Opponents of euthanizing newborns write in with strong opinions

Six days ago I wrote a post, based on a New York Times piece, arguing that the parents of newborns who were doomed to die, who had a “hopeless prognosis” involving unbearable suffering, or who would have to live their lives wedded to intensive care and respirators, should have the legal right—with appropriate ethical strictures and doctors’ approval—to end the lives of their newborns in a merciful way, perhaps with an injection. I gave my reasons for thinking this in my piece “Should one be allowed to euthanize severely deformed or doomed newborns?” My answer was a qualified “yes,” and in that I agree with philosopher Peter Singer.

Singer has been demonized for his opinion by both religious believers and also by handicapped people who argue that they wouldn’t have wanted to be euthanized as infants if they had the choice. Singer’s talks have picketed and disrupted, and people have even called for his firing from Princeton for merely suggesting the idea of newborn euthanasia. Yet I think that discussing this idea is very worthwhile.

Now I’m being criticized as well, and I expected it. Both the creationist Discovery Institute (in its organ Evolution News) and the conservative National Review have gone after my piece. In the former venue, Michael Egnor, who’s obsessed with me, blames my views on “materialism and Darwinism” (they’re not; they’re based on moral philosophy), compares me to the Nazi doctors who did odious medical experiments (he even shows a photo of them on trial), and says that NO euthanasia, nor even any abortions, can be morally justified. He does, however, allow “withdrawal of care” in terminal newborns because that differs from euthanasia:

There are situations in which continuation of heroic medical treatment (surgery, respirators, antibiotics, etc.) merely prolongs the process of dying, and in which it is ethical to withdraw such heroic care. I have done it many times (I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon). But the purpose of the withdrawal is not to cause death, but to cease interfering with the natural course of a disease, when no good can come of heroic treatment. That is a very different thing, morally and legally, from deliberately killing a child by injecting him with a lethal dose of potassium or a barbiturate.

I disagree with the morality bit, but won’t get into that now.

The National Review also linked me with Nazism, claiming that “Darwinism leads to infanticide acceptance” and saying that my scientific materialism leads people to reject evolution because I couple Darwinism “with anti-humanism and a moral philosophy that was judged a crime against humanity at Nuremberg.” Sorry, but I don’t advocate experimenting on babies or gassing and shooting innocent civilians.

I stand by what I said in my piece. Were I to rewrite my post, though, I’d add that it’s more than just religious people who object to Singer’s and my views on both assisted suicide of rational, terminally ill people as well as to euthanasia of desperately ill newborns. Yes, religious people are big objectors to these practices (and lobbied against assisted suicide when it was made legal in several states), but so are some disabled people who don’t base their objections on religious views. And I should have mentioned those arguments. But their objections haven’t altered my views on the value of discussing the issue of the euthanasia of newborns. And I still think that it’s justified in some cases.

Anyway, readers have written in strongly criticizing my views, and I’ll post some of their comments here rather than continue the discussion in a week-old thread.  I have approved their comments on the original site (or will as soon as I publish this), but have directed them here to continue the discussion. Feel free to continue it in the comments on this post rather than the other one.

ritajoseph” wrote three comments:

In reply to zoolady.

No child is “essentially a vegetable”. Every child can and should be loved tenderly and cared for as long as she or he is alive. Where parents can’t afford basic care,families and communities must help them. It’s called human solidarity.

Financial difficulty is never an adequate excuse for killing a child.

**********

Permitting medicalized killing of the sick and the vulnerable who are viewed as financially burdensome sets a socially engineered trap, in which individual interests freely and legally gain access to a public resource (a health care system that provides unconditional specialized care for the suicidal or the seriously disabled or the terminally ill) and proceed to change it from unconditional palliative care to optional care together with the option of medically assisted suicide.

A tragedy of the commons will unfold as the terminally ill or their carers are pressured subtly to accept the cheaper swifter option. This will lead eventually to depletion of the shared resource—the end of a truly universal, unconditional system of care for the terminally ill. A gradual reduction of specialists, hospices, palliative care resources and research dedicated to the needs of the terminally ill is therefore a typical ‘externality’ – i.e., the unintended and negative consequence of private decisions that ends up affecting everyone.

*********

In reply to zoolady.

Why is assisted suicide not OK? Suicide and assisted suicide contravene the universal human rights principle of inalienability. Human beings cannot be deprived of the substance of their rights, not in any circumstances, not even at their own request.
There is a genuine need to enact positive laws respecting key human rights principles:
o The inherent right to life of the terminally ill and the suicidal is inalienable;
o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to recognition of their inherent dignity;
o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to security of person;
o The autonomy of “end of life choices” is limited by the duty to secure the rights of all;
o Human solidarity with the terminally ill and the suicidal must not be jeopardized.

Recommendations
(1) Advocacy materials promoting suicide must be more strictly controlled so that positive programs for assisting persons at risk of suicide can achieve their full potential.
(2) Education programmes emphasize the human person as the true source of human dignity and teach the inalienability of the inherent right to life.
(3) Funding for genuine palliative care, research and programmes should be increased so that best practice end of life care becomes available not as a “choice” but as a duty for all of us to provide and as a right for everyone who is in need to receive.

*********

And reader Bill Franklin said this:

You write:
“If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect… … then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born? I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.”

Well, you are also *allowed* to abort a fetus for any reason. So do you also “see no substantive difference” between that and euthanizing an otherwise healthy baby who was born a week earlier?

If a woman could abort a fetus at 35-weeks because, for example, she no longer liked the father and did not want the child to remind her of him – why not the same choice if the father ends up arrested for unknown crimes a week post birth?

If not, does that mean you also subscribe to this apparently irrational/religious idea about acquiring a soul in the magic birth canal? As you say, “After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death” and “Since the newborn can’t decide, it’s up to the parents”…

*******

I have my own responses to these comments (e.g., Bill Franklin completely misunderstands my argument), but I have other things to write about today and so will let readers continue the arguments below. As soon as this goes up, both ritajoseph and Bill Franklin will be directed here.

All I can say is that it’s ridiculous to call someone a Nazi for suggesting an idea like this. By all means give your counterarguments, but avoid the character assassination,

 

79 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    “he even shows a photo of them on trial”

    That kind of thing simultaneously tells us all we need to know – and unfortunately all they need to know.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Michael Egnor in a nut shell:

    It’s wrong to painlessly euthanize a disabled child but it’s OK to starve them to death.

    Hey Michael, exactly who is the Nazi ?

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      One thing to note about Egnor is that he’s Catholic, hence the weasel-wording of his comments: “But the purpose of the withdrawal is not to cause death, but to cease interfering with the natural course of a disease”. Translation: “church doctrine says it’s bad to kill but the famous principle of double effect says that as long as I don’t consciously intend to kill it’s OK to undertake an act that will necessarily kill – so I can let a baby die slowly by withdrawal of treatment but I can’t euthanize it quickly.”
      A**hole.

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      I think the example points up the dishonesty of the argument. If you allowed a healthy baby to die by deliberately not feeding it, you would surely be up in court on a charge of murder. So, for healthy babies the commission and the deliberate omission are morally the same. Why should it be different for babies with terminal illnesses?

      Whichever method you choose – painless injection or starvation – you have decided to shorten a baby’s life. That’s the moral decision. On that, I side with JAC.

  3. sensorrhea
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    National Review was founded by Catholic William F. Buckley and borrows most of its opinions about abortion & euthanasia from Catholic doctrine.

  4. steve oberski
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Human beings cannot be deprived of the substance of their rights, not in any circumstances, not even at their own request.

    How can one have rational discussion with someone who contradicts themselves in the same sentence ?

    • prinzler
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      We must have the right to give up a right. We have the right to vote, but not voting is our right, too. Etc.

      If we don’t have the right to our rights, I guess it must be God that owns our rights. that must be where that comes from.

      • j. baldwin
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Actually, in natural rights theory you do not have a right to violate your own rights. For example, take the right to liberty. One could voluntarily, in writing and in perpetuity, agree to be someone’s prisoner or slave but,in point of law, they ultimately retain the right to their liberty. They cannot renounce it. They may exercise that right as a prisoner but the moment they decide to no longer be a prisoner or slave, regardless of their previous intention to give up that right, their overlord ceases to have any claim on their liberty. In this view, rights are forever and inalienable, even by the rights-holder. In the case of the right to life, things get a bit tricky at the changed-my-mind stage.

      • Jamie
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Inalienability is a necessary component of meaningful “rights” due to the potential for power imbalance in any social interaction. If merely stating that one waives one’s rights were sufficient grounds for actually loosing said rights, then any individual or organization with coercive power could simply force such waivers, and “rights” would be meaningless. Inalienability is thus important in principle, though in practice it is rarely respected, and many people’s rights are fairly routinely abrogated by coercive authorities both public and private. In theory, citizens of developed western states have means to redress the abrogation of rights through the courts, but, again, in practice, the economics of justice and class stratification close this path off for many people.

        One cannot have a rational discussion about “rights” without an attendant discussion about power. Those seeking recognition of an inalienable “right” to life are simply seeking to extend their coercive power over others. The “right” to suicide is based on the power of individuals to actually take their own lives. No matter what the social consensus is on the morality of the act, to actually rob people of the power to do it would require extreme totalitarian measures. Far better to fight it by fighting the sources of despair and alienation that encourage it than to try to legislate against it.

        In the case of infants and others who lack the means to waive their rights, they also lack the means to demand them or seek redress. These are people who are going to be acted upon, one way or another. They may be coerced into life or they may be coerced into death. The only thing we know for sure is that their wishes will not be polled (because they cannot be). Therefore the principle of inalienability is not applied directly to them but to the people acting upon them. There in no issue of them divorcing themselves from their own rights and they have no power (as the potential suicide does) to moot the point. It is entirely an issue of protecting them from third parties who would take away those rights. But the crux of the matter is the extent to which an infant’s right to live imposes duties on society. Do I have a “right” to live if the exercise of that “right” requires the coercive power of the state to compel multiple private persons to devote money, time and energy to keeping me alive against their wishes? If it is my “right” why does the state not undertake to provide the resources for it, rather than compel certain individuals to do so?

        Until we come to grips with precisely delineating the “right” to life we will have no policy solution for this problem. The “right to health care” movement is frustrated by a similar confusion. Most of the discussion is reactive sentimentalizing coupled with naked attempts to impose coercive power of one group over another.

  5. Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I fail to see how “withdrawing care” is more ethical than “withdrawing care plus euthanasia”.

    Do not both entail the acceptance of the fact that the child would be better off dead, but the latter recognizes that its suffering should be minimized while the former would do the opposite?

    Is not “withdrawing care” but not providing euthanasia, merely a misguided way of sloughing off moral responsibility for the ending of life? At best, is it some meaningless affirmation in the possibility of a miracle by a deity, a possibility for which there is no good evidence? Whilst there might be reason to believe that the dying child is indeed suffering?

    It seems to me a very strange philosophy which holds that needless suffering is sacrosanct and must be maximized even in dying children.

    • Dave
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Their god is a vampiric entity that feeds off the energy released by human and animal suffering. Just like the gods of the Aztecs needed human blood to make the sun rise every day. It’s the only possible reason why god allows so much suffering to occur, when he could so easily prevent it.

      I think that theodicy would make much more sense if Christians actually did believe this.

      • John Frum
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        I would love to have been an Aztec ruler and one day say to the priests that we are not going to sacrifice anyone today and see what happens.

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      “Is not “withdrawing care” but not providing euthanasia, merely a misguided way of sloughing off moral responsibility for the ending of life?”
      In my view, yes. It reminds me of the classical trolley problem and other exercises in morality. We instinctively accept the circumstance of letting people die on their own but recoil from taking an action that causes a life to end.

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      I think they delude themselves into thinking that withdrawing care is a passive action that leaves the baby’s fate “to God”, whereas euthanasia is an deliberate action to kill the baby.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Well said Gingerbaker.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Yes, I agree.

    • Jamie
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I think you oversimplify the problem by posing it as a tension between minimum versus maximum suffering. Not everyone “recognizes” that suffering should be minimized in every case by any means necessary. That is one possible philosophical stance, culture bound, not an eternal, universal verity.

      The problem we have is that there is no properly operationalized measure of “suffering”, and we have no good means to unconfound the suffering of the infant from the suffering of the parents and any other bystander with functioning mirror neurons. Yes, everyone will say they are only concerned with the suffering of the child, but how can we be sure we are not acting on self serving impulses to decrease our own mirror suffering? It is traumatizing to watch someone suffer. And we have considerable anecdotal “evidence” of people suffering through terrible events, including wishing to die, who later express joy or gratitude for life after all that suffering.

      All I am saying is that I think the emphasis on suffering is misplaced. In the case of infants with no possible favorable prognosis, it is the hopelessness of their situation that is motivating, not the degree of suffering. Were we told that if they hang on they have a chance (even a very slim chance) to lead long healthy lives, our moral calculations would be very different. This is where the religionists find “space” for hoping in miracles and acceptance of “god’s will” in the withdrawal of assistance that seems fundamentally different from “trusting” the doctor’s hopeless prognosis. After all, doctor’s do sometimes make mistakes… and one of the premises of the initial argument is an omniscient augury of future events. It is not unreasonable to question the reliability of such… It does make an interesting moral dilemma similar to the trolley problem, but such hypothetical thought problems, while telling us a lot about how we think and what we feel, has little to recommend it for solving real world policy problems.

  6. Cindy
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I am familiar with Rita Joseph.

    She is a fascinating person, truly.

    Here is her website:

    http://archive.wf-f.org/bd-rjoseph.html

    In July 2009, her book Human Rights and the Unborn Child was published. The book analyzes documents from the major human rights treaty monitoring bodies relating to the topic of the unborn child. Contemporary reinterpretations of these documents are closely examined in their historical context, along with commentary on the original purpose, meaning and philosophical foundation of modern international human rights law. (Ordering info: http://www.brill.com/human-rights-and-unborn-child or available at amazon.com).

    She often cites herself in anti-abortion arguments on Disqus. Speaking of which, have a gander at her Disqus account, if you dare:

    https://disqus.com/by/RitaJoseph/

    ————

    Gingerbaker wrote:

    Do not both entail the acceptance of the fact that the child would be better off dead, but the latter recognizes that its suffering should be minimized while the former would do the opposite?

    They don’t care about the actual, real world suffering of the child. What they care about is their own moral superiority.

  7. Randy schenck
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Why is financial cost not a legitimate consideration for some of these serious illnesses or birth defects? It is consideration for millions of living people.

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      And as with the right to life group, financial cost is only a consideration if someone else has to pay it, hence the Republican tender concern for the unborn but their fuck you jack attitude for providing for the very children that their policies engendered.

  8. sensorrhea
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I have a problem with the way the term “dignity of human life” is bandied about, especially by the religious. It’s utterly bizarre to believe that God, supposed inventor of every manner of rabies, cancer, dementia, incontinence, flesh-eating bacteria, anencephaly, ectopic pregnancy, etc et etc cares a whit about the dignity of human life.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Without even going down the path of all those awful diseases etc that destroy human dignity, this is a god who expects humans to prostrate themselves before him, beg his forgiveness when our bodies respond in exactly the way he designed them to, and worship him or be tortured for eternity.

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Also the same god that kills 2/3 of all embryos, which doesn’t exactly indicate He seems to care one whit about the ““dignity of human life”.

  9. Tom
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The Nazi argument is meaningless.
    Other countries practised euthanasia and were not run by Nazis.
    Darwinism did nothing to change peoples attitude to euthanasia as history shows many cases of late term abortions and the regular exposing of unwanted children.
    Take a look around any past religious shelter for unwed pregnant girls and note the number of “natural” infant deaths.
    What many people can’t accept is that the state is taking RESPONSIBILITY and not allowing people the comfort of counting on some imagined god to take care of the matter in his/hers/its own good time

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Argumentum ad Nazium (or, alternatively, reductio ad Hitlerum) is usually an indicator of an otherwise-indefensible position.

      • Zach
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        I find it interesting how both sides of the political spectrum use it, but for different reasons. For the left, racism—or hell, racial realism—is one step away from Nazism. For the right, it’s advocacy of euthanasia.

        What’s funny is how rarely either side compares Nazism with jihadism, which, to my mind, is the one modern day Argumentum ad Nazium that isn’t fatuous. I guess because only white people can act like Nazis?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 19, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          I most often hear it now when one side or the other invokes Neville Chamberlain and Munich, arguing that their opposite is appeasing the enemy (whomever that may be).

          As, hell, I might’ve been guilty of that one a time or two myself. 🙂

          • Tom
            Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            Just a thought.
            It’s often forgotten that Mussolini brokered the Munich Peace Agreement in good faith, so Hitler also double crossed him when he snatched the rest of Czechoslovakia.

            • Zach
              Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, Chamberlain is judged too harshly for Munich. Virtually everyone but Hitler thought that once he got the Sudetenland, that would be the end of German expansionism. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                I quite agree about that.

                Blaming Chamberlain with 20/20 hindsight would imply that anyone who brokers a peace agreement (rather than instantly declaring war) could be tarred with the same brush.

                There are, in fact, historical arguments that Britain might have lost the Battle of Britain without the extra time to prepare that the Munich agreement afforded. (Of course these fall into the category of ‘what ifs’ which can always be debated).

                cr

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

              These days, every neocon advocating a bellicose foreign policy fancies themself the second coming of Churchill.

  10. Kevin
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    zoolady suggests people think babies can be ‘vegetables’. Almost no one thinks that. zoology also makes a point about ‘human solidarity’ as a form to protect a baby with debilitating disease. The same argument can be used to promote euthanization.

    I want to be part of a civilization that progresses our whole species. If a baby is known to be a lifelong handicap to itself and others then it should be euthanized. If the parents wish to keep it alive they should recognize the burden and understand the burden is real and not one that fosters ‘human solidarity’. People who elect to suffer and cause suffering are not promoting human solidarity.

    Bill Franklin makes some good points, probably for the wrong reasons. This is one area where philosophy shines. We need to understand statistics and probabilities in order to adopt a serious discussion about how a society would allow people to choose to eliminate a child after its born.

    I am pro-abortion. I am also for adopting policies that allow parents to choose to euthanize their children. We should be given the capability to make the best biological machines that we can. If a parent is unhappy with the outcome of their child, they should have the ability within some time frame to euthanize it.

    Orphanages do not work (at least not now). I encourage people to survey research accumulated by Lumos foundation (JK Rowling).

    https://wearelumos.org

    Parents need to want to have a kid. The fact that people make mistakes or do not wish to take responsibility is part of life, but that too, can be minimized with education and providing people with the capability of making decisions so there do not have to be any abortions or euthanizing events.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely agree with your points.

      BUT – the person you’re quoting above wasn’t zoolady. It was Rita Joseph in reply to zoolady. Pratting on about ‘human solidarity’ – what the hell is that? It’s sympathy for humans that makes me think they are entitled to end their lives when they want to, not be remorselessly kept alive to suit someone else’s religious superstitions.

      (I entirely agreed with zoolady’s original post too, btw)

      cr

  11. prinzler
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The basic problem is that our moral decision here is not cut and dried, but exists on a continuum. So, no matter where you draw the line, someone else can point to a circumstance just on the other side of that line and challenge the line by saying there’s no difference – it’s just an incremental step on a continuum – between one side of the line and the other.

    The opposite problem is also apparent: moving the line in one direction or the other is easy precisely because the next step is so incremental. If the line has traditionally been drawn at birth, then euthanizing newborns is just such an incremental step. The logical conclusion of that process would end up way far down the continuum.

    That’s one reason why we search for something that is cut and dried, something to give us some purchase on the slippery slope. I’ve always thought that birth was one such event (even though it is not an absolute – so much development that happens inside the womb continues outside the womb).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      The problem here is the inherent tension between science and law. In a field such as this, science functions along a continuum, as you say, with subtle gradations on a long grey scale. Law, on the other hand, functions best where bright lines can be drawn — lines that can be consistently enforced by regulators, and bureaucrats, and law enforcement agents; lines that can be consistently interpreted by judges; lines by which citizens can arrange their affairs prudently. In general, the brighter the line, the better the law functions.

      I see no simple solution to this inherent tension (as regards this particular field, anyway).

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        The only solutions I’ve come up with on this are:

        (a) be open to revisiting where the bright line is, as new data and ethical thinking come in
        (b) allow that justice is not done if laws are absolute

      • prinzler
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Agreed that there is no simple solution, and that the tension is inherent.

        So we make the hard choices and suffer their imperfections.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    “… the purpose of the withdrawal [of medical care] is not to cause death, but to cease interfering with the natural course of a disease …”

    I doubt I’m the only one who questions whether Egnor has posited a meaningful, bright-line distinction here.

    Many people (apparently including pediatric neurosurgeons) abandon rationality when it comes to cuddly things like babies and furry little animals. Hell, even a pathological narcissist like Donald Trump was moved (or knew enough to feign he was moved) by the sight of “little babies” being gassed by Assad.

    We humans have an ingrained “squick” factor when it comes to certain matters, including the death of the helpless. We should not ignore that squick factor, for there may be sound evolutionary or cultural reasons behind it. But we should not be slaves to it, either.

  13. W.Benson
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    To me, terminating the life of a non-sentient entity, such as embryo/fetus, which, if allowed to live, had before it a life of misery, fear, indignity, pain, humiliation, … , in addition to carrying the burden of impoverishing his or her parents and siblings through no fault of anyone, could only be considered an act of moral kindness.

  14. darrelle
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I don’t find the ethical arguments in the comments Jerry quoted in the OP convincing. I think Gingerbaker said it pretty well.

    But, and this is probably pointing out the obvious (especially in this crowd), there is some merit in some of the concerns about possible abuse of policies allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia. Though I think they were a bit overstated. I don’t think it is beyond our ability to formulate such policies to limit abuse to an acceptable level*, but as with nearly any policies of any kind there will be people attempting to abuse the system.

    * I don’t mean that any specific instance of someone being killed against their sure and uncoerced consent would ever be okay. I mean that well formulated and executed policies of assisted suicide and euthanasia would result in a worthwhile decrease in unnecessary human suffering compared to what we have now.

    • Rita
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      If nothing else, you have to consider the likely number of individuals who suffer greatly under a system where assisted suicide is prohibited, versus the likely number of individuals who might be victims under a system that does not prohibit assisted suicide. Look at the safeguards in place in the states that allow medical aid in dying, and ask yourself to imagine what would be required to circumvent that system.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Yes. My view is that suicide for any reason should not be illegal or considered immoral. The trick is in figuring out when to intervene because the person could reasonably, possibly be helped back to a place where they love life again, and when to stay out of the way and simply respect their decision.

  15. Zach
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    A gradual reduction of specialists, hospices, palliative care resources and research dedicated to the needs of the terminally ill is therefore a typical ‘externality’ – i.e., the unintended and negative consequence of private decisions that ends up affecting everyone.

    Taking your slippery slope seriously for the sake of argument, I have to ask: would this be such a bad thing?

    It’s probably worth reflecting on how doctors die (hint: deliberately more quickly than most people), and wondering if following their example wouldn’t result in a net good. And by “good,” I mean in the only sense that matters—involving the suffering of conscious beings (both patients and their families).

    A more acerbic take on the subject can be found here, written by a hospital psychiatrist. Reading it, one gets a slightly different impression of the consequences resulting from “private decisions that end up affecting everyone”:

    Your doctors will nod their heads and tell your family they respect their wishes. It will be a lie. Oh, sure, they will carry out the family’s wishes, in terms of continuing to provide the care. But respect? In the cafeteria at lunch, they will – despite medical confidentiality laws that totally prohibit this – compare stories of the most ridiculous families. “I have a blind 90 year old patient with stage 4 lung cancer with brain mets and no kidney function, and the family is demanding I enroll her in a clinical trial from Sri Lanka.” “Oh, that’s nothing. I have a patient who can’t walk or speak who’s breathing from a ventilator and has anoxic brain injury, and the family is insisting I try to get him a liver transplant.”

    Every day, your doctors will meet with your family another time, and eventually, as your condition worsens and your family has more time to be hit on the head with a big club marked ‘REALITY’, they will start to relent. Finally, they will allow your doctors to take you off of the machines, and you will be transferred to Palliative Care, whose job I do not envy even though every single palliative care doctor I have ever met is relentlessly cheerful and upbeat and this is a total mystery to me.

    And you will die, but not quickly. It takes time for the heart to give up, for the lungs to fill with water and stop breathing, for the toxic wastes to build up. It is generally considered wise for the patient to be on epic doses of morphine throughout the process, both to spare them the inevitable pain as their disease takes their course and to spare their family from having to watch them.

    So, I have to ask: who, exactly, is benefiting from this process?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      “So, I have to ask: who, exactly, is benefiting from this process?”

      The answer: no-one is.

      It’s just a consequence of risk-averse doctors / hospitals who don’t want to be accused of ‘not having done everything’ and family members who are afraid of ‘not appearing to care enough’ to the rest of the family. I call it a lack of moral courage. The patients’ wishes don’t come into it.

      cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh, by the way, that page you linked (here it is again)

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/

      – is dynamite. The guy has a talent for writing, I’ve bookmarked his site.

      cr

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I have a deal worked out with my bestie (whose mother we recently watched die with Alzheimer’s) that neither one of us would let the other linger in a vegetative or severely diminished painful state.

    (I recently spent some time visiting him, and noticing that he’d leave a good-lookin’ widow and a pair of box-seat season tickets at Wrigley, warned him not to get the sniffles around me or I might develop an itchy plunger finger.)

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      My family has the same deal. We have all, at one point or another (and in all seriousness) said to each other, “You BETTER kill me if I ever get like that!”

  17. Posted July 19, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Yes, Bill Franklin seems to have missed your point. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe you were using the word “allowed” as shorthand for “is morally/ethically acceptable.” You were talking to the people who are pro-abortion rights, but anti-euthanasia. It doesn’t make sense to be in favor of late term abortions for medically/genetically doomed fetuses, but anti-euthanasia for the same individual after delivery. Bill’s example of choosing to abort an otherwise healthy fetus moves the goalposts a bit because almost no one ever aborts a late-term fetus unless it is a medical/genetic catastrophe. It does raise an interesting question, though. Even though it is exceedingly rare in practice, it is a valid theoretical argument. If it is morally ok to abort a healthy fetus at (say) ten weeks for any reason you want, then what about 20 weeks, 30 weeks, 40 weeks, euthanasia? Where do you draw the line? And why?

    • Tom
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      The issue of morality hardly comes into it when a woman decides on what may be considered an unnecessary abortion, since almost all of these are done for reasons entirely personal to the woman concerned. Many from a fear of being found pregnant in repressive tradionalist families

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Can you rephrase or expand on that? I honestly have no idea what point you are trying to make (but I didn’t sleep much last night, so it may be all on me).

        • Craw
          Posted July 19, 2017 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

          I believe Tom is rejecting your claim that the fact “we” allow abortion constitutes proof that the same “we” approve. It’s a fair point: I think people should be allowed to admire Linda Sarsour.

  18. Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, these “you’re a Nazi” outcomes are predictable.

    I am surprised, however, that it is the religious right, including Catholics, who are the only senders: maybe because you’re already followed because of the evolution thing. That is, I expected also to hear from the disability rights advocates, too.

  19. Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    “Suicide and assisted suicide contravene the universal human rights principle of inalienability. Human beings cannot be deprived of the substance of their rights, not in any circumstances, not even at their own request.”

    I have read this argument before and didn’t agree with it then, nor do I now. I don’t think a society or culture has the right to force individuals to continue to live if they are in great pain and/or are dying. Anyone who has witnessed a death (and I’ve seen a number of my relatives die) can attest to the fact that it can be a long, drawn out painful process with dehydration, starvation and death rattles that sometimes go on for a long time.

    I live in Oregon where a person who is dying can legally opt for death with dignity (or as
    it is sometimes called, assisted suicide.) In spring of 2014, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to his bones. He was already in pain when the diagnosis was made. From then until January 2016 when he died, he received chemotherapy, radiation and a tube implanted in his chest to suction off fluid build up that made breathing difficult. It was known that there was no possibility of his surviving; just extending his life a little longer, maybe. As long as he was mentally alert and could interact with his family and friends, he wanted to be here with us. He did not want to be excessively drugged for pain. When the pain became too much, requiring more and more medication, and as he weakened, it became obvious that in a short while the option of death with dignity would no longer be available to him. He chose his method of death. He had family and friends with him when he died, and he died one of the most peaceful, relatively painless deaths I have ever seen. We were married for 56 years and
    much as I would have preferred that he not experience pain, suffering and death, I was glad that he wasn’t made to extend his agony to meet the beliefs and requirements that others may have wanted to impose on him.

    I do not think that anyone should have to suffer if it can be avoided.

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I am sorry for your loss, but glad that your husband could meet his end in a way and at a time that he wanted. Your account is an excellent example of why assisted suicide should not only be legal, but shouldn’t be criticized.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      That sentence of Rita’s that you quoted –
      “Suicide and assisted suicide contravene the universal human rights principle of inalienability. Human beings cannot be deprived of the substance of their rights, not in any circumstances, not even at their own request.”
      – is just absolute nonsense, in principle and in practice. I think she just made it up.

      A ‘right’ that you cannot abrogate even if you want to is not a ‘right’, it’s a punitive sentence.

      I sympathise with your loss, please don’t misunderstand if I say that your husband was lucky in living in a place where he could make such a decision. My mother, decades ago, wasn’t so lucky. She was in an excellent hospital (in NZ), with cancer of the throat (and probably elsewhere too) but of course nobody could accede to her repeated demands to be ‘put out of her misery’. My opinion of well-meaning ‘right-to-lifers’ is distinctly savage as a result.

      cr

      • Rita
        Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Hey! You mean, The sentence of Rita Joseph’s….”, NOT “that sentence of Rita’s…” 🙂

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        She didn’t make up the universal human right to life part (you can find it and other statements of human rights on the internet). It’s the way the term “inalienable” is interpreted that is insane. In regards to individuals, if you “own” it, whatever it is, you can keep or dispose of it as you wish. In the case of individual human suffering, the churches should leave the decision with the sufferer. Another situation in which elements of society step in where they aren’t needed or wanted.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Absolutely agree.

          cr

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry for your ordeal, Rowena.

      I’ve never felt the least bit suicidal, but if I thought that option was going to be stripped from me for good, I think I’d snuff it first. Knowing that life is in some sense voluntary is what makes it worth living (for me, anyway).

      To my mind, one of the worst things the odious right-wing pro-lifers ever tried to pull was the bullshit with Terri Schiavo. They argued that she might still be conscious, despite her persistent vegetative state. She wasn’t, of course, according to the best medical evidence — but imagine that she were, and how much worse that would be, trapped Johnny-Got-His-Gun style in a body without the ability to communicate with loved ones and minimal sensory input. A fate magnitudes worse than death, if you ask me. How anyone could interfere with her husband’s decision to end her life is beyond me.

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Thank you to each of you.

        I can assure you that this is not an easy choice and there are a number of legal hoops to go through, so the decision is not made lightly. And, although people may be present, none of them can help administer the final medication. The individual must do this alone. If he/she is too weak, or can’t get the entire dosage down and keep it down, it can’t be done.

        If faced with similar conditions when my life is ending, I hope to emulate my husband’s courage and choice. The alternative options of dying in hospital, nursing home or hospice is not for me. Hospitals truly are not appropriate in many ways for end of life care. I have seen hospices that are wonderful, but the one my husband and I tried to use before he died had numerous problems and we chose to leave it, returning to palliative care which was much better.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 21, 2017 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      It sounds very strange to say–about a post concerning stage 4 cancer and assisted suicide–that it was beautifully expressed, but that’s the word that first sprang to mind. Thank you, Rowena, that was deeply moving. I think it encapsulates the only morality we need to consider when faced with inoperable/incurable death sentences like the diagnosis you and your husband received.

  20. JohnE
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    The real problem here is that the most religious folks tend to be fiercely conservative, and despite their desire speak from their moral high horses, they have no desire whatsoever to contribute to FUNDING the colossal expense associated with these catastrophic birth defects.

    We are rapidly approaching the where we can keep anyone alive indefinitely, and the only issue is “At what cost?” Is it reasonable to insist that my fellow citizens have a moral obligation to collectively contribute a million or even a billion dollars to keep my child alive? Unfortunately, people’s emotional reactions prevent them from intelligently discussing this issue (“yYou can’t put a price on human life!”), just as it prevents intelligent discussions of so many other critical issues.

    • Rita
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Yes, funding is a huge issue that will only get worse as technology advances.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 21, 2017 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      And sadly, there must be those among the religious, faced with having a child with catastrophic birth defects, who would indeed opt to end the suffering were it not for the opprobrium they’d receive from their clergy and congregation.

  21. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Opposition to euthanizing humans whose prospects include very little if anything beyond unending suffering is based on the ridiculous concept that suffering is good for the soul. It is not. There is no such thing as a soul, but suffering is very real. Suffering should be minimized wherever possible. We seem to have no problem with euthanizing suffering “lesser” animals. Only when it comes to humans does the “soul improvement” bullshit arise. Humans should get at least the same consideration as other animals in all moral questions.

  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    “There is a genuine need to enact positive laws respecting key human rights principles:
    o The inherent right to life of the terminally ill and the suicidal is inalienable;
    o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to recognition of their inherent dignity;
    o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to security of person;
    o The autonomy of “end of life choices” is limited by the duty to secure the rights of all;
    o Human solidarity with the terminally ill and the suicidal must not be jeopardized.”

    What the HELL does that all mean? I have rarely seen such a load of self-evident tosh (at least, when grammatically written). Actually, it would almost qualify as Orwellian doublethink if it wasn’t so transparently nonsensical.

    What does ‘inherent dignity’ mean if they can’t choose to DIE with dignity should they so wish?

    I have solidarity with the terminally ill and suicidal. I absolutely support their right to die when they wish, not to force them to stay alive and suffer for someone else’s fetish.

    cr

  23. Rich
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Without reaching the merits of euthanasia in any specific case, I have two problems with newborn euthanasia.

    First is the good old slippery slope argument – when times get tough, and money for medical care gets scarcer, I just don’t trust the folks making the decisions not to expand the criteria for euthanasia.

    Second is basically the same argument I use against those who support capital punishment – how many innocent people have been rescued from death row? How many have been executed?

    Frankly no set of human decision makers seems to be able to get these decisions right 100% of the time. And, these are decisions that MUST be right 100% of the time.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      Good points.

      On the first though, if the slippery slope would apply to everything medicine, emergency services would do no triage. So, while we have to be careful, we do allow slippery slope risks.

      The second pivots around the idea that a newborn is akin to people. But then again, we do allow abortions because there is a difference between a fetus and a potentially suffering individual.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    compares me to the Nazi doctors who did odious medical experiments (he even shows a photo of them on trial), and says that NO euthanasia, nor even any abortions, can be morally justified.

    Oy. Egnor’s losing the argument on account of his Godwin aside, abortions has a strong moral justification. They do decrease suffering and medical problems both.

    Not allowing abortions is the morally problematic stand. <(And guess what religions chose!?)

  25. Craw
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I think Mr Franklin’s point is a good one. If there is no analogy between an abortion and euthanasia why did you make one? If we say a woman can have an abortion because she dislikes the sire or because it is Tuesday then the fact she can have one if the child has a genetic defect says absolutely nothing about our judgment about how we treat fetuses with that condition.

    • Adam M.
      Posted July 20, 2017 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      I agree. He may have misunderstood Jerry, but his question is a good one. I almost agree with him. If a woman can abort for any reason, then the parents should be able to commit infanticide for any reason, but not the woman by herself. If she doesn’t want the infant because she no longer likes the dad, the dad at least should have a chance to raise it, if he wants to.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    After responding to the ignorant creationist, I want to address the remaining as best I can.

    Bill Franklin does not analyse the issue at hand, euthanasia of a newborn to relieve life long suffering.

    Ritajoseph punches in all directions.

    1) “No child is “essentially a vegetable”.”

    Observably it is at the stage discussed.

    2) Newborn euthanasia risks “change it from unconditional palliative care to optional care together with the option of medically assisted suicide.”

    I note that palliative care is not clearly involved here since the newborn can at most feel physical distress. (Happens after fetal week 21 when the neural cord connects pain circuitry to the brain.) It is mostly the family that will feel distress.

    But the real problem here is that therapy and palliative care are not in opposition, c.f. cancers.

    3) [Unreadable]???

    In sum, I do not see any strong arguments against. Maybe such will come later, meanwhile I am satisfied this was a good proposal.

    • Craw
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Franklin does address the issue at hand: Coyne’s arguments. This is how debate works after all. Coyne proposes a reason, and Franklin points out a hole in the logic.

      • Posted July 20, 2017 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        That can be taken care of by offering adoption for kids who aren’t going to die, but will be handicapped Very few kids go unadopted in the U.S., and you can always offer a sick but not terminal child up for adoption for a limited period. If nobody takes it, you are free to euthanize it. I haven’t thought about this much, but that seems an answer to Franklin’s arguments about euthanizing healthy newborns. But I still favor abortion up to the end of pregnancy for whatever reason.

        • Craw
          Posted July 21, 2017 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

          That may well be a sensible policy, but again it is explicitly unlike the case with abortion, where you would impose no such duty to seek a surrogate care-giver. Again then, if the situation is unlike abortion how have you answered Mr Franklin’s objection?

  27. chrism
    Posted July 20, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Coming late to this (damn these time zones!)
    I have had many opportunities to consider the morals of action vs. inaction in medical situations, and I have found myself completely unable to regard inaction as morally separate from action. If you know what to do to prolong a life, and you know how to do it, and you have the means to do it, and you have every expectation that doing it will be effective, yet you still choose not to do it, you are, in fact, making a positive choice that shortens a life. I see no daylight between that and picking up a syringe of pentobarbital.
    Oddly, that sounds like I’d be on the side of preventing what has been called ‘mercy-killing’ but I’m not. I just want some clarity and for us to take responsibility for our actions by understanding them properly. There are situations where it is cruel and pointless to prolong suffering. This, after all, is the basis of terminal/palliative care, which is generally regarded as praiseworthy, and not morally reprehensible. Palliative care physicians routinely avoid life prolonging choices in favour of comfort. It is curious that they are so strongly set against medically assisted suicide, when it is the exact same moral act when looked at clearly.
    Like abortion, making choices that shorten a life is horrible, but sometimes it is the lesser evil. It is the internal conflicts in the minds of those who are asked to participate that make them care so much for the niceties and the need for a wisp of moral cover for their involvement. I suggest we all need to be perfectly honest with ourselves – we don’t want to do it, we don’t like it, but if it is actually the least awful course we must be able to help our patients in this way.

  28. North Charlton
    Posted July 20, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    What is the precise principle that makes it acceptable to kill, say, defective or disabled children, but not other weak people whom one merely finds intolerably annoying or troublesome?

    Is it “for their own good”? we kill them, or for the “good” of others?

    I assume [based on other readings] that any restriction that is still posited against freely killing the annoying once you have say, anesthetized them to limit any pain or emotional trauma, has something to do with “sentience” or “interests”; but I am not sure how in a world in which teleological justifications have been ruled out of court, just what function “sentience” is supposed to have as part of a premise.

    After all, it is not as if one assumes that “sentience” per se has inherent “rights” which it imparts top human organisms who do not.


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