There Actually Are People You Should Kill

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In most places around the world, if you kill someone, you’re committing a crime. In some places, however, this isn’t always the case. In some places, if you’re a doctor and the person you kill:

a) Is of sound mind; and
b) Is suffering severely from a terminal illness; and
c) Can express their desire to end their life; and
d) Is not being coerced to do so;

Then it’s legal. What places? Washington, Oregon and Montana (in the USA) as well as Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. There, voluntary euthanasia (VE) is legal: in these places, a doctor can legally kill another person (as long as a number of criteria are met).

This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. This may or may not surprise you. The thing is… I think you agree with it too. I mean, I know a few people that object to legalising VE, but nobody actually seems to object to the principle.

The arguments against it usually go along two tracks: 1) that it goes against a religious doctrine, or, 2) a person provides examples or situations where we can’t guarantee VE was the right choice.

The arguments from religion, I have no response to. If people want a religion to choose for them what’s right or wrong, that’s their choice and I have no evidence they’d be wrong.

If, however, you form opinions based on your own reasoning then I simply don’t think it’s reasonable to disagree with the principle of VE. When people object, it’s usually to point out the ways in which legalizing VE is dangerous.

Examples include arguing that: trying to pin down the definition of being “of sound mind” is virtually impossible; being able to 100% verify that someone is of sound mind is hard; people spontaneously recover from terminal illnesses; people will find ways to coerce a loved one into death; and other similar points of contention.

All of these points are relevant and I see how each could lead to someone choosing VE when they didn’t have to. This, however, is an issue with how the laws are defined and enforced, not with the moral principle of VE.

In other words, people don’t have an underlying moral objection to VE. Sure, some people say regurgitate “suicide is wrong”, but I don’t think I’ve heard a reason why when looking at VE because these are people who are dying and will be suffering until they do. They are not being coerced and they are not having opportunities taken away from them; it is their expressed wish.

I understand that VE means that a parent would be taken from a child before their “natural” time. With empathy, I say that this argument really has nothing to do with the person dying – it’s to do with the pain of the people left behind.

To be clear, I don’t want to appear like I’m brushing off the difficulties inherent in the defining and enforcing of VE. But just because there are tricky questions, doesn’t mean we should reject a principle we believe in, nor stop trying to find a way for it to work with any of our legal frameworks.

There was a point a few decades ago where it wasn’t an option anywhere in the world. I think this stemmed from a foundation of laws based on dogma. But laws change as we change. We are free to align our laws with our consciences: if we believe people should die with dignity, we should work as hard as possible to make that a reality. Sure, the laws around VE might never be perfectly scripted or enforced all of the time.

But that applies to all laws; it doesn’t mean we should abandon having them.

Lastly, if you are interested in how some of the practical questions were solved when they were fiercely debated, here are some examples…

Q: How do we define “terminally ill”?
A: Diagnosis by two, independent medical specialists.

Q: How do we define “suffering severely”?
A: Diagnosis by two, independent medical specialists.

Q: How do you prevent coercion of the patient?
A: Access to medical, psychological, legal and financial advice.

Q: How do we define “of sound mind”?
A: Assessment by two independent clinical psychologists over a period of time.

Q: How do we prevent corruption in the process?
A: Impossible – as it always is. But unless all the criteria are genuinely attended to, the act (as it is now) would still be a form of homicide (or conspiracy to commit).

Q: How do we face the “do no harm” ethos?
A: Explicitly stipulate that doctors have no obligation to ever undertake any part of the VE process; each doctor can choose whether VE does harm or prevents it.

Are some of these answers not good enough? Have you got another question you’d need answered? Then at least we agree… VE is the right thing to do; we just need to work out the fine print. TC mark

featured image – las – initially

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