William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Proposed Scottish Law To Allow 16-Year-Olds To Have “Doctors” Kill Them

“Assisted” death is not murder.

How many of you have kids? Remember when they were around the sixteen-year mark? Somewhat volatile emotionally, would you not agree? Particularly females of the species. Laughter today, bitter tears tomorrow, indifference by mid-week.

At least in this country and in these times, a sixteen-year-old is not considered to have reached adulthood. It’s not that some kids can’t think and act in a mature fashion, but we have learned that the overwhelming majority cannot. This is why we, say, restrict voting to those eighteen and over, or disallow kids from seeking without parental permission their own medical treatment.

Except for abortions, of course. That sacred right cannot be superseded by mere parental desire. Since this duty of young females to (surgically) remove impediments for leading an unburdened life cannot be questioned, I do not question it.

Instead consider instead this hypothetical. Your sixteen-year-old daughter, fresh off a breakup and therefore distraught, wanders into her GP’s office and says to him (or her!), “Doctor, I find life intolerable.” He (or she!) replies, “Intolerable is that which cannot be tolerated. Therefore, take this pill.” She does, her eyes go wide for second, and she drops dead. The doctor then picks up the corpse and props it into a corner where it, with the others, will be picked up in that evening’s disposal run.

Ha ha! Just kidding!

The doctor would never give her a pill. He’d shoot her up with an overdose of morphine instead. (And if the little girl is pregnant at the time, two birds—to use the British slang, I hope appropriately—could be killed with one stone(d).)

Or so Margo MacDonald Member Scottish Parliament would decree (pdf). She would only stipulate the person doing the killing (i.e. the “doctor”) have a medical degree (so he can know his killing worked; we’d hate to mistakenly dispose of not-yet-dead bodies) and the 16-year-old must “have either a terminal illness or a terminal condition.”

Now it’s unclear if, at least in these early days, the emotional ending of a “relationship” would be considered a “terminal condition”, but given enough time, and the present momentum in moral attitudes, smart money says it will be. Anybody recall the two Belgian brothers who killed themselves because they discovered they were going blind? Blindness wasn’t going to kill them, you see, but it would have made them sad. Therefore a “doctor” killed the pair (at their behest).

What is a “terminal illness”? A forecast, a doctor’s best guess that the course of a disease will kill the patient. However, this isn’t sufficient as a definition because everybody dies. In this sense, everybody suffers from a “terminal” illness. Thus a “real” terminal illness implies a limited time reference. What is “limited”? Six months? A year? Two years? Ten?

Since MacDonald’s proposed law doesn’t say, this trivial detail is presumably to be left to the patient and the “doctor” who would kill his (or her!) patients. Many doctors, and even “doctors”, are notoriously bad at making death-date predictions. We’ve all heard the (true) story of the patient given six months to live, but who go on for years, decades later.

What happens if—nay, when—the “doctor” who kills one of his patients, distraught from the news she has only weeks to live and therefore deciding it intolerable to linger, later discovers he read the wrong chart, or had it upside down? Oops. Well, what’s a mistakenly killed person or two against progress?

Plus, these kinds of inevitable mistakes will be a boon to the legal industry. Just wait for the first “doctor” who is discovered to be a beneficiary of his ex-”patient”. I can’t wait to see the New York Post headlines!

No law has ever stood in the way of a determined person killing herself. This action, in English, is called suicide, an obvious point which nevertheless must be made, because that word defines a singular, personal act. One cannot commit suicide except on oneself. In particular, one cannot assist in a suicide except unknowingly—say, the hardware salesman who unwittingly sells a man a plastic bag which the man later uses to asphyxiate himself.

One can hand Romeo his poison, but if one does so knowing it is poison and is reasonably sure of Romeo’s intent, then one has not provided assistance but is complicit in an act of homicide. Far better then to call “assisted suicide” laws what they really are. I suggest “doctors legally killing their patients” laws.

Update MacDonald has been kind enough to post public responses to the proposed law on her web page. The laughs start with the very first one. One Guy Johnstone wrote:

Rather than see an animal suffer, the kindest thing is to put it to sleep.
Why, therefore, should we not offer the same dignity & understanding to our loved ones…

Yes. Humans put down in the same manner as rabid dogs. Well, it’s for their own good.

17 Comments

  1. Briggs, your obsession with female reproductive issues and what gay men may or may not get up to knows no bounds. Unfortunately typical for middle-aged men who become obsessed with religion.

  2. Briggs

    24 March 2013 at 4:38 pm

    andyd,

    Say! That was nearly relevant!

  3. We do not kill a dog or cat because it is suffering. We kill it because WE are suffering. It’s too difficult to watch the animal deteriorate and let nature take its course. We tell ourselves it’s for the benefit of the animal, but it is not. Will we find the same thing with humans–they cost too much too keep alive or we are too saddened by their presence so we “humanely dispatch” them (we kill them just like we do the dog–euphemisms are just a way to sooth our conscious). Already people are devastated by an Alzheimer’s diagnoses in a loved one. How far off is it to argue the patient would be better off dead?

  4. Doctors have already been given the power to Define states of life:
    A fetus is not a baby because a doctor MAKES it so (using hippie I-say-so-magic).

    Before murdering someone, post-birth, doctors can either re-Define ‘murder’ (perhaps: assisted life-state choosing), or else they can re-Define a human who wants to die (perhaps: homo no-more-sapien-therefore-can-kill-like-dog-um).

    The ultimate goal of such things as gay-marriage is to destroy the institution itself: similarly at some point, murder (taking a life) as an institution, can also be destroyed. That is what ‘assisted suicide’ seems to boil down to (excepting the extremes where medical ‘science’ keeps people alive beyond all limits of sense and sanity).

    After a few more evil Christian ‘rules’ have been destroyed, Hell will have been reproduced on Earth: a place where there is no good, no evil, no right, no wrong – only different levels of power between the doers and the done-toos.

    Meh.

  5. “She would only stipulate the person doing the killing (i.e. the “doctor”) have a medical degree (so he can know his killing worked; we’d hate to mistakenly dispose of not-yet-dead bodies) and the 16-year-old must “have either a terminal illness or a terminal condition.””

    Every 16 year old has a terminal condition. It’s called life. It is the nature of things that things which live must eventually die.

    Note: I do not support allowing minors to deliberately hasten the process.

  6. Correction to my prior post.

    It is the nature of things that all things which live must eventually die.

  7. We have bigger worries in the UK than the not-yet-available “assisted suicide”, namely the “Liverpool Care Pathway”, under which National Health Service staff may decide secretly, and apparently legally, to cease treating or caring for a patient, regardless of the wishes of that patient or their family. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/search/?queryText=liverpool+pathway&Search=

  8. We don’t have to worry about the “Care Pathways” here in the USA. We were assured that could NEVER happen here.
    (/sarc)

    (Note to Jeremy: I am not making light of the problem in England. It’s serious, I know.)

  9. If your child seems suicidal, take any threats of suicide very seriously. Death is just a gun away. Why assisted suicide?

    Government knows better than you what’s best for you at the end of your life. Yep, better make sure that assisted suicide won’t someday become legal.

  10. Sheri says: “We do not kill a dog or cat because it is suffering. We kill it because WE are suffering. It’s too difficult to watch the animal deteriorate and let nature take its course. We tell ourselves it’s for the benefit of the animal, but it is not.”

    OFTEN exactly the opposite is true: some pet owners (pretty much ALL of those I’ve observed first hand) will keep a pet miserable & suffering because the owner cannot bring themselves to accept the inevitable — and to prolong the pet’s misery they will often expend considerable funds on considerable hopeless treatment that only prolong the duration & intensity of the misery of the pet.

    How many court cases address the battle of withholding lifesaving treatments? Such by some is considered “assisted suicide.”

  11. I watched the movie “Never Let Me Go” the other night. It is a disturbing story. I found that it encapsulates progressive thinking about the value of life, and how many “beneficial” programs can could be substituted for the Nation Donor Program in terms of relegating humans to various grades of chattel with a specified purpose and design.

  12. For anyone who has ACTUALLY READ the PROPOSED BILL from Margo MacDonald, Member Scottish Parliament, one finds it is entirely about removing some contradictions in the law associated with assisted suicide, and addressing some shortcomings identified with related laws.

    At its core the proposed bill is about resolving a legally-established contradiction: Killing oneself [or trying to] is legal but helping someone kill themself [or trying to] is a crime.

    Also, in Scotland what we in the USA call the age of legal adulthood as 18 or 21 (in various jurisdictions for various things in various times) is 16 (reference Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 (c.50)). So all the fuss in Brigg’s essay about the age 16 limit is, in reality misguided as that age is set by other legal precedent and that covers much more than this bill addresses.

    The Proposed bill recommends a qualifying person must:

    • be capable (i.e. have the mental capacity to make an informed decision – using the definition established by the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2001)
    • be registered with a medical practice in Scotland
    • be aged 16 or over
    • have either a terminal illness or a terminal condition
    • find their life intolerable.

    THOSE criteria are based on real-world criteria that have been put to the test; per the bill: “several organisations operating in Switzerland with perhaps the best known internationally being Dignitas, based in Forch, near Zurich; the latest data published by them show that 160 Britons have travelled there over the past 10 years for an accompanied suicide with another 765 people currently registered.”

    The Member of Parliment cites an absence of evidence of malpractice there.

    Clearly, there’s nothing impulsive permitted in the bill’s criteria that could accommodate a flighty teenager’s transient depression over a relationship break-up. So right off, that element of the blog essay is at best misleading.

    This blog could have been a thoughtful essay about the proposed law, in associated legal context that is highly relevant, etc. but instead was a highly selective, emotional and misleading parody of the reality it purports to relate to. In some groups, such a misleadingly distorted presentation such as Briggs presents of what is actually proposed would be considered a “lie,” though andyd, who provided the first comment here, is probably closer to nailing it.

    Briggs ends with the following, which he considers funny in its way:

    “Rather than see an animal suffer, the kindest thing is to put it to sleep. Why, therefore, should we not offer the same dignity & understanding to our loved ones…”

    THAT sentiment happens to be intrinsic to many cultures throughout history — Eskimo’s elderly who were too infirm were left for the polar bear; Japanese honor suicide (Seppuku) also comes to mind as an example where the “pain” stems from one’s damaged integrity, rather than health. That sentiment mocked so openly is also held by a sizable proportion of societies today.

  13. A point of Scottish Law. If only Arlen Specter were here to vote “Not Proven”.

  14. Assisted suicide is one of those notions that sounds like a mere exercise of one’s rights as a self-owner…until you stop to ponder the horrors it opens up.

    Doctors control many instruments of death. Some of them are sometimes administered accidentally. Do we really want such a doctor to be able to say “he asked for it?”

    Doctors often find particular patients too demanding, or annoying, or medically intractable to be borne. Do we really want such a doctor to be able to say “she asked for it?”

    Then there’s the family. Families can be a source of irresistible pressure on a sick man — and when the bills start to pile up, one cannot be certain that they’ll have the sick man’s interests at heart. Do we want to create a situation in which a family might bully a sick man into accepting quietus against his true desires?

    Finally, government. Governments in America now foot approximately half of all medical bills — and those bills are highest when an elderly person is being treated for a disease of old age, or a degenerative malady. Do we really want governments to feel an interest in “persuading” doctors to commit euthanasia…possibly against the will of the person so honored?

    Pain can be controlled. Depression can be treated. Death is irreversible. Err on the side of life — and refuse to countenance assisted suicide, which is merely murder by a sweeter name.

  15. Consider Milton Friedman’s assessment of a Stanford U. student’s question that came down to: ‘do we have the right to sin?’ — in a free society the answer must be yes:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q84y08nu74I

    Similar logic can be applied to assisted suicide.

  16. Apparently no climate statistics news.

  17. “‘do we have the right to sin?’ — in a free society the answer must be yes: ”

    Obviously we do not have the “right” to do a “wrong”, or what would the word “right” even mean? We may have license to sin, for it is not sensible to have a government that punishes every imaginable crime, but that’s it.

    Suicide is “legal” only in the sense that no one on earth can punish you for it. If a person comes to you and says they intend to kill themselves, you have a moral obligation to try and prevent the suicide, not to ASSIST in it. The whole idea of “assisted suicide” is therefore a wholesale abdication of one’s duty as a human being.

    The question that’s never addressed, by the way, is this: just how much “assistance” do you need to commit suicide? Even if you approve of the person’s idea to commit suicide, why not just leave your pistol on the kitchen table and let them do it themselves? Where I’m going with this: clearly the push for “assisted suicide” is not based on a widespread and unmet need for “assistance”. What they’re trying to promote is “suicide”, period.

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