regime is a constantly adjusted balancing process which doesn’t always work, but which works enough of the time for me to live with, and there are more pain killers that can move to when the existing ones stop working. I didn’t mention that did I? You get habituated to opioid pain killers over time, so you will need stronger ones as time passes, even if your pain problem doesn’t get worse, and in my case it will.

    In the UK suicide is legal but assisting someone else to commit suicide is not, and while we are at the start of another attempt to legalise euthanasia it will only be for people who are not just terminally ill, but whom their docotors estimate have less than six months to live. My chronic pain problem can be agonising, but it isn’t life-threatening, and is unlikely to become life-threatening, so even if voluntary euthanasia is legalised it isn’t going to help me when I run out of effective medictions. There are countries with laws that would allow me to be euthanised when the time came if I lived there, I know that some of them started off with the sort of legislation that is being attempted in the UK, then extended it when the obvious cruelty of cases like mine became evident, so I know we may end up with better legislation. I fear it will not be in time for me.

  5. says

    I’ve always hated that a person can’t simply choose to die because they’re bored, or tired of living, or whatever. It’s nobody else’s business except their close friends – and, even then – I don’t see how or why family and friends should get a claim on someone else’s life

    An old friend recently made a half-hearted attempt to kill herself. I say “half hearted” because she has firearms and knows how to use them, but chose, instead, something that was likely to fail. I was unhappy because this was a friend of mine she tried to kill. That was a shock for me, to confront that my attitude was basically selfish.I’m still trying to figure out what I think about the whole thing. I think that many people often say “what about your family and friends?” but it’s legitimate for a person to say “don’t you think I’ve already thought of that and they should all be willing to let me go” just like you would have with a terminally ill patient.

  6. John Morales says

    Entirely with you on the principle, with one caveat: compos mentis.

    Problem if otherwise: If someone is not mentally capable, then I think they should be treated as a loved pet: the burden of the decision is on their loved ones at best, those who support their life otherwise.

    But yes; at some point, I consider keeping someone alive even as they suffer but have no say in it is just cruelty, however justified.

    Self-determination, I think, should be paramount. Other considerations should be only fall-backs.

  7. John Morales says

    Marcus, my mom perished on April 13, 2020.

    A devout Catholic, she had been ever more physically debilitated and decrepit; for well over a decade, she had been on opiate patches for chronic pain mitigation until the limit was reached. Serious stuff.

    Thing is, her mind was sharp as a tack until maybe one, two days before her death. Can’t fake that.

    She made it clear life was suffering over the last few years, but it was her devoutness that prevented her from expediting the end by wilful inaction (she was on a shitload of medications and was tested fortnightly).

    Damn religion! 🙁

  8. says

    About mental competence. It can come and go. Among the diabetes related problems my family has is dementia, but with lucid moments where one realizes what is happening.

  9. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    Allison #1 said ” I think the main reason people (here in the USA, at least) are wary of legalizing euthanasia is the fear that it will be abused: that other people may be pressuring the patient to consent to euthanasia, or even that documentation of consent for euthanasia could be forged.”

    This was indeed a concern when Oregon passed its Death With Dignity Act back in 1998. The law has safeguards against coercion, and every year a report is published on how many people used its provisions that year, either to secure a lethal prescription or to actually take it. Here’s the most recent summary, from 2019:

    “In 2019, 112 Oregon physicians wrote 290 prescriptions to dying Oregonians who qualified for the Act; 188 people died using the medications obtained under the law. Similar to previous years, most patients

    * were 65 years or over (75 percent), with the median age of 74;
    * had cancer (68 percent);
    * were on hospice at the time of death (90 percent);
    * died at home (90 percent);
    * had some form of health insurance (99 percent).”

    The high degree of health insurance coverage is because Oregon has a waiver from Medicare allowing it to run the Oregon Health Plan for low-income Oregonians using different rules from regular Medicare. The state employs this flexibility to try to achieve 100% insurance coverage for everyone in a state that is over 75% rural. So we know that people are not committing suicide strictly because they can’t afford their medical bills.

  10. publicola says

    Agree with John and Andreas that it is necessary, as well as merciful and compassionate. Holms @2: christians are all about pain, as long as it’s someone else’s. What to do with one’s life should be no one’s decision but that individual’s, and ending your own life is the ultimate act of self-determination.

  11. publicola says

    When my mother was dying of cancer, she made the decision to end treatment. I think she was tired of fighting, ( it was her third bout ), and perhaps just tired of living. Fortunately, hospice kept us supplied with enough morphine to keep away the pain. Eventually, she sunk into unconsciousness and died a peaceful death, for which I was grateful. I think it was the only peace she ever had.

  12. says

    John Morales@#8:
    Problem if otherwise: If someone is not mentally capable, then I think they should be treated as a loved pet: the burden of the decision is on their loved ones at best, those who support their life otherwise.

    Fair enough. I like that model.

    Imagine if your dog, when it was young and in its prime, wrote you a letter that said, “I can’t communicate my pain to you, but if I ever don’t get up to come eat for 3 days, give me the shot. It doesn’t matter if I look healthy, or not. That is my signal to you and I love you and forgive you in advance if you give me the shot because I had gas and didn’t feel like eating, oops.”

    Humans are capable of feeling existential despair, right? I have a friend who made a sort-of attempt at suicide out of pure existential angst – they were just sick of the grind, the meaninglessness, etc. Of course as a healthy-in-body 30 year-old our society is simply not going to accept that, and will do whatever it takes to keep a person alive – sadistically forcing them to experience all of the anguish of a full life whether they want it or not. Society forces such people to take the messy, irrepairable way out, a gun to the head, jumping in front of a train, etc. because it insists that, damn it, you have to have a full life and a job and responsibilities, etc. because we love you. That’s not love, that’s perversion.

  13. Sam N says

    My brother killed himself. I have nothing but compassion for how difficult his life was. His inability to enjoy life was a tragedy. His death wasn’t. I have also gone through long periods of my life feeling suicidal. I keep the particular combination of substances I would use outside of my home, so as to not take them impulsively. But unless I become so rapidly incapacitated as to be unable to move and think clearly, I will be going out that way. Maybe in 2 years, maybe in 30. Fortunately, I know enough about human physiology and how to obtain the substances to give me the death I would prefer (to painlessly fall asleep and never wake up) that I can exercise this option with or without the permission of a doctor or the state. All I would need is about $300 cash and the ability to get around.

    I can’t imagine a child wanting a parent to suffer through the end of a terminal illness. But I feel more circumspect in the absence of such an illness. A friend of mine shot himself when he still had a teenage daughter. Like my brother, he had a very difficult time enjoying life even though ostensibly healthy. In that case I feel like he had an obligation to keep living to help his daughter in any ways he could. I can’t imagine ever having children. The responsibility is just too awful. I feel a strong obligation to keep myself going until my parents die, which in of itself is exhausting. They’re so healthy right now they could live for decades. It’s not that I wish them to die, but I find my own feelings of obligation to avoid them the pain of losing another son are, as I said, exhausting. When I was working as a postdoc I remember very clearly, every time I got an airplane, hoping it would crash on the take off or landing, giving me a way out without the responsibility.

  14. Marissa van Eck says

    Religion is a problem here of course.

    Christianity and Islam forbid it, apparently because only Yahweh has the right to kill. What may surprise you is that Buddhism also looks down on it, and outright says that since killing one’s father or mother is an anantarika-karma (interval-less karma, i.e., ripens immediately on death), anyone who has anything to do with their own parents’ euthanasia even if they are asking for it will spend quintillions of years in Avici, the worst Hell.

    I really think humans are insane.

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