Noilly Prattle: Euthanasia – the good death

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Euthanasia – the good death

     Occasionally a confluence of influences come together to create what I like to call an “aha moment” a consolidation of previous bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas into a coherent and meaningful whole.

        Life and death issues are with us from the moment of birth. The pull of life is so insistent for the young that they think of themselves as immortal by default. And that's just as it should be. The imminence of death for the aged is just as insistent and gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, we begin to entertain the nagging and intrusive thoughts of our own demise. And that's also just as it should be. It is said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I would add that an unexamined death (if only in the abstract) can lead to an unnecessarily trepid approach to aging.

        What we fear is not so much the unknown that death is, but the absence or loss of life and the potential pain of a prolonged dying process. There is a wonderful Snoopy cartoon where Snoopy and Charlie Brown are contemplating the grim reaper. Charlie says: “Someday we will all die, Snoopy.” Snoopy responds: “True, but on all the other days we will not.” Now, that's a bit of useful philosophy.

        So, we arrive at one of those confluences, in this case the inevitability of death and the inevitability of living until then. Those inevitabilities are givens. What is not given is the quality of those inevitabilities. We can live life poorly or well, and we can also die poorly or well. One is likely to lead to the other. To die well, one must live well—and have choices. To live and die poorly is often a result of no choices whatsoever, or bad choices. To die well, implies a choice of when and how to depart this life as well.

Foxglove and vine Ikebana
digitalis lanata (Foxglove)
        Unwittingly I gambled with death just the other day by using a plant called Digitalis lanata (Foxglove) for an Ikebana arrangement not knowing its name. By chance a blogger recognized my photo of the arrangement an told me of its name and that it was a highly poisonous plant. Sure enough, a Google search informed me that all parts of the plant are highly toxic if ingested and can lead to severe symptoms and even death. It is also used to treat heart patients in controlled dosages.

        The author Umberto Eco in his novel The Island of the Day Before puts it rather well. “We die because we cannot do otherwise. Only the philosopher can think of death as a duty, to be performed willingly and without fear. As long as we are here, death is not here, and when death comes, we have gone.”

        A news item today informs me that the Canadian Parliament will soon consider draft legislation to codify Canada's assisted suicide laws. Euthanasia is already legal in Canada, the draft is designed to establish guidelines for who can (and, equally important, should not) be considered eligible for assisted suicide.

                    Draft legislation in Canadian Parliament

        Assisted suicide is, of course, a controversial topic and one that should not be considered lightly, but should be approached with a view to choice for those who, in certain circumstances, would choose knowingly and in sound mind not to prolong a painful terminal illness and die with dignity—a good death.

        Euthanasia is a derivative of the Greek words for death [thanatos] and good [eu]. He never lived his life so well as in the leaving of it. I think I read something like that somewhere once upon a time. At any rate, I would like to have that choice, should I want it, when my time comes to bid farewell to this beautiful blue-green marble.


Anonymous said...

Love this blog post!

First, I'm glad someone recognized your plant as Digitalis. I recognized the name as the ingredient in a heart medication (Digoxin I think) but didn't realize it was poisonous. Be careful!

Second, I wholeheartedly agree with your position on euthanasia. I have often wondered why we treat our pets better than our humans by euthanizing them when they no longer have a good quality of life. I agree that euthanasia for humans is not a subject to be taken lightly, but why shouldn't we have a choice to leave this life on our own terms in some cases. Why should we be forced to endure a long, painful end if it can be avoided. In the cases of painful terminal illnesses, we should be able to choose to go before the pain is unbearable, in surroundings that we choose, in the company of our loved ones. That would be a "good death."


Noilly Prattle said...

The topic is one I have been ruminating about for some time now. Your comment is spot on and just about makes the case for euthanasia. Most of the objection to it is largely religious and ethical in nature, whereas the proponents take it from a more humane and practical point of view. I'm sure the debate will go on and that's fine, but I don't think choices should be blocked while the debate goes on. Euthanasia is not for everyone, nor should it be, but it should be available for those who wish to take that final step. If you are in extreme pain, I doubt that ethics would enter your decision making. I read about a devout Buddhist nun who, in extreme pain from cancer, cursed and denied the existence of any god. She recovered and was stunned at how she behaved in the face of extreme pain. . . as I think most of us would as well. I would prefer my cup of hemlock under such circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the opposition is largely due to religious reasons. In Catholicism, you can't go to heaven if you commit suicide, right? That causes many people enough angst to find the idea of choosing one’s own death unacceptable. I don’t find anything unethical about it either. How can it be unethical if it is a choice that I have made for myself, to end intractable pain that will never end and will inevitably end in my untimely death anyway? I, for one, think Jack Kevorkian had the right idea and don’t feel that his actions were criminal.

It seems that there have been changes in the laws in some states with respect to this subject. There are now a few states that will allow a person to end their life in certain circumstances. I recalled a story from a couple years ago of a young woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to another state in order to be allowed to end her life on her terms. Here is a link to a story about it:


Noilly Prattle said...

Yes, I remember that story. I believe she moved to Oregon for the procedure, Oregon is one of the five states that have legalized (or will soon) assisted suicide. The other four are California, Vermont and Washington and New Mexico. Montana permits assisted suicide by a State Supreme Court ruling. In the others you are out of luck for euthanasia. Several countries also have legalized assisted suicide and/or euthanasia.

As of April 2016 , human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania, Canada, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana and California (effective June 2016).