Are there any arguments against assisted suicide not based on religious beliefs?

Are there any secular, non-religious-based arguments against physician-assisted suicide, or are they based soley on religious prohibitions against suicide?

If there are no secular arguments, could it be argued that any law prohibiting assisted suicide is violation of the separation of church and state?

Not that I’m aware of. Physician assisted suicide is still controlled heavily by capitolistic machinery. Move assisted suicide to the realm of the private sector as a service for a fee, and you have two religions freaking out.


Sure. The problem is not so much with the suicide but the potential for abuse. For example, should the physician be able to approach the patient about this? Is it not possible that a physician, or a family, could push assisted suicide in cases where the sick person is not necessarily completely willing, or completely competent?

There is also an inherent problem for doctors – doctors are supposed to do no harm. Intentionally killing a person (even with their consent) seems to to violate this rule. [As an editorial aside, I would argue that to ignore the futile suffering of a patient would qualify moreso than assisting a suicide.]

(I am for legalization of assisted suicide, for the record. Simply answering the question as best I can.)

There’s a slippery slope to guard against: if suicide is acceptable for the near-term terminally ill, the borderline case is far-term terminally ill–someone just starting AIDS dementia, perhaps, or with Alzheimers. The same arguments about “death with dignity” apply to long-term degenerative diseases past a certain point of disability, even if death is several years away. Certainly, there are many cases to be made where “death with dignity” is preferable to long-term disability, even if death is not imminent.

Then there’s the case of less-than-voluntary assisted suicide, which is closer to legal when assisted suicide is. Consider the farmer in Saskatchewan who killed his twelve year old daughter with advanced cystic fibrosis. He said it was a mercy killing, and everyone familiar with the case agreed: the girl was in constant, terrible pain, was completely helpless, had no hope of improvement, but would live for at least five or more years. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld his sentence of ten years in jail, but everyone recognized that, as an individual case, he’d committed an act of terrible mercy.

There’s also the fact that it legitimizes suicide to a degree, such that more people will see it as a reasonable option, if they don’t now. There are people who will see their own psychological misery as indistinguishable from the physical misery of someone with a degenerative condition. Could you convince someone with chronic, severe depression that their life is better than someone with Alzheimers?

Someone in the other thread raised a more horrible possibility: HMOs could reduce costs for the care of the terminally ill by offering suicide as a way out. Just leave some pamphlets on the coffee table, say.


I just keep picturing a scenario something like this:-

Flash forward to the twilight of Steve’s years. So, not all that far forward, then.

Gold-Digging Younger Wife: … and so, M’lud, since the terrible freak accident with the sandwich toaster, my poor husband has been bedridden and unable to communicate. (*To me: *) Say something to the nice judge, dear.

Me: …mff flnk ngh wbbl… (Tr: I’m fine, I’ve just got my teeth stuck in this toffee.)

GDYF: You can see his terrible inarticulacy here and now, or alternatively read any of his posts on the Straight Dope Message Board.

Judge: He does indeed present an awful picture, Mrs Wright, but then again he always did. Perhaps we should hear from his doctor whether his condition is irreversible…?

Dr Lovetruncheon: I can certify to the court that Mr Wright has no prospects of recovery. Also, the hospital needs his bed. Also, his shapely, inventive and astonishingly flexible young widow, err, wife and I need a bed as well, although for different reasons.

Me: …gnfff hplgh mmdf… (Tr.: You bastard!)

GDYW: Through my closeness to my dear, dear, heavily insured husband, I am able to translate his incoherent mumblings. He is pleading, m’lud, pleading for release from this living hell.

Me: …spkhhh fsss knnff ddkkgf … (Tr.: Help, they’re trying to kill me!)

GDYW: And he wants me and Dr Lovetruncheon to sell his collection of grotty science fiction paperbacks and buy a water bed.

Judge: Mrs Wright, I am convinced by your eloquent pleas and your astoundingly tight and low-cut dress. Your husband shall be set free from his misery forthwith.

GDYW: Thank you, m’lud. (*To Dr Lovetruncheon: *) OK, honey, get the shotgun.

I do have objections to this scenario, and I’m not convinced they’re religious.

Very pro-euthanasia, pro-self deliverance person chiming in here. Perhaps one of the few people who’s held a legally enforable “living will” in her hands and has had to enforce it.

Did religion enter the equation? NO. It most certainly did ffor the parents of the man concerned but he would never, EVER have given me the ultimate power had he trusted his family to do the “right” thing by him. Lest any of you think that I’m talking in the abstract, I literally held this legal power over my son’s father (who ultimately died fromAIDS) - it’s a power which I would never wish on anyone and to which I’ve gone to enormous lenghths to ensure will never be invoked in respect of my own children. It’s just WAY to hard to be responsible for the ultimate judgement.

I don’t EVER want that kind of power over whether someone lives or dies again. Not EVER.

My personal story is pretty well known around the SDMB; just please, PLEASE, people, never EVER leave someone who loves you to have to make the kind of decisions I had to make. Just don’t.

Bailing from this convo because it’s so painful and when all’s said and done, I am a sook.

Fortunately, the “living will” I have made is enforceable in Australia - glad I don’t live elsewhere.

Being serious for once here… I know what you mean, reprise. My mother suffered a life-threatening illness a few years ago, and since that time she’s made it very clear, to me, that if it ever happens again, she doesn’t want what they call heroic measures taken to preserve her life.

So, I have to contemplate the prospect of having to tell a doctor, “No, Mum said she didn’t want this, you’ll have to pull the plug.” And, quite frankly, that scares the hell out of me.

But if the decision is to be taken out of my hands and given over to some legal process… I want every safeguard on that process there can possibly ever be, and even then, I’d worry.

Anything can be argued, but there is a slim to none chance (with slim leaving the building) that you would ever win.

:: walks up to GDYW ::

I’ll buy 'em! As a matter of fact, I’ll take 'em ALL off your hands so you won’t have to mess around with eBay or anything. How does a dollar apiece sound: AND I’ll throw in a waterbed!

Note to Steve: Friendship is one thing, but old SF paperbacks are another thing entirely! :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh, come on, Fenris. As if my paltry collection would include anything you’ve missed…

There’s also the whole issue of an old person opting for assisted suicide through fears of being “a burden.”

I am totally pro-euthanasia in cases of illness, incurable pain, terminal disease, etc. I am less sure about depressive illnesses. I would most prefer to see this take place in a secure legal and medical framework, much in the same way abortion is. I think consultations with at least two doctors would help to minimise the problem of “burden”-complex cases.

I think as humans the right to take our own lives is equal to the right to live our own lives.

The most relevant opinion I ever heard was from a doctor whose interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath was that the first duty is to save life, the second to relieve suffering. Thus if life cannot be saved, and suffering can only be relieved through death, it is an ethical option.

I, too, am pro-euthanasia (I mean, we do it for DOGS who are suffering, when we can’t even really ask them their opinions on the matter), but widespread legalization (and the potential for abuse thereof) is giving me Soylent Green flashes…

One secular argument that I have heard against euthenasia is that maybe the person will think that they want to die just because they are very depressed. Perhaps counseling, antidepressants, or even just the passage of time will lift the depression, and they will realize that they want to continue living.

I don’t think this is a valid argument, personally, since we make all sorts of irrevocable decisions all the time without the government leaning over our shoulders second-guessing our motives.

The sticking point, at least for me, is not that people are being given the right to kill themselves… in practice, whether or not in law, that right already exists. With euthanasia, or “physician-assisted suicide”, we are talking about giving doctors (or even ordinary unqualified folks - look up the Diane Pretty case) the right to kill other people, with no legal consequences. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, to me, to worry if that right might not be abused.

(The case of Harold Shipman springs to mind. Dr Shipman, for those who aren’t up on UK serial killers, made something of a hobby of administering lethal injections to his elderly patients; he was found guilty on several charges of murder, but some believe he may literally have killed hundreds of people in his career. These were elderly people who trusted their doctor; if he’d been able to talk them into signing consent forms or living wills before he gave them their shots - might he have been able to get away with it? I concede that this is an extreme case…)

Um, I know some Religious Right people who would claim that this is an argument based on religion, but the Declaration of Independence, which has at least moral authority over Americans, does claim as inalienable rights the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” One could question to what extent one may self-alienate any of these rights, and to what extent the ringing language of the Declaration is binding on Americans today – but there would be one statement conforming to the question raised in the OP.

I covered this in the other thread on the subject, but briefly:

For the “slippery slope” fears: In the 3+ years that Oregon’s law has been in place, the rate of assisted suicides in that state has been less than 9 per million people per year. Not exactly like running the elderly and inconvenient through the slaughter house…

The key, of course, is placing proper safeguards in place. I personally think that requiring the patient to personally petition a judge would be appropriate. Simply signing a “consent form” doesn’t provide sufficient protection from undue influence. That said, I don’t think that there’s going to be a rush to die. Most whom could benefit from an eay end won’t choose it, because people are stubborn, and want to live. I think the Oregon numbers provide pretty good support for this assertion.

Religious leaders aren’t completely hostile to the concept of “the right to die”

from, March 24:

Pope to Doctors: Respect the Dying
Pope John Paul II has urged doctors to respect the wishes of terminally-ill patients and not resort to extreme measures to prolong life. John Paul was addressing participants from a scientific congress on gastroenterology, a branch of medicine studying diseases of the stomach and the intestines, on Saturday. Telling the doctors that caring for patients “must take into the account not only the body but also the spirit,” John Paul said it was “presumptuous” to count just on scientific technique. “And, in this perspective, extreme measures at all costs, even with the best intentions, would be, in the end, not only useless, but not fully respectful of the patient who has reached the terminal stage,” the Pope said. He encouraged scientists to pursue research for new treatments, but reminded them that “one cannot forget that man is a limited and mortal being.” “It’s thus necessary to approach the ill with that healthy realism which avoids generating in those who suffer the illusion of medicine’s omnipotence,” the pontiff said. “There are limits which can not be humanly overcome.”

I read this and immediately thought of the Monty Python Holy Grail scene with the guy collecting bodies who died from the plague.

“I don’t want to go in the cart!”

Interesting, though, that if you fail at the attempt, you have broken the law.

davidw: slightly different, in that the Pope is always behind letting GOD dictate when someone dies–i.e., after a few days, should doctors fail to take heroic measures, or after a few years of agonizing pain. But the pope would not be behind letting the person in the latter case take ACTIVE measures to end his/her life.

One thing we’re muddying up, esp. w/ the examples of depressed individuals or folks who have just been diagnosed as having AIDS, is the fact that assisted suicide really only comes into play when the patient is SO sick that he/she is physically incapable of killing himself/herself. That’s when you need to call in someone else to measure out too many sleeping pills into your medicine cup, smuggle a pistol into your bedroom, or hook up some crazy carbon monoxide gizmo a la Kevorkian. For everyone else, they should be able to kill themselves just fine (like the rest of us).