William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Legalized Suicide Leads To Government Deciding Who Lives, Who Dies. Update: Predictions Verified

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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”.

32 Comments

  1. “That point is coming soon (and may even be here…”

    Two words: Planned Parenthood

  2. @Gary,

    I detest the name of Planned Parenthood. Do they provide assisted fertility services? No. They provide abortion services and contraception. They are about avoiding parenthood not planning for it.

  3. Sander van der Wal

    August 7, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Actually, “right” means that governments do not charge the people who helped the suicidal in some way (by providing the drug, for instance) with manslaughter, homicide or whatnot. Helping the suicidal has to be legal, within certain observable boundaries of course. A mugger who stabbed his victim to death won’t be able to use that law to get of the hook by insisting that the victim wanted to be stabbed to death.

  4. @MattS
    Euphemisms cover a load of sins.

  5. I recall the incident in Belgium or the Netherlands where a woman used the legal assisted suicide because she had tinnitus (ringing of the ears). She left two teen-age sons without a parent. Very thoughtful, very unselfish!

  6. The term “doctor” obviously no longer means “healer”. With abortion and executions, doctors can hardly be said to be in the business of helping people stay healthy or healing the sick. Then there’s the aftermarket hermaphrodites, the drugged kids who refuse to sit still on command, the medicalization of virtually everything in life. For the doctors who do care, this whole mess tends to make them cranky (mine gets more so each year) as they try to practice medicine instead of politics.

    Oh, there is no such thing as “assisted suicide”. Suicide is killing yourself. No one can help with that. If you lack the nerve to oft yourself, then having someone else do it is basically asking for someone to execute you , as Briggs says. Having a doctor do it is paying someone to kill you. In any other setting, paying for death would be illegal. It’s a convoluted and dishonest. Not surprising for a government, of course.

  7. I don’t see the need to keep looking to Belgium about the ethics…when here in the U.S. there’s a few states with assisted suicide laws on the books, some for a rather long time. Oregon appears to be the first, with debates in some states indicating more will continue to follow.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there’s no Constitutional right to suicide, so that pretty much puts ensures regulation by individual states, not the Fed. With different criteria serving to highlight various risks & trade-offs…and from the available data it doesn’t appear to be all that worrisome.

    Of these laws (U.S.) a common theme is that the patient must self-administer any prescribed fatal drug — so the “doctor” is not committing the act. Nor is the government (so that entire line of concern & philosophical argument is N/A in the U.S.).

    Oregon’s data shows something like 40 percent of those that reach the stage where they can get such a prescription opt out of suicide after all (though a sizable proportion of that group dies of natural causes–that being their terminal illnesses); a sizable proportion that do commit suicide are well educated (well over half have college degrees or some college), the vast majority are old, and have cancer or other serious illness — with roughly three-quarters being terminally ill. That’s a demographic not so easily duped (see public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year17.pdf ).

    So the sensational risks of abuse by others (motivated by various reasons) do not appear supported by actual data. Put another way, the numbers appear so low that where such abuse might exist, it is quite possibly on par with more routine criminal acts (e.g. murder staged to look like an accident to collect the inheritance).

    Given that only about a fourth of those pursuing suicide as an option are not terminally ill (i.e., are not engaged in avoiding misery on their way to an unavoidable death anyway), an objective analysis would seek to compare evidence of abuse involving/directed at those 25-percent-ish that might have otherwise survived. Do the indicators of abuse in that group compare are more, less, or about the same as indicators of potential murder-for-inheritance, for example? That’s a tough analysis to collect data for, but would provide relevant points of comparison.

    No system is abuse-free; the question ought not be that some allowance for some behavior is subject to abuse so much as is that abuse any worse, or better, than the alternative? Philosophically-based emotional examples founded on cherry-picked extreme examples, by design, miss the point…but then that is the point, isn’t it? (not to get to an objective answer…but to get to a very particular answer–with that answer supported by a so-called “analysis” designed to look more objective and rational than it really is)

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    August 7, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Coincidentally, this also appeared today. It must be something in the water.
    http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2015/08/07/sweet-till-seventeen/

  9. Ken, I’ll quote from my post on euthanasia, to refute your argument “the…risk of abuse by others (motivated by various reasons) do not appear to be supported by actual data”:
    “A large proportion of the euthanasia deaths are not requested, i.e. they are involuntary; see links above and Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide–the illusion of safeguards and controls. These involuntary deaths cover a wide span of conditions: coma, presumed senile dementia, defective infants, family requests (the last makes murder mystery plots obsolete).”
    The links given refers to euthanasia in the low countries:
    https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/euthanasia-is-out-of-control-in-the-netherlands-new-dutch-statistics
    http://www.catholicireland.net/euthanasia-belgium-control/

    A fuller discussion is given in my post on “The Fifth Commandment: the Slippery Slope of Euthanasia” (shameless self-promotion again).

  10. Yes.

    In addition, you may want to read this
    Useless Eaters: Disability as Genocidal Marker in Nazi Germany
    by Mark P. Mostert

    This is the work from which I took my title (see telearb.net) – – intro
    from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7019
    —-
    The methods used for mass extermination in the Nazi death camps originated and were perfected in earlier use against people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. This article describes the historical context of attitudes toward people with disabilities in Germany and how this context produced mass murder of people with disabilities prior to and during the early years of World War II. Several key marker variables, the manipulation of which allowed a highly sophisticated Western society to officially sanction the murder of people with disabilities, are examined. Important implications must continually be drawn from these sad events as we work with people with disabilities at the dawn of a new century.

    Would you, if you were a cripple, want to vegetate forever? — Dr. Tergesten, in the propaganda film Ich Klage an!

  11. The German doctors were early and enthusiastic supporters of Hitler. The president of the German medical association wrote Hitler a letter after he came to power and said the association backed him. That’s why so many German doctors were in the dock at Nuremburg accused of war crimes.
    http://www.aleteia.org/en/health/article/lives-not-worth-living-the-nazi-eugenic-dream-in-our-own-time-5875841217069056.

  12. Well I certainly consider lawful voluntary killing (euthanasia) being more ethical than lawful unvoluntary killing (death penalty).

  13. Ken: Objectively speaking, there cannot be assisted suicide. Suicide is killing yourself. You are talking about getting someone to kill you, and if it’s a doctor, you’re paying someone to kill you. Legalize homicide. Not suicide.

    There is no harm by keeping suicide illegal and assisted suicide/homicide. If someone wants to die, there is nothing you can do to keep them from killing themselves. If they won’t kill themselves, why should anyone help? It’s obviously not that bad. Now, if you want to throw in “vegetative states” maybe that matters, maybe not. If one does not wish to live in a “vegetative state” virtually all states have provisions for living wills. When you go in the hospital, they ask if you have one. Then, no heroic efforts are taken to save you–you are refusing treatment. Then later one no one has to hire someone from the medical profession to kill you or kill you themselves. Plan ahead.

  14. Hans: How enlightened of you. What happens when euthanasia becomes the substitute for the death penalty? We can’t sentence someone to death, so a shank in a prison cell, and viola, problem solved. It’s mercy killing—keeps the guy from having to be incarcerate and treated like the criminal he is. Then we find the members of the victims of the criminal are very, very depressed, so time for another mercy killing. Euthanasia does not involve consent. It can be used whenever for whatever one wants to claim. For that matter, “assisted suicide” is another great homicide method. You may or may not go to jail. In Oregon, probably not. Elsewhere, maybe. I find the whole thing so wonderfully useful to the homicidal elements of society and the government should they want to reduce the population. Yes, Hans it’s a wonderful idea. Also, your opinion on the death penalty is not relevent here. We are talking here of forced executions/hired homicides of people who did nothing wrong except have the audacity to become ill or to hate life. The death penalty is for people who did do something wrong, very wrong. It’s not even similar. Then there’s being pro-abortion and anti-death penalty. Kill babies but not murders. What a value system.

  15. @Sheri

    “If one does not wish to live in a “vegetative state” virtually all states have provisions for living wills. When you go in the hospital, they ask if you have one. Then, no heroic efforts are taken to save you–you are refusing treatment. ”

    That’s not necessarily enough. Most hospitals and coma care centers don’t consider feeding tubes heroic. If you are basically brain dead, but your body still has a heart beat and is breathing on it’s own, most medical facilities will not withhold feeding without a court order.

  16. MattS: If you are very specific about measures, for example, no feeding tube, no ventilator, etc. then the hospital is supposed to abide by this. When my mother died, I thought she had a living will, but they still called and asked about what to do. Since when they first called, they had no idea what was going on, she was put on a ventilator because I said okay. Later, I told them they had to stop because there was no chance of recovery. So your relatives may be able to over ride your wishes. I also had a friend remove the DNR on her father and then he stopped breathing for seven minutes and when they got him breathing, he was brain dead. They are not a panacea, but there is absolutely no way to cover every contingency. One has to go for the most benefit with the least downside. Personally, I trust a living will far further than my local government officials who might be making decisions on whether I live or die.

  17. “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”

    The USA is the only developed country who appear in the leading death executioner list:
    China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US (the only G7 country to still execute people) carried out the most executions last year. Meaning the USA are comparable to Iran and North Korea.

    So the U.S. are already among the government that decides who lives and who dies.

  18. @MattS

    If you’re basically braindead but otherwise in decent shape, (most?) hospitals will keep you alive until they’ve gotten the go-ahead for selling your organs. A strong incentive package, and universally hailed as a good thing.

    Asking because I don’t know: What’s the Catholic stance on harvesting functioning (ie, non-dead) organs from the functioning (ie, non-dead) bodies of the legally dead?

  19. I’ve argued the same points on numerous occasions. Thusly:

    Even a life of pain, even a life of suffering, has value. Taking that life, for selfish reasons, is wrong; regardless of who takes it.

    Feel free to quote me.

  20. Sylvan,

    The difference between justice and selfishness is so utterly profound that your fallacious moral equivalency argument is utterly pathetic.

  21. John thank you, but if i ever would be diagnosed with lethal cancer i will topple myself. Nobody can make me to undergo the useless painful delay of dying. And it will be in the presence of a doctor and my family.

  22. Greg:
    See
    https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=1147

    In other words the death may not be hastened deliberately to facilitate the harvest of organs, but if the patient is declared “brain dead”, that suffices for determination of death. See
    http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=1285
    This approach was approved Pope St. John Paul II.

  23. Ye Olde Statistician

    August 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    The only way to know that a cancer is lethal is to die. I’ve known three people who developed brain cancer. One died; the other two underwent the “painful delay of dying” and are now, years later, getting around quite well.

    The purpose, I suppose, is to get folks used to killing other people when they become economically useless or their “quality of life” slips below the threshold and they become, as the Germans once put it, “life unworthy of life.”

  24. @Bob

    Thanks!

    (Aside: I like the phrase “delay the death of other persons” in place of the usual “save lives.”)

  25. Greg: “selling your organs”? I thought that was illegal unless you were a blob of tissue inside a woman.

  26. John,

    That you call suicide a selfish act shows depth of your ignorance. People who kill themselves don’t do it to please themselves but because they see themselves as a burden to society.

    What you people don’t understand is that assisted suicide gives the chance to save the life of the person who request assistance. People that don’t this help can kill themselves stealthily without no one having a chance to save them because no one knows of their intentions.

    The process of assisted suicide takes months and is not decided by the government but by the recommendations of Health care professional, physician, psychologists and psychiatrists and is guided by strict guidelines

    For example see here:

    http://www.assnat.qc.ca/Media/Process.aspx?MediaId=ANQ.Vigie.Bll.DocumentGenerique_72865en&process=Default&token=ZyMoxNwUn8ikQ+TRKYwPCjWrKwg+vIv9rjij7p3xLGTZDmLVSmJLoqe/vG7/YWzz

    “(1) be of full age, be capable of giving consent to care and be an insured person within the meaning of the Health Insurance Act (chapter A-29);

    (2) suffer from an incurable serious illness;

    (3) suffer from an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and

    (4) suffer from constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain which cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.

    The patient must request medical aid in dying themselves, in a free and informed manner, by means of the form prescribed by the Minister. The form must be dated and signed by the patient or, if the patient is physically incapable of doing so, by a third person. The third person may not be a minor or an incapable person of full age or a member of the team responsible for caring for the patient.

    The form must be signed in the presence of a health or social services professional who countersigns it; if the professional countersigning is not the attending physician, the signed form is given to the attending physician.

    27. A patient may, at any time and by any means, withdraw their request for medical aid in dying.

    28. Before administering medical aid in dying, the physician must
    (1) be of the opinion that the patient meets the criteria of section 26, after,

    among other things,

    (a) making sure that the request is being made freely and without any external pressure;

    (b) making sure that the request is an informed one, in particular by informing the patient of the prognostic and of other therapeutic possibilities and their consequences;

    (c) verifyingthepersistenceofsufferingandthatthewishtoobtainmedical aid in dying remains unchanged, by talking to the patient at reasonably spaced intervals given progress of the patient’s condition;

    (d) discussingthepatient’srequestwithanymembersofthecareteamwho are in regular contact with the patient; and

    (e) discussing the patient’s request with the patient’s close relations, if the patient so wishes;…”

    (2) makesurethatthepatienthashadtheopportunitytodiscusstherequest with the persons they wished to contact; and “

  27. Bob (Kurland),

    RE: “I’ll quote from my post on euthanasia, to refute your argument “the…risk of abuse by others (motivated by various reasons) do not appear to be supported by actual data”:

    The links given refers to euthanasia in the low countries:”

    REBUTTAL of your REFUTATION: You can’t use data from radically different legal models interchangeably.

    The data I quoted were limited to the U.S. (specifically Oregon, which has a more liberal & well established assisted suicide system); the U.S. restricts suicides to be self-inflicted, with assistance from physicians in the form of prescribing lethal drugs…but the choice to kill and the act of killing must be made & done by the person killing them self.

    Your data–for “the low countries”(!)–is for a different kind of legislation that accommodates a third party to kill the person wanting to die, or, for whom others have decided death is preferable.

    In lay terms, that’s an “apples & oranges” comparison. Even for meta-analysis, that’s too far apart to make a real direct comparison.

    ISSUE: Consider the Venn diagrams:

    a) One for how things are without a legal basis for assisted suicide/euthanasia/etc., and,
    b) One for how things are with assisted suicide/euthanasia, etc.

    The fallacy–and it is a major fallacy–is the implicit assumption that those two diagrams do not intersect (and will sometimes do so to a substantial degree).

    The entire argument about state-sanctioned assisted suicide/euthanasia is that if/where these things happen, bad actions result in response…and if these legal allowances are denied, then those bad things won’t happen. The argument presumes, falsely, that those bad things aren’t happening anyway.

    There’s ample evidence that assisted suicides/euthanasia, etc. occur, and worse, in the absence of legal provisions to accommodate them (though much of this is identified in the occasional trial, such as of so-called “angels of death” such as nurses that use various means to kill off patients they find undesirable [serial killers]…or with whom they’ve made surreptitious deals [not serial killers…and most likely to not get caught]).

    A meaningful analysis would undertake to dig into various data to find clues to what’s happening behind the scenes and then compare that with what happens when that sort of activity is legalized and can play out in the open. For example, where assisted suicide/euthanasia are legalized & become established, is there a corresponding drop in fatal accidents, overt suicides, hospital fatalities (a subset of the latter might show certain doctors having a disproportionate clientele coupled with a corresponding drop in fatalities during complex surgeries, etc.).

    I’d wager that post-legalization of assisted suicide/euthanasia, the net increase of suicides & euthanasia cases would be mostly offset by drops in other measurable (if hard to access & tally) fatality statistics.

  28. Ken, thank you for pointing out the difference between the Oregon and “low countries” legalities for assisted suicide. It is a substantial one. Nevertheless, it is as much a sin for a person to commit suicide as it is for him / her to allow another to kill him / her. And, as the title of my post suggests, there is a “slippery slope”. Once assisted suicide is legalized, even if it is restricted initially to self-administered suicide, it is a short step to having a second party inject the killing solution if the subject is “incapable” of doing so him/herself.

  29. So, it’s more like the difference between clementines and tangerines than oranges and apples.

  30. Mr. Briggs: typo alert
    “The person who kills himself effects those who are still alive.”
    I believe that should be “affects.”

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