Monday, December 29, 2008

Euthanasia in Theory vs. Assisted Suicide Laws

A few days ago, I wrote about an assisted suicide initiative that recently passed in Washington State. Bollo commented that it seemed as if I was berating Catholics in that post. That really wasn't my intention at all. Because of my daughter's current religious exploration of Catholicism and my own nostalgic feelings about this religion's influence on the culture I grew up around, I often visit websites by and/or for Catholics. That's how I found out about what's going on in Washington State. I tried to make it clear that my suggestions about end of life issues apply to all of us who consider ourselves religious/spiritual/persons of faith.

That post was mostly about my conflicted feelings about assisted suicide. In reality, I think my position is really close to how many Catholics feel about it. I do believe that all life has value and that we shouldn't accept the idea that we should suspend this concept when it comes to people with disabilities.

If society really thinks that assisted suicide is ethical, then why do these laws limit it to those with disabilities? If we really believe that people with disabilities have just as much worth as those who are seemingly non-disabled, then why do people behave as if it's somehow acceptable for doctors to help end our lives but seek to keep it illegal for doctors to end the lives of the non-disabled?

It's not that I'm necessarily against euthanasia. I'm simply against the ablist philosophy that, in effect, says that we should support doctors removing certain kinds of people--disabled people--from society with as much haste as we can convince the doctors and patients to go along with. There's plenty of evidence that the same strategies that help non-disabled people dealing suicidal ideation also work to help many people with disabilities who are experiencing the same feelings.

13 comments:

Carla said...

For clarification's sake, doctor assisted aid in dying laws such as those in Washington and Oregon don't have anything to do with the disabled.

Only those individuals who are terminally-ill with less than six months to live can qualify to access these laws.

I hope that clears up some misunderstandings on this issue. Please feel free to stop by the Compassion & Choices website to learn more.

Carla Axtman
Online Community Builder
Compassion & Choices
www.compassionandchoices.org

bint alshamsa said...

Carla,

What you're saying isn't logical. Even those who are considered "terminally-ill with less than six months to live" are people with disabilities, so these laws have A LOT to do with us. As a matter of fact, as someone who has been considered "terminally-ill" but did not die, I am proof that these laws are very relevant for all people with disabilities.

If you'd like to clear up some misunderstandings, feel free to come back and do so but what you've stated here really doesn't do that.

hymes said...

I'll visit "Compassion and Choice"'s website right after I visit the site of a serial killer. This is about people with disabilities, a woman whose only disability was depression was helped to die by a pro-assisted suicide group in the United States. Thank goodness they are being prosecuted. The woman's family was not informed nor included in her "decision" even though they were close to her and very involved in her life. Kevorkian assisted the suicide of people with disabilities who weren't terminally ill at all, mostly women interestingly enough. In Oregon a woman was sent a letter saying the state would not pay for her cancer drug but it would pay for her assisted suicide.

I guess I have no ambivalence at all about assisted suicide...

bint alshamsa said...

I don't know if Carla will be back or not but if she does, I'd love to hear whether or not she has ever been diagnosed as being "terminally ill". I certainly hope that someone who has never been in this situation would try to preach to those of us who have.

Carla said...

What you're saying isn't logical. Even those who are considered "terminally-ill with less than six months to live" are people with disabilities, so these laws have A LOT to do with us. As a matter of fact, as someone who has been considered "terminally-ill" but did not die, I am proof that these laws are very relevant for all people with disabilities.

Bint: Only those individuals diagnosed with a terminal illness and six months to live can access the laws in Oregon and Washington, whether they've a disability or not.

Perhaps I should have been more clear in my explanation. These are not laws specifically for and about individuals with disabilities.

Carla Axtman
Online Community Builder
www.compassionandchoices.org

bint alshamsa said...

Carla,

You're still not being logical. What do you think being terminally-ill means? It means you have a disability and that disability is expected to result in your death. It is impossible to be terminally-ill and not be disabled. Sheesh!

Maybe an example will help. Look at the following statement:

"I can fry shrimp and oysters but I certainly can't fry seafood, regardless of what kind it is.

Can you see why that statement is illogical? If I say that I can cook shrimp and oysters, then I'm saying that I can cook certain kinds of seafood, because shrimp and oysters are seafood.

Similarly, if you say that assisted suicide laws are only for those who have a terminal illness and six months to live, then you're saying that these laws are for people with disabilities because those who have a terminal illness and six months to live are people with disabilities.

hymes said...

I'm guessing Carla has never been told she has a life limiting illness. I can choose whether or not to consider my psychiatric diagnosis of PTSD a disability or not, some choose not to, but I can't get choose not to consider kidney failure a disability. Even after transplant, I know my life expectancy is limited because most cadaver transplants last 10 years or less, the anti-rejection drugs greatly increase my chance of getting cancer and if I get cancer post-transplant on anti-rejection drugs my chance of surviving any kind of cancer is only 20%. I know how lucky I am to have this extra time and I know how lucky I am to live in a country that pays for dialysis and transplants, I am not complaining at all. But the idea that having a terminal or life limiting illness is not a disability is so absurd I just can't believe someone who has faced it would say it has nothing to do with people with disabilities.

Bollo said...

ok, sorry if that went through twice, it didn't seem to work at all.

Bollo said...

ok, that's odd, the first two times I didn't get a confirmation, but with that one I did, so in case that didn't work, here is my actual post:

Thanks, I think I get what you're saying now. I did misread it as a criticism of Catholic inconsistency, where I don't see inconsistency.

I share many of your concerns around this issue particularly "I do believe that all life has value and that we shouldn't accept the idea that we should suspend this concept when it comes to people with disabilities."

I do believe that suicide (and therefore euthanasia) is a sin, though I cannot condemn it in those who are driven to it by their circumstances (well I shouldn't be condemning anyone, that's not for me to say, but I empathise with them).

And I have no problem with assisted suicide in those who are not Catholic, and make the choice out of their own free will, and in those cases would be happy for it to be legal. But I share many people's worry that if legal, it would be hard to legislate against people feeling pressured into it, by circumstances, or other people, where really their life has much to offer. Particularly as you say, in the case of disabled people, who's lives often seemed to be devalued by people, no matter how people say that they do not.

alexandralynch said...

I think any time you deal with end of life decisions of any sort you wind up with messes.

I know right now that since I am poor and living in America that I will commit suicide if I am diagnosed with a terminal disease. I can't afford to pay for treatment. I know my husband feels the same way, because he's said so often.

There's disability and disability. The person who has to make the value judgement about living or dying is the disabled person themselves. Doctor assistance has the potential to be very, very messy and muddled and problematic.

Carla said...

bint:

You say:

You're still not being logical. What do you think being terminally-ill means? It means you have a disability and that disability is expected to result in your death.

Are you really saying that living with a disability is the same as dying with a terminal illness?

Please clarify.

Carla Axtman
Online Community Builder
Compassion & Choices
www.compassionandchoices.org

bint alshamsa said...

Carla,

Are you really saying that living with a disability is the same as dying with a terminal illness?

I'm not sure how I can make this any clearer for you. A terminal illness is a kind of disability. Everyone who is now alive is dying. Some people will die sooner than others but, no matter what you might want to believe, we are ALL dying. A person with a terminal illness is simply a person with a disability that a doctor or a team of doctors have decided will probably die within the next six months.

You know, it really is more than a little bit sad that someone who is a supporter of these laws seems to have so little understanding of basic disability/medical issues. Carla, are you a person with disabilities? Have you ever been diagnosed as terminally-ill? I'm curious because I've never met anyone who had been diagnosed as terminally-ill who didn't understand that they were disabled.

The majority of arguments made for physician-assisted suicide are based on the premise that being terminally-ill is a disabling condition.

1. You're not able to enjoy the same quality of life as others.

2. It's excruciatingly painful.

3. It takes away ones ability to exercise bodily autonomy.

All of these are reasons that people give for why terminally-ill people need to have physician-assisted suicide as an option made available to them. These are also reasons why terminal-illness is as disabling as conditions that are not described as terminal.

If you think that being terminally-ill is not a disability, then what is the basis for making it available to some segments of society and not others? Are you able to back up any of your claims? What is your connection to this issue?

thinking said...

"If society really thinks that assisted suicide is ethical, then why do these laws limit it to those with disabilities? If we really believe that people with disabilities have just as much worth as those who are seemingly non-disabled, then why do people behave as if it's somehow acceptable for doctors to help end our lives but seek to keep it illegal for doctors to end the lives of the non-disabled?"

I totally agree with these questions but I end up in a different (I think) place on the answer.

This society's relentless focus on "being alive" as an ultimate goal that should be accepted no matter what is sick, in my opinion.

I have always seen the automatic pathologizing of "suicidal ideation" to be wrong. Maybe it is a problem for some, but it is not necessarily a problem for all. Those for whom it is a problem speak sometimes as if they speak for everyone. That is wrong.

I think it is wrong that this society places so much emphasis on staying physically alive as a goal for most of its members (and then those who are not included have to fight for their right to be part of this).

In fact, I believe that this emphasis on staying alive no matter what is one of its mechanisms of control for the people it affects. Since you can't choose to die in peace, you have to do what the system demands of you because otherwise you will suffer under it because there is no peaceful non-violent effective exit you can choose.

At the same time, I understand staying alive is extremely and intensely important to many people (obviously) and so I think there should be good strong support for that.

I think these assisted suicide laws are better on the books than not, but that they are not broad enough. Not that this would ever happen (too much loss of societal control and coercion of those who are alive and deemed "valuable" for use by society) but why not make peaceful suicide broadly available for everyone, and allow people to choose this if they want and when they want? Put in a waiting period or something to help those who are not truly interested in suicide but feel bad at a particular point in time.

Oh, wait, no, anyone who would want to die peacefully by their own choice is mentally ill unless they are terminally ill as described ... so they are out of their minds and insane and must be controlled for their own good.

In the meantime, people who would like this choice are forced to either not have it, to die a surreptitious and often violent death, or to try and end up still alive "for their own good."

The whole set up is sick and it is part of this society's control mechanism.

I agree that the laws only covering those they cover is wrong. It focuses attention on the wrong things and this discussion here shows that focus.

But then, what can we expect from a society like this one that is so sick when it comes to dynamics of illness, human mortality and death?