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Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

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AlexVocat
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Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#1 Postby AlexVocat » June 15th, 2011, 10:38 pm

Having watched Terry Pratchett's documentary (BBC) on assisted death it's hard to put into the words just how it made me feel. It was moving certainly, but humbling also. Pratchett spoke my thoughts aloud when he said he "thought [he'd] met the bravest man [he'd] ever met", speaking of a man who we saw, on screen, drink a cup of poison which brought his life to a self-inflicted end. There were problems with the documentary, it focused on a very small part of the subject matter for one thing, but watching the final moments of this man was something that everyone should experience. My opinion - that euthanasia should be legalised - remained unchanged. And here's the point, I doubt I could ever do what this man did, I don't believe myself anywhere near brave enough. Furthermore, the program was horrible to watch, it did feel distasteful but unlike so many that object to euthanasia, I am able to get over my emotions. Of course it's horrible to watch, every fibre in any human's conscience would scream out at such an act but fundamentally none of this matters. What matters is that it was this man's choice to die.

The Newsnight that followed the documentary was interesting. I found myself agreeing with points from all over the table but there was a central theme of 'sanctity of life' (or dignity as even the reverend claimed to prefer). It seemed that no-one spelled out the obvious extrapolation from this theme which is that a right to life naturally entails a right to choose to die. Now, of course, those that are not sufficiently autonomous cannot make such a choice and a very important question is simply: are we at a position where we can safely judge a person's autonomy? The opposing side seemed to take any doubt in this question to mean that euthanasia cannot be done, at all. A hint of difficulty was sufficient in their minds to write the idea completely off. Debbie Purdy made the point that just because something will require difficult (or more accurately, well thought out) legislation does not mean it should be given up upon. It is true that protection of the non-autonomous must be made but there is no reason as to why this cannot be done.

The Newsnight program focussed on ill persons, almost as though that was all that would be affected. I'm worried that a law which permitted euthanasia would first only apply to those that are 'ill-enough'. An ill-elite if you would. This misses the point. If euthanasia is to give a person a right to choose to die, it should award that right independent of situation and only - as I have said - dependent on autonomy (and this would of course tie in with age of consent). There is no argument, as I see it, that can be pro-euthanasia exclusively for those that are of a certain illness.

Pratchett's documentary mentioned the need for people to travel to a specific house within a specific country to be able to carry out their last moments. Quite rightly, Pratchett made the point of how much more comfortable such an act would be if performed in the comfort in one's own country. I would actually go further and replace own country with own home. Dignitas have two 'escorts' present as someone dies to carry out formalities and make certain of the person's autonomy. I understand the need for this but it detracts from loved ones being able to spend time together just before the final moment. In the documentary I'll grant that the camera's were the main culprit but even without them it was all very... well, formal. Even at Dignitas the procedure is still controversial and uptight. I think with the right, well thought out laws, legal euthanasia has the potential to give a fundamental right to so many people and even make such a procedure yet more dignified than it is already. Finally, as mentioned in the documentary, just knowing the option is there gives so many people a peaceful mind in their final days, whether they take up the option or not.

I want to open this up as a general discussion on euthanasia. It's such an important topic to talk about and I thought this would be the place to write the above. I eagerly await any responses, thank you for reading.

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Alan H
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#2 Postby Alan H » June 16th, 2011, 12:11 am

Thanks for that Alex and :welcome:

I've not had the chance to watch it yet (but will), but there was an article on it on the BMJ's website today: Pratchett and Assisted Dying: A Question of Balance?

The programme can be seen (in the UK, anyway) here.
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jaywhat
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#3 Postby jaywhat » June 16th, 2011, 8:23 am

Just watched it on Catch Up and nothing changes me, of course. This has to be available here in UK and in your own home if that is what you want.

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Griblet
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#4 Postby Griblet » June 16th, 2011, 8:59 am

Me, too. At my age and in my state of health I am very likely to have a heart attack or a stroke soon. I tick all the boxes, statistically. I have registered a 'living will' and constantly carry a card and wear a bracelet to show that. My GP said in a frank discussion 'You may have a heart attack or you may have a stroke and have to live through years of hell.'

So why can't I register my wish to be put down if a stroke turns me into a vegetable? Why will the law not allow it? It's because of a vociferous campaign waged mostly by Christians. I have noticed that these people - e.g. Bishop Nazir Ali - rarely come right out and admit that they think their imaginary sky-fairy doesn't like euthanasia. They know most of the public won't accept that, so they fall back on non-religious arguments instead. At the bottom of it all, though, it's humanity versus religious delusions. This should not be happening in a civilised country.
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#5 Postby Tetenterre » June 16th, 2011, 9:47 am

I watched the program, and the Newsnight debate afterwards. I found it both moving and disturbing. The only change it made in my opinion was to reinforce the notion that Assisted Dying (AD) -- let's be clear: this was not about euthanasia! -- should be readily available in this country.

More telling than the documentary was the Newsnight programme. The Bishop chose to misrepresent Peter Smedley's request for information about when to take the barbiturates as "hesitation" -- no surprises there. Then you had both the Bishop and Liz Carr doing their best to pretend that it was about euthanasia, specifically of the vulnerable. It wasn't -- it was quite simply about the right of people of sound mind to choose the time and manner of their death.

The bottom line is that my life is mine alone, and it is not for anyone else to decide either to end it or to prolong it against my will.
Steve

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#6 Postby Griblet » June 16th, 2011, 10:13 am

I didn't see the Newsnight. Interesting: Tetenterre immediately gives two examples of these people's tactics. Precisely what I said.

A Christian will use any lies and distortions to impose his delusions, which usually aim to increase human misery in some way. I am watching this issue get closer and closer to me, personally. I am very angry.
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#7 Postby AlexVocat » June 16th, 2011, 10:44 am

I'm interested in this distinction between euthanasia and AD. Am I right in thinking that euthanasia therefore refers to a third party ending the life of a person (either on their behalf or by a general medical and familial consensus), and AD is the provision of resources for the actual person being able to take his own life. If so, this is an important distinction but I use euthanasia to encapsulate both definitions. Apologies for the oversight.

Griblet raises the issue of the first definition. The idea of registering a wish to be relieved of suffering should a time come when your both in a position of suffering and not in a position to communicate. This is the only grey area for me. Sanity is not dependent on ability to communicate, thus I shudder to think of the situation in which someone with 'locked-in syndrome' as they call it had registered such a wish but no longer held that wish. It seems far fetched but a subjective 'I don't think I would do that' doesn't really cut it. It's that sort of situation that needs to be fully protected against. Maybe those that register should be made full aware that their registration is a final decision and will speak for them at a later date. I don't know, but it's clearly not black and white. As for the type of act shown in Pratchett's documentary, there is no such problem. I think Griblet hit the proverbial nail on the head when explaining why the religious authorities come to their apparently secular arguments. It's inevitably becoming much harder to reconcile the Good Book with the current moral Zeitgeist. Watch them sweat.
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#8 Postby Tetenterre » June 16th, 2011, 11:10 am

I have always understood euthanasia to mean mercy killing, and AD to mean either to assist with suicide or to comply with a wish not to resuscitate or provide the "means of life" (e.g force- or drip-feeding when someone can no longer eat, ventilating when one can no longer breathe).

I accept that this distinction may be clear only in my mind but, to me, it is very clear. I have absolutely no problem with AD and I cannot see why it cannot be legislated for. The biggest issue for me with AD is that, when I will be ready to die (I hope, not for a few more decades!), it may be difficult or impossible for me to physically do the deed, so I will probably end up dying sooner than is "ideal".

However, I think that euthanasia presents more difficult moral and legal problems.
Steve

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AlexVocat
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#9 Postby AlexVocat » June 16th, 2011, 11:20 am

Yes Steve, I would agree. And there is a difference your right, but I just mean that the my use of the term 'euthanasia' in previous posts refers to both euthanasia and AD. There are problems with euthanasia certainly, particularly the aforementioned idea of a registration. AD, as shown in Pratchett's doc. lacks a great deal if not all of these problems. We seem to be on the same page.
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jaywhat
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#10 Postby jaywhat » June 16th, 2011, 11:30 am

There is also a difference between what is required in a 'living will' (or 'Advanced directive') and euthanasia. The living will clearly contains intructions for one not to be resuscitated if certain conditions prevail. Euthansia is what we do to cats and dogs as well - we 'put them to death'.

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#11 Postby Griblet » June 16th, 2011, 11:41 am

I need three things:

1) The living will. Done that.
2) To be able to extend that to a binding instruction to kill me under certain circumstances which I would clearly define in advance, centering on my inability to communicate in any way.
3) To be able to choose assisted suicide when I want, regardless of whether I am suffering from a terminal illness, and for whatever reason.

Obviously we're nowhere near achieving the last two yet.

jaywhat wrote:Euthansia is what we do to cats and dogs as well - we 'put them to death'.

I don't mind what it's called or what other organisms receive it.
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#12 Postby Tetenterre » June 16th, 2011, 11:43 am

Image
(Clicky)
Steve

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#13 Postby Griblet » June 16th, 2011, 11:55 am

^ Ding! Nail on head. :pointlaugh:
A man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle.

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AlexVocat
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#14 Postby AlexVocat » June 16th, 2011, 1:54 pm

Kudos to that. A great graphic, sums up everything perfectly.

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#15 Postby ludite » June 16th, 2011, 5:23 pm

I have not had time to watch the Terry Pratchet prog yet but I think I agree with most of what has been siad here.I think that the right to die is as important as the right to life.

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#16 Postby Wilson » June 18th, 2011, 4:34 am

Just last week I saw a documentary on American television (HBO, I believe) entitled "How to Die in Oregon". For some years the state of Oregon has had a "Death with Dignity" law which authorizes those with less than six months of life expectancy the option of obtaining from their physician a prescription of barbiturates (in the US, Seconal or Nembutal) sufficient to cause death. It was a powerful and moving program which began with a scene in which an old man, surrounded by family and friends, is preparing to die. A helper empties the capsules into water and carries the concoction to the patient, and after asking standard questions to confirm that the gentleman knows what will happen, hands the glass to him. He swallows it down, then says, "I want to thank the people of Oregon who had the wisdom to pass a law that allows me to take care of my own problem." Then, "Tell the next person that it tastes kind of woody." Then he begins singing as he gets sleepy.

One of the characters in the documentary is a woman whose husband died a horrible death of brain and spinal cancer and was unable to choose to legally commit suicide in his state of Washington. His last request was to his wife to work toward getting the laws changed in Washington - and she was part of a successful campaign to do so. Now there are two states with "Death with Dignity" laws.

The principal character is a woman with liver cancer, and we follow her for about a year as she gets better then worse and finally knows that it is time. Her family is around her, and her cancer physician, and she swallows the mixture and says how peaceful and easy it is.

The only direct involvement of a physician in these cases is that he prescribes the medication. Generally a layman prepares the barbiturate slurry and the patient drinks it down. The impression I get from the documentary is that such a death is easy, painless, and almost always a relief. It seems awfully civilized and what a compassionate society should offer those people for whom further life would be intolerable. There are issues as to who should be allowed to commit suicide in this way, but certainly for those who are terminally ill and for whom life is unbearable, it would be immoral to refuse them this option.

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#17 Postby lewist » June 18th, 2011, 8:23 am

Thanks, Wilson. I absolutely agree. It came up on Question Time here on Thursday and even the usually sensible Alex Salmond, our First Minister, was against it. They have no arguments that are not to be met by well formed legislation. At least there were no bible thumpers on the panel.

I found Terry Pratchett's programme too difficult. I started to watch but had to switch it off. What is wrong is that people have to go to Switzerland for a dignified and legal death.
Carpe diem. Savour every moment.

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AlexVocat
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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#18 Postby AlexVocat » June 18th, 2011, 11:34 am

Both programs seem upsetting to watch but that's bound to occur because we are all only human. The important, logical point is that it was these person's choices. I still don't like the idea of a AD/euthanasia law only being restricted to an ill-elite. A right to one's own life is also a right end one's own life so I don't see the problem with it being applicable to anyone of sane mind.
Alex Vocat

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#19 Postby ludite » June 18th, 2011, 2:36 pm

I have just watched the Terry Pratchett programe and it as reinforced my own belief that we should have the right to choose our end with all the legal safe gaurds but this is as important as freedom of speach.

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Re: Euthanasia - On Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die'

#20 Postby Wilson » June 18th, 2011, 7:22 pm

AlexVocat wrote:Both programs seem upsetting to watch but that's bound to occur because we are all only human. The important, logical point is that it was these person's choices. I still don't like the idea of a AD/euthanasia law only being restricted to an ill-elite. A right to one's own life is also a right end one's own life so I don't see the problem with it being applicable to anyone of sane mind.


I mostly agree, but we don't want to make it so easy that someone depressed by a temporary situation can end his life. It's in the nature of chronic depression that it waxes and wanes, and somone in the depths may decide to end it all, but if that doesn't happen, a month later he may be in good spirits.

A young person traumatized by a love affair gone bad may decide to kill himself, partly out of grief, partly out of a desire to make the other person feel bad. Don't make it too easy for him, because a year later he may have a new love interest and life may be golden.

That said, I think that there are some people who are severely depressed and it never gets a lot better and their torture is as bad or worse than someone with a chronic physical illness. At some point such a person should have the legal right to kill himself in a painless, tidy way. But safeguards should be in place.


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