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Euthanasia: Naturalism vs the Sanctity of Life

3 October 2009 7 Comments
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Is Truth Relative? Do we have a “right” to do as we please?

This discussion is not about abortion, but let me lay it out as an example to make a point. Everyone has heard the abortion arguments before: the argument for life and the argument for choice. Is abortion wrong because the child is a human being and no one has the right to kill a child? Or should abortion be considered a valid option because it is in the right of the mother to determine whether they can or want the child? How about the right of a person to kill oneself? Do old sickly people have the right to end their own lives? Can other people assist them? Stop them? The debates continue but underlying these discussions is a much deeper battle: the battle in the validity of the sanctity of life.

Morality vs Rights?

Our current culture emphasizes tolerance and rights. The “right” of a person is held on a high pedestal, I dare say even above morality. What happens when someone chooses to say someone is wrong? They are labeled intolerant and someone not considerate of the “right” of a person to do and believe what makes them happy. We are told truth is not absolute, it is relative. It is all about what feels right to a person and the “right” for a person to hold onto his or her version of truth. Thus over time, “rights” have become a touchy subject but an issue we need to tackle when discussing the sanctity of life.

Are Humans any Different from Animals?

  • Is there such a thing as the “sanctity of life” when it comes to human beings?
  • Is there something innate about human beings that sets them apart?
  • If so, under what basis?

Naturalism says there is nothing in life outside of what we see in nature- there is no spiritual world, there is no god, there is no supernatural. Thus from a strict naturalistic perspective, humans are no different from animals. Why is that? Naturalist have to believe that humans were born out of bunch of atoms that by chance led to who we are today. From a naturalistic perspective, the only explanation for our seemingly unique ability to reason, make decisions, or have a moral conscious, is simply determined by our chemical makeup. The very reason you are reading this article is due to chemical reactions in your body – you did not chose to read it, it was set to happen. There is no “free will” or “choice”, we just do as our chemical agents leads us to do. Thus if there is no free will, there can be no choice of doing what is right or wrong, or any extra “value” in us. Hitler did what he did due to his all the chain reactions from the beginning of time. Mother Teresa did what she did, not by choice, but due to her chemical makeup. You can’t blame one or honor the other – it’s was all determined. In this worldview, there is nothing that separates us from other animals let alone plants. There is no special “sanctity of life”.

Some might be tempted to say that one believes we are mere chemicals, but still believe humans are valuable. Most would agree to that, but again, under what basis? If we are indeed just a chance product of nature (this including our ability to reason, our emotions etc), what basis do we have any “sanctity” versus some other animal?

“It seems we demand humans to live with indignity, pain and anguish whereas we are kinder to our pets when their suffering becomes too much. It simply is not logical or mature…” – Dr. Philip Nitschke

Euthanasia - Sanctity of LifeWho is Dr. Philip Nitschke?

Dr. Philip Nischke is an Australian medical doctor and founder of pro-euthanasia group called Exit International. He has campaigned for legal euthanasia and was successful in passing a law in Australia’s Northern Territory. He helped four people end their lives before the law was overturned by Australia’s Federal government. He has also provided advice to others who ended up ending their lives. He has also been in the news for his willingness to accompany several New Zealanders to Mexico to help them purchase potentially life-ending drug Nembutal and also for presenting the idea of a “death ship” which he would take people to international waters to circumvent local laws.

Dr. Philip Nitschke’s Worldview
Nitschke’s worldview is a natural result of naturalism. Since what we see in nature is all there is to life, there is nothing innate about human beings that makes them any more valuable than a dog, a cat, or even an insect. He argues in the quote above, if we kill our own pets when they are suffering, why can’t we “dignify” people in doing the same. The question is, are humans innately different than animals? Are humans more valuable or are they the same? Is killing a dog or an insect different than killing a human being? To Dr. Nitschke, we are all the same.

Check out this article from Breakpoint regarding the Sanctity of Life:

Euthanasia & the Sanctity of Life

Regular BreakPoint listeners have heard me speak about the impact of declining birth rates around the world. One consequence is that older people comprise an increasing percentage of the population in places like Japan and Western Europe.

This increases economic pressures on these countries since an aging population requires more services while having fewer young workers to pay for them.

One doctor has come up with a way to address the imbalance between pensioners and workers—that is, fewer pensioners.

What Dr. Philip Nitschke has in mind isn’t raising the retirement age—his goal is fewer pensioners.

Nitschke is the founder of Exit International, a self-described “world-leading Voluntary Euthanasia” organization. As part of his mission, Nitschke, who is from Australia, travels to different countries teaching people “how to end their lives safely.”

One of his methods is a dose of the barbiturate Nembutal. While in Britain, he told Reuters that “almost every 75-year-old I meet now sees merit in having their own bottle of Nembutal in the cupboard as an insurance policy, in case things get bad.”

Every 75-year-old? Clearly the Kevorkian from Down Under runs with an atypical crowd. As Reuters put it, “Nitschke’s is an extreme view.” Extreme, but unfortunately not unthinkable, especially given the trajectory of our culture.

At the same time Nitschke was speaking to Reuters, Britain was awaiting new guidelines for cases involving people who help family members commit suicide. The guidelines are the result of litigation involving a woman with multiple sclerosis who plans to go to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. She wanted assurances that her husband wouldn’t be prosecuted for helping her kill herself. Britain’s law lords ruled that she was entitled to such assurances.

While assisted-suicide is still illegal within Britain, attitudes are changing. For example, the Royal College of Nurses has gone from being opposed to assisted-suicide to a position of neutrality. You don’t have to be an alarmist or even a pessimist to guess what the next change will be.

These changes coincide with the graying of the British population. Currently, 20 percent of Britons are over 65, and that is projected to rise to 30 percent by 2020. Pro-euthanasia advocates scoff at the idea that the elderly will be pressured to die by society, but British officials acknowledge the possibility. One told the BBC that he wouldn’t want to live in a society that pressured its elderly to kill themselves to make life easier for their families.

The government’s way of preventing that is laws that “strike a balance,” he said, between “sympathetic” cases and protecting the elderly. But you and I know where the road paved with good intentions leads. Without a bright line around the sanctity of human life, the extreme inexorably becomes the mainstream.

The so-called “right to die” can become, as one American politician suggested, a “duty to die,” especially as the costs associated with an aging population crowd out other priorities.

There is only one insurance policy against this nightmare—an unqualified commitment to the sanctity of life.

Euthanasia vs. the Sanctity of Life: It has only just begun.

Healthcare has become one of the biggest discussion topics in Congress and this issue of the sanctity of life is soon going to be a very real topic every person will have to grapple with. The large “baby boomer” population are slowing entering into the later stages of life.

How will the government deal with the limited resources available?
If an old frail 80 year old needs special treatments that will require expensive procedures and medicines, should we make them fully available? Or is it more “practical” to use those limited resources on someone younger who has more years to live and has a better quality of life?

The discussion on euthanasia and the sanctity of life has only just begun…

Where do you stand?

If one asks you..

  • Do you believe a person has the right to kill oneself if they are old and sick? (By the way, let’s not sugarcoat this, it’s basically committing suicide).

If you answered yes, the next question would be,

  • Does a person have a right to kill oneself even if they aren’t old and sick?
  • Does the person have the “right” to do that?

It’s a slippery slope folks. If we deem it the “right” of a person to take one’s own life because they are sick (or assist someone), we will have to allow a person to kill themselves in any situation. Ultimately it comes down to this:

  • Do you believe in the sanctity of life?
  • Do you believe people innately have value and are set apart from animals, insects and inanimate objects? Or do you believe humans have no intrinsic value?

Intrinsic Value or No Intrinsic Value?

  • If you believe in the sanctity of life, then under what basis?
  • What gives people intrinsic value versus other things of nature?

If Dr. Philip Nischke is right and we are no different from animals, then he has every right to believe it is ok to kill a human being. We kill animals all the time, so why not people?

If you believe that people have intrinsic value and that life is sacred, first you need to figure out under what basis? Where does the value come from? Secondly, issues like euthanasia and abortion should be crystal clear. No one is allowed to kill any other human being under any circumstances. Nobody has the “right” to do that.

So where do you fall?
Leave your comments below.

7 Comments »

  • dragonfyshe said:

    I am a 44 year old who has spent the last 22 years in severe chronic pain. I’m from Australia. Every year/month my condition deteriorates and I’m now at a point where I am in desperate need of an operation on my neck. The alternative is paraplegia. Yet, specifically because I am on a disability pension it is near impossible to get the care I need. I am on a ‘priority’ waiting list at one of the hospitals to see a neurosurgeon. The word priority gives you the false hope of being seen soon. In this case, I won’t even be eligible for an appointment until 365 days have passed. Meanwhile, I have to suffer the indignity of what my body is doing and what’s coming next. I have tried suicide numerous times but the timing was wrong or the combination of drugs were wrong. People like Phillip Nietsche are a godsend to people like myself, who, though not quite ready to go yet, want a peaceful easy alternative to end our life before we become a true burden on those we love. But that’s only part of it for me. I want a backup plan because pain is a relative thing and the pain that I endure sometimes is unendurable. With all the laws about what you can and can’t give a patient for pain relief am I supposed to just spend my life in misery. Isn’t quality of life so much more important than quantity? In my book and in many others it is. As far as the sanctity of life goes, I believe that it can be regulated so that those who are extremely ill can get the peace they need and those who are just having a ‘bad trot’ or however you want to put it, cannot access these kinds of services. I know that Dr Nietsche is extremely careful of who he has helped in the past as he knocked me back. Mostly due to my age, though he was incredibly sensitive and compassionate about my situation. This situation will change because come hell or high water, when I have no quality of life left of all, I am extremely happy to step of this earthly coil.
    In my opinion, just like a mother and abortion, it should be up to the patient, not society. Most of society has no idea of the idignities, pain, frustrations and depression that comes with long term chronic illness so how can they make a judgement. That’s like a tree telling me that I have dry skin. Think about it. Thank you.

  • Media Influence (author) said:

    hi dragonfyshe,

    thanks so much for your sharing.

    by all means I won’t even pretend to know what you are going through. All i can say is to hang in there and I really hope things work out for you, whatever that may be. I really hope you get a chance to talk it out with your loved ones before choosing such a path. Thanks again for such a personal sharing.

    – Media Influence

  • dragonfyshe said:

    Thank you for your honesty. I’m so tired of people telling me they know how I feel. As for things ‘working out’ for me. 301 days to go before I can get an appointment and I am now fully incontinent due to the cyst (syrinx) in my spinal cord. I feel I can no longer leave my home due to sheer embaressment if I should ‘let fly’. I hate having friends over because it embaresses them as well as me. Half the time I can’t feel my legs, though they still function, though somewhat wobbly. The other half of the time my legs are in severe pain. I am ‘hanging’ in there, as while I can still walk, there is hope. But that hope dwindles a little every day. Fortunately, I suppose, for me, I have no family to discuss it with and my friends are all extremely aware of how I feel about being kept alive by machines or past my use by date. However, I have spent much time speaking to people of late who seem to think the idea of euthanasia is just a coward’s way out. Trust me when I tell you that it takes a lot of courage to say goodbye to those you love. It takes a lot of courage to make the choice to not be a burden on those you care about or a burden on society. And it sure as hell takes a lot of courage to die willingly when you have no idea what happens once you’re dead.
    You rightly mention that there is a fine line between allowing people with chronic illnesses the right to die and ‘guilting’ the elderly into killing themselves. It is a fine line. But surely as intelligent human beings we can turn around and say NO, I do NOT want to die yet.
    The whole point is that it is the individual patient’s choice. Not society’s. As for the reasoning that if you allow one person the right to die because they are suffering horrendously, then you have to allow anyone the right to die for whatever reason. I say Piffle. I do not in any way shape or form condone people committing suicide for any reason other than severe chronic painful ill health. If your wife leaves you. Move on. We’ve all had to go through something like that. Not everyone has to go through years of suffering physical “torture”. (My word – no one elses).
    And just for the record I object to the phrasing in the Breakpoint quote: –

    “One doctor has come up with a way to address the imbalance between pensioners and workers—that is, fewer pensioners.

    What Dr. Philip Nitschke has in mind isn’t raising the retirement age—his goal is fewer pensioners.”

    This has never been a goal for Dr Nitschke in any way. He wants to help alleviate suffering. Once upon a time, people who were like that were called Saints. Go figure. Time changes everything.

    I respect your opinion and am grateful that you allow me to express mine here. It is a difficult dilemma that every single person needs to think about as to what is right for them. There are many elderly and sick out there that unlike myself will fight for every day they can get. And I am happy for them if that is their wish.

    Myself, I guess I’m just so damn tired. Not sleepy tired. Just tired of pain and pills, and doctors and my body not working right. And in all honesty – and in a way I hate to admit this – what with the way that the world is these days with the wars, and disrespect and lack of common courtesy, well, that tires me out as well. It certainly isn’t incentive to stay.

    Thank you once again for allowing me to express myself. I think it helps to vent once in a while and I follow your remarks with great interest and respect. Once again, thank you.

  • Media Influence (author) said:

    dragonfyshe,

    thanks again for your sharing and kind words. In all honesty, I am very hesitant to say much since I am not a professional in dealing with this kind of thing. I am just thankful to hear that you’ve spent time speaking to people about this issue and you are not going at it alone.

    There is so much I want to say but I’ll just say one thing – I believe you, that it takes much courage to make the choice of not being a burden to people, but I also think it takes greater courage to be willing to stick it out for the sake of loved ones as well. Again I speak not specific to your situation but in generalities since I do not fully know your situation. Just something I believe to be true.

    Anyhow, I am glad you found some bit of relief in being able to vent. I am glad to have heard your story. You can know in addition to your friends, there is one more person here who really cares what happens to you. I hope you’ll continue to find time to keep talking it out with those who love you.

    If you don’t mind I’ll be sure to keep you in my prayers.

    Thanks

  • dragonfyshe said:

    Thank you so much. Your comment:- “You can know in addition to your friends, there is one more person here who really cares what happens to you.” Means more than you can possibly know. It gets awfully lonely when you’re going through something like this. And if I haven’t before, I want to thank you for having this subject in your blog as it is an important one, especially in this day and age. And though I stand by everything I have said, I also agree with you that it takes courage to keep on going for the sake of your loved ones.

    I would be honoured if you would keep me in your prayers.

  • Katie said:

    dragonfyshe,

    i hope you’re doing okay, and like the other’s said, im not going to pretend i know what you’re going through, but it should definetly be up to the individual person, not society to decide on what is right in each circumstance. i read a quote once that said is it not better to be happy for a short time, even if it goes, than to just be okay your whole life? once again keep hanging in there, i don’t know what you’re going through but i will pray for you, xxx

  • Kenny Powers said:

    You cannot stop a person from taking their own life if they so wish. That does not make their actions morally acceptable in any way, but no one has a higher moral authority to stop them.
    Kenny Powers recently posted..Phonak Audeo Q With Integrated Tinnitus OptionMy Profile

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