Who Will Hire the Hangman?

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Why should the dying have all the best deaths? Fatal illness is not the only form of terrible human suffering: on the contrary, the briefest of reflection should be enough to convince anyone that such suffering is widespread and often long-lasting. Surely it is discriminatory to offer advantages, such as the right to easeful death, to one group of people but not to another?

Belgium, it seems, is to offer children with fatal diseases the option of voluntary euthanasia, provided they have “discernment.” But pain and suffering are no respecters of the powers of discernment. One of the reasons that we feel able (albeit with a heavy heart) to put down our pets when they are fatally ill is precisely that they do not have discernment, that we cannot reason with them, and that they are unable to choose for themselves. In the case of children, who discerns the discernment? And will children be put up to asking, will it be suggested to them that they might prefer death to their current condition? It will save time and money if they do.

I can quite see all the arguments in favor of euthanasia. It is a hard and unpleasant fact that while most deaths can be made relatively comfortable, not all can: Some terminal suffering is horrible despite the best palliation possible. However, a right to something tangible, such as the means to euthanasia or assisted suicide, implies the duty of someone to provide it: for a right can only really be a right if it can be exercised.

Who, then, will have the duty to provide the means to easeful death? No doubt there will be clauses in the relevant permissive laws to absolve individual doctors or others from complying with patients’ requests, but such doctors will no doubt be constrained also to supply the names of willing doctors, under pain of infringing upon the requesting patients’ rights. Before long, doctors who do not agree with euthanasia will feel they might as well go along with it, and do it themselves, for their refusal will make no difference. We must be practical.

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