Convince me that euthanasia should be illegal.

Some years ago, a friend of mine confessed to me that she had killed her mother. It wasn’t murder, at least in my view. Her mother had terminal cancer and was in quite of bit of agony, so much so that the morphine did little more than mildly alleviate her suffering, and even that for long. She–my friend’s mother–wanted desperately to be relieved from this pointless torture, and that mean dying. She told my friend as much, and so, after a lot of soul-searching, my friend did the deed.

My friend has always felt guilty about this. I understand that, but I think she is in error to feel this way: specifically that the law prohibiting euthanasia is wrong, and that our culture’s fear of death has blinded us to what true mercy is. What my friend did for her mother was an act of love; it was not a sin and should not be a crime. I wish I’d had the courage to do the same for my own mother when she lay dying.

Convince me that what my friend did should be illegal.

What your friend specifically did? Sure - it’s actually pretty easy to argue that what she did should have been illegal. Your friend almost certainly lacked either the medical training to be certain that she’s exhausted all possible palliative care options, or even to ensure that her mother was sufficiently lucid to give informed consent to euthanasia. Nor did your friend have the medical expertise required to ensure that the euthanasia would be carried out in the least painful possible manner. In short, your friend didn’t know enough to be certain that euthanasia was appropriate, that her mother truly wanted it, or that she was doing it properly. I’m certain she loved her mother, and tried her level best - but this is precisely the sort of ad-hoc, zero-oversight euthanasia that should be illegal.

(Sorry, Skald - but you did ask for the argument).

All this being said, I do believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legal. But the key words here are “physician-assisted” and “suicide” - there needs to be medical oversight to confirm that suicide is appropriate, the patient is consenting, and the procedure is set up correctly, and the patient has to be the one to actually do the deed in order to ensure the patient can back out at the very last moment. (Though the physician-provided assistance can be pretty substantial - starting the IV, say, or handing the patient the pills).

More states need to allow people to end their lives painlessly, with careful safeguards in place to prevent abuse. But extra-legal “euthanasia” without these safeguards is deeply scary, and discredits a basically reasonable movement.

Mercy is a personal issue. That’s really all I can say on the subject. Laws are from the highest to the lowest, they should be written for all cases.

Prosecution of the law… therein lies a bit of discretion.

It is difficult to find a way to write a law that allows for subtle interaction. A law that allows for euthanasia can wind up with organlegging, to cast a look Niven-wards. Or for postpartum sex-selective abortions. One has to be careful in these cases, what one allows someone to do to someone they have in their care. And the law is a blunt instrument.

Is it wrong? I will say, perhaps not in this case. (I am not there, I do not know all details.) Should it be written as illegal? I say… sadly, yes, it probably should be.

Should it be prosecuted?

No need to apologize.

As my friend tells the tale, she was … instructed … by her mother’s doctor in the best way to adjust the morphine drip to ensure a relatively quick death for her mother. And I’m quite certain her mother wanted it. More, Deponent Sayeth Not.

ETA: I certainly agree that it would have been better if my friend’s mother’s doctor had been legally allowed to do what his patient clearly wanted.

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act is a good model of how to do this sort of thing safely. From the Act’s FAQ:


A guy I worked with years ago, had a grandmother put to death by Kavorkian. She was in her 70s. her husband died and they had no kids. My friend used to try to help her out but he was in his mid 20s and had things to do. She had Alzheimers and saw where she was going. Every day she lost a little . She was an independent type that hated what the future would bring. She decided to call the doc and he did the job. I don’t see how anyone else is in the position of making that kind of decision for her.

I thought that, at least in some areas, it was legal to increase the dosage of painkillers as high as necessary to take away the pain even though a quicker death would be a side effect. If this is what your friend did, I don’t think it should be illegal. There is no reason to force a dying person to experience pain just to draw things out a little longer.

If that’s not quite what she did. . . I might not argue for legalizing overdoses meant to kill, but I’m not going to tell her she did the wrong thing. I’d probably suggest that everyone who sees a loved one die slowly and painfully comes away feeling guilty, if only because they couldn’t make them well. She did a hard, loving thing that left a powerful memory and it may be that the normal survivor’s guilt just attached itself to that.

What she did was illegal where she did it.