Euthanasia: Are you for or against? 16



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The quickest and surest way to stifle conversation is to raise the issue of Euthanasia. But should we, as mature thinking people, consider whether there are some circumstances in which it is acceptable that life should be intentionally ended?


There are some people who hold that – regardless of the circumstances – euthanasia is morally wrong. For these people the issue should not even be contemplated, and certainly not discussed.


Those who hold these views should of course be respected. However, it is suggested that they are not in sufficient numbers to disallow the topic being debated.


This is not to argue that debate will necessarily come up with the conclusion that there are any circumstances in which euthanasia should be condoned by a society and thus made legal. Or that there are methods of euthanasia that are considered acceptable (or unacceptable).


But polls suggest that it is probably the case that there are some ‘cases’ that would attract widespread support – for example that of an old person, of sound mind, who has a terminal illness for which there is at the present time no known cure and who is suffering pain and distress – and causing it to others. In such circumstances they should be able to take action to terminate their life.


However, there are other circumstances where the argument is less clearcut. They may arise, for example, where a person is younger in age and where the development of medical science may be such as to find a way of treating their ailment so that they can live a life that brings them (and possibly others) happiness. Or that a person suffering an ailment, no matter how ultimately life-threatening it may be, is not suffering any pain or distress.


At the risk of reducing the discussion to terms that some may consider to represent a moral vacuum and of treating the subject too clinically, but in the interests of expressing our views more precisely, we could express our views in terms of a diagram such as drawn below.


The downward-sloping line may be termed a ‘Gain from Life’ (GL) line. The GL for any person may be expected to decline over time. The decline will be approximately in accordance with a person’s age, though illness (or lack of it) may cause one person’s GL to fall below zero at an earlier or later age than others (or perhaps never at all). Should the line fall below zero (although as noted some people define the value of life in terms that would never accept that the GL can be less than zero) then the possibility of permitting the intentional termination of life can be contemplated.


The level of the GL of a person’s life at any point in time will be influenced by two main considerations:


  • how an individual themself values their own ‘happiness’ with life (this being influenced perhaps by their own evaluation of the effect that their continuing life has on others); and


  • how the welfare of others (especially close relatives and acquaintances, including in particular those who may take responsibility for ‘caring’ for the person in some way) are affected by the person continuing to live.


These considerations will either increase or decrease the GL of a person at any point in time and will influence the height of the line above zero, its slope, and the age at which, in any particular case, a person’s GL may be considered to become negative.


Most people die when their GL is well above zero – people who were enjoying life themselves and contributing to the welfare of others.


If, however, their VL falls below zero it may be that the intentional termination of their life would actually add to either their own welfare and/or that of others. For these people their death signals either or both an end to unhappiness and pain felt by themselves and/or to them being a burden in some sense to others. In these circumstances euthanasia can be contemplated.


The issue is complicated considerably if an individual is not in a position to make a rational decision about these matters themself. This can occur because of mental illness, most commonly in the case of dementia. This then raises the question of the circumstances under which the intentional termination of life can be considered acceptable where an individual’s GL has fallen below zero but they are not of ‘sound mind’. Is ‘involuntary euthanasia’ acceptable under any circumstances? What about instances where a person has said formally at an earlier age that they don’t wish to live if they are no longer gaining enjoyment from life and/or that they are being a burden to others?


If euthanasia that is not initiated by the person themselves is accepted how then should we, as a society, define the circumstances and procedure according to which this should be considered legal?


But this is getting ahead of ourselves. There are more fundamental issues of principle to be addressed first.


What is your position on this?



photo: chefranden

Bill Richmond

Bill Richmond retired after a career as an academic economist at the University of Queensland though he continues to do some teaching in the fields of economic history and economic policy. He has recently been part of a team writing an Australian edition of an introductory Principles of Economics textbook originally co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning American economist Joseph Stiglitz. Bill maintains an interest in a wide variety of economic and social issues and is keen to encourage people, young and old, to articulate the philosophical basis of their views. He is currently a Director of MindVentures, an organisation that offers informal education/holiday programs in different formats to mature age people. The address of the MindVentures website is

  1. I am absolutely in favour of legalised euthanasia. Apart from anything else it would prolong life for some people who are suffering. I had a good friend who developed a severe neurological disease which did not threaten her life in the short term but did mean a much reduced quality of life and a future of severe physical impairment, inability to swallow, and dementia. There is no treatment.

    When she could no longer live alone and had to give up driving she knew that she had no way out of this future hell unless she took her own life while she was still physically capable of it. She drove her car off a cliff so that it looked like an accident. If euthanasia had been available she might have been able to live several more years and die peacefully surrounded by her family rather than violently alone.

    I think there are many old people who are existing in nursing homes or at home who have lost quality of life and independence who would like the option of leaving when it all gets too much. Opponents of euthanasia tend to talk about pain, but the people I have talked to about it are spending their last years unable to look after themselves than being in pain.

  2. Euthenasia and Abortion are the same ,it is the premature taking of a human life .
    Therefore if you allow abortion you must allow euthenasia .
    The difeence is with euthenasia the person whoes life is being terminated generaly has a choice in making that decision .An unborn baby doesnt have that choice .

  3. The subject is about euthanasia not abortion which should be the womans control over her body and nobody elses and the same with euthanasia, its not humane to let somebody suffer, they allow DNR so why is it different?

  4. I think it should be allowed, but it also should be well regulated. I’m from the Netherlands, where that is already the case. And it’s not about prematurely taking life, but ending unnecessary suffering for someone with no hope of a cure. Nothing moral about horrible pain and suffering.
    When my Mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she declined any treatment and we , her children, took her home and cared for her there. We had mentioned the possibility of euthanasia to her, as an option for when the time came. She died peacefully 3 weeks later, without euthanasia.

    1 REPLY
    • I totally agree with Antoinette. A friend recently passed away – she was only in her 50s and the pain killing drugs did not work to ease the pain of the bone cancer so she died a wretched death – she would have liked the chance to have that choice. But it does need to be well regulated. Do you not think we as a society prolong life of the terminally ill needlessly by resuscitating when they should be left?

  5. If you support personal autonomy and personal responsibility throughout life, why would you not respect and support another’s choice to end it?

  6. euthanasia is not about what some does to another person but what one chooses for ones self – bottom line it is not about killing a person but a person choosing to end their own life

  7. If I am so unable to communicate that I cannot say “no”, then I am ready to be euthanased. To be so isolated so out of touch with eveybody would be a living death.

    2 REPLY
    • I agree with Robin. Recently saw the French film Amour, and it reminded me of how important it is for anyone to be able to decide when enough is enough.

    • I have to agree heartily Robin as we watched my mother-in-law suffer the indignity of having to have everything done for her (toilet – the lot) as one would treat a baby until her body literally ran out of energy. Many a time through the last twelve months she indicated that she would rather be on her way so much so that her daughter said to zip up your mouth and refuse food. She passed away within the week with a touch of pneumonia for which the Dr. wanted to inject antibiotics despite a signed note to say she was to receive no resuscitation. She passed away seven years ago but this still bugs us.

  8. a dog is put to sleep peacefully when it is suffering if i let my dog suffer like some humens do i would be in jail tell me wht is the differnce suffering is suffering and who are we to tell somone u cannot ease ur suffering especially if the ones suffering with no hope want it,, its not humen to watch the ones u love suffer when u know they are going to die ,, and there is nothing u can do about it ,,its there choice to die ,, and why wouldnt they when there in lot pain ..

  9. We dont allow our dogs to suffer so why should we have to go through pain if there is no cure.I am defintly for euthansia

  10. A lot of people I know say they want to be able to make the choice. We do it for our animals when they are suffering so why not for ourselves. Pain and suffering are a horrible end for you and those who love you. I definitely want to be able to say ‘Thank you I am ready now’

  11. There should definitely and absolutely never be legalised euthanasia. I have two sisters and a few years back our parents died, not from an accident but from other causes. One sister behaved ethically and acted in accordance with the highest values and with family love. But the other sister did not. She was greedy to an extent I could not believe at the time. She firmly believed that she was the one to inherit our parents’ house and all their possessions. She actively pursued those goals. She phoned the nurses every day when my father became ill and loudly talked about how his recovery was not possible within his hearing. She stole from both parents, under guises of loans. She actively kept other family members away. The list goes on. Some people are not good people even though you think you know them really well. The day my sister found out she had not inherited what she wanted she put her own home on the market and was gone within two weeks to the other end of the country. Had there been legalised euthanasia things would only have progressed faster. There are too many people who take advantage of others. There are people you think will behave ethically and they do not. Please, no euthanasia ever.

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