If the government believes it has the power to grant you the right to die, then it will eventually believe it has the power to decide who lives and who dies tout court
What is the “right” to die? Let’s learn by the example of a 24-year-old Belgian called “Laura” who claims to suffer from depression but who is otherwise of sound body, and who has applied to her government for the “right” to die.
Now there is no government that can stop a person from dying. Not in the sense of the determined suicide (or of the terminally ill or ancient decaying person who wants to live). Governments can and have declared suicide illegal, but not in the belief that this prevents a determined individual from killing himself, but (among other reasons) in the hopes that the act’s illegality will discourage the not-so-determined. If a person wondering whether to commit suicide figures that if he botches the job, as many do, purposely or otherwise, then he will face prison or confinement, he often will back out.
The person who kills himself affects those who are still alive. The governments that make suicide illegal care about the preserving the lives of its citizens (consistent with their natures; nobody argues keeping the aged alive “at all costs”), and it also cares about those who live on. A government that makes the act legal does not care about the lives of its citizens, in the sense that the loss of those who kill themselves and the effect this has on the remaining population is a matter of indifference. But this is too soft: not punishing those who kill or try to kill themselves must encourage others, so that indifference is at least tacit encouragement, leading, as we shall see, to active encouragement. (You can punish somebody after he dies by, for example, denying insurance benefits to his survivors or by not honoring his last will.)
What about encouragement? Those of rank and position in certain societies sometimes committed suicide as a means of self-punishment. Generals, for example, after losing winnable battles sometimes fell on their swords. This was still not rare up through World War II (and in Japan, the swords were literal; see Toland’s The Rising Sun, second volume). Others have killed themselves for fear of or for being discovered as having committed some terrible crime. These suicides were, and still to some extent are, seen as noble or even proper to some degree. Not by all and not completely, of course, but by many and in part. The effect on the rest of society has not been to encourage widespread suicide-as-self-punishment.
Most kill themselves for pathetic reasons and these acts are not looked on as noble or proper in countries where the act is (solidly) illegal. The family man who bankrupted himself and jumped off a bridge was said to be foolish, vain, and even selfish because he left his children without a father. These people sought “the easy way out”. The highly negative attitudes of the government and population formed a deterrent. And many who would have killed themselves have instead found rehabilitation.
“Laura” is pathetic. And so is ex-Englander Gill Pharaoh, 75, who killed herself recently at a “suicide clinic” because she feared growing old but who was otherwise fine. Suicide is not illegal in Belgium, and also not in Switzerland where Pharaoh was killed. Attitudes are changing. Here is the press report on Pharaoh’s suicide (ellipsis original):
She spent a last evening in Basel with her life partner John that he describes as “tranquil and enjoyable…Gill had been thinking about it for years and I had no intention of spoiling it by getting emotional and heavy.” Her daughter Caron, also a nurse, admits the decision was hard on her, but Pharaoh wrote in her blog post that while many parents expect their children to care for them in their old age, she would not to put that burden on her own kids. “I had children for the personal and selfish reason that I wanted them for the pleasure and joy they bring. I want them to enjoy their middle years without having to worry about me.” She concedes that “people will have different reactions to my choice,” but asks that lawmakers “listen to, and respect, the views of people like me, and I am not alone in holding this view.” Indeed, a study shows that 611 Brits went to Switzerland between 2008 and 2012 to medically end their lives.
And here is the report on “Laura”:
In a piece published last month that has enhanced timeliness now, Rachel Aviv asked in the New Yorker: “When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?” Her article details the case of Godelieva De Troyer, who had suffered from depression since age 19 and, after meeting Wim Distelmans—a professor of palliative medicine who has had a hand in more than 100 deaths by euthanasia—died with his help at age 64 in 2012. Her son has since challenged the laws around euthanasia, laws that Aviv writes “seem to have created a new conception of suicide as a medical treatment, stripped of its tragic dimensions.”
This language is of encouragement. Suicide is not pathetic, but it is not quite noble, either. The emotion is a happy sort of melancholy. Suicide is just another “choice”. That it is seen to be so is proof that a government’s indifference to life spills out onto its citizenry.
We finally come to the “right” to suicide. It cannot be that suicide is a right other than the sense that a government does not punish those will commit or attempt to commit the act. But this is not the sense that is used in those countries which have made the act legal. Instead, “right” means that the government must provide the means of the act. And those means include a person or persons who are obliged to kill or to assist in the killing.
A person who kills under orders from a government is either a soldier or an executioner. Belgium, Switzerland, and the others who have legalized suicide are not sending soldiers to kill their citizens, but executioners. Wim Distelmans is an executioner. Yet these executioners call themselves “doctors” who reside in “clinics” and in which is practiced “medicine.”
This proves that governments who legalize suicide have and must debase and corrupt language. They cannot say what is so but must speak in euphemism. That means that they have made it a subtle form of illegality to speak the truth. If you doubt this, try using the proper words on government forms or forums in places like Belgium. In reality, we are no longer speaking of suicide but of willful death by execution; state-sponsored execution. True suicides do not need government assistance.
The main reason suicide is now seen as a good is the adoption of utilitarianism in one form or another as the foundation of ethics and morality (never mind that the foundation is built on sand). The arguments given for killing somebody are that they have outlived their usefulness, or that they can no longer operate at peak efficiency, or that there is suspicion they will not be optimally happy (think of the two brothers who were going blind and who would miss seeing each other). Even the mechanism of death is utilitarian: it must be “painless” and factory-like efficient. Contrast this with a Japanese prince committing seppuku. Virtue is never spoken of. “Dignity” is.
These utilitarian arguments are convincing to government, because without them governments never would have legalized suicide in the first place. The arguments are certainly convincing to the people who used to be doctors but became executioners. The executioners, appointed or credentialed by government, are expert, at least, in human anatomy, and thus they know efficient ways to kill. They also, however, view themselves as experts in utilitarianism and so they also claim to know when to kill.
There have already been many instances of executioners killing those who they, the executioners thought (or, worse, felt) had outlived their usefulness. There is also less or no chance of a person changing his mind. These executioners, as is already clear, have the permission of their governments to do so. Governments are not prosecuting them for illegal acts. That means government agrees with its executioners. Governments are complicit.
All that is lacking is a directive, something in writing somewhere, even a note in the back page of some ponderous book of regulations will do. This note will make the government an active agent in the process. “At the doctor’s discretion,” it might read, “those patients whose lives no longer meet the official medical standard may be gently, and most tenderly, euthanized.”
It is at that point that government will have given itself the power to decide who lives and who dies. That point is coming soon (and may even be here: I do not claim expertise in the legal and regulatory codes of those countries with legalized suicide). And when it arrives, it will be simplicity itself for governments, staffed with credentialed experts, to believe they have the right to define the official life standard so that it conforms to whatever utilitarian standard desired.
Given that this will happen in those countries that already embrace abortion, it means the government has you coming and going.
Update Also see YOS’s comment below.
Update I accept congratulations for my predictions, thank you very much. “Dutch Court Orders Woman With Dementia Euthanized“. Woman’s own doctors and family said no, but executioners at a charnel house said “Kill her”. Court agree with executioners.
This was the first time in the history of Dutch euthanasia legislation that an institution had refused to allow a patient to be euthanased. From a legal point of view, the most interesting feature of the case is that the judge gave more weight to the opinion of the doctors at the Levenseindekliniek than the woman’s own medical staff because they had “specialized medical knowledge and experience”.