Human Euthanasia

Why is there such animosity toward human euthanasia?

My mother is dying of cancer. I am greatful that she is not in pain, and that she still has her mental faculties. But she is so weak now, she cannot get out of bed by herself to take a crap.
She is litterally just waiting to die.

It’s not that we are anxious for her to go, and, like I said, she is not suffering in pain. But when terminal patient’s quality of life has deteriorated to the point where they aren’t eating, have no strength and are nothing but skin & bones, what’s the point of stickin’ around?

My parents & I have discussed this amongst ourselves, and they feel the same way. They have already told me of their intentions.

But why is society so against human euthanasia?

(I differentiate between suicide and euthanasia.)

I mean, in this regard, we seem to afford our pets more compassion in these cases than we do humans. WTF?

The main reason, IMHO, is that humans are regarded differently than other animals. For example, the majority of people out the enjoy a good steak, some chicken or fish, or some other kind of meat. We’re used to thinking of animals as expendable or as food. Humans are, on the other hand, considered to be much like ourselves. As a result, the idea of taking a human life voluntarily is against the moral and emotional mold for most people. There are exceptions, but I think that this is the general feeling. Personally, I’m all for voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in the case of terminal disease. Why force someone to suffer?

There are some concerns regarding euthenasia. Among them are:

  1. Do we allow euthanasia for people who are not terminal?

  2. The possibility that people who don’t really want to die will “agree” to do so due to family pressure, finances, or feelings of guilt over what they think they are doing to thier family because of thier illness.

  3. The possibility of botched jobs, or the euthanisation of people who are not really terminal.

I’m sure that there are other concerns as well. In my mind, the biggest concern is #2.

That said, I understand your concern, especially in light of your current situation. My heart goes out to you and your family, and hope that you and your family have the least amount of suffering and pain as possible.

Zev Steinhardt

Rob V, I know where you’re coming from. My mom just wanted out when we learned that nothing could change the outcome. I have no idea why this is such a difficult decision for legislators to make.

Zev, when you laid out the different “what ifs” in your post, I don’t think anyone would agree to euthanasia if they didn’t really want it for themselves. I just don’t think people are built that way. And as fr as mistakes being made, i.e., a person who really wasn’t terminal, or what have you, mistakes are made in medicine all the time. This wouldn’t be the first time a misdiagnosis or malpractice resulted in someone’s death.

That said, I think when someone makes the decision to end their life due to terminal illness, they’ve thought it out thoroughly and many, many factors surely weighed into it. It’s a huge injustice to make a person live out their last days in pain, and without dignity, just because of some religious notions (and yes, I do believe the religious influence in this country is the reason we have such a hard time accepting the fact that a sick life is really no life at all).

We as a nation need to wake up and look at the toll this insanity takes on us all – both emotionally and financially. If I am ever in this position, I’m heading for Oregon (or anywhere where my family won’t have to do time because they sped up the clock a little).

Peter Singer (yep, the animal liberation guy - also one of the most important contemporary philosophers re: ethics) addressed this issue in Rethinking Life and Death. His point is that modern society’s position on sanctity of life often comes into conflict with our position on the ending of lives, in the context of euthanasia, abortion and so on. Basically he says that the goal of medicine should not be to prolong life, but to minimize suffering. He brings up exactly the example of pets as representing a different standard of morals re: euthanasia.

Rob V, my prayers are with you and your family.


I’m sorry to disagree with you Kalhoun, but I think you’re wrong. I think that family members (if they are persistent enough) can put enough pressure on an ill family member to get them to agree, even if they don’t really want to. Family members could convince the patient that if they die quickly they could leave more of thier estates to thier children, save them suffering from a drawn out illness, etc. I’m certain that there will be abuses of this nature.

Even if no pressure is put on the patient, there are those patients that will “volunteer” because they believe (correctly or not) that it will be better for thier families to die now, rather than later, even though, absent those considerations, they’d choose to stay alive.

Lastly, what about terminal patients who can’t (for whatever reason) make their wishes known. Will we rely on family members (who may or may not have agendas of thier own) to “interpret” for them?


True. But here you are talking about actively causing someone’s death on purpose not via a mistake. It’s not a similar case. The non-terminal misdiagnosed patient (if left alone) will not die. The non-terminal misdiagnosed patient (if euthenized) will die, directly from our actions.

Zev Steinhardt

The would there be a problem with human youthinasia? They’ve got as much a right be there as anywhere else!


As to the ACTUAL question, I suspect that there are a variety of reasons, including all mentioned above. The one that I think is a facro but hasn’t been mentioned yet is:

Perhaps the religions right is having some influence. Perspectives like, ‘they will die when god wills it,’ and ‘god has everything happen for a reason’, not to mention ‘thou shalt not kill’ might, to some people, paint this as a situation where putting someone out of their misery is an evil act directly in defiance of God’s will. I would expect a disproportionate amount of the animosity toward human euthanasia to come from groups entertaining these ideas.

My heart goes out to you, Rob V . I just recently lost my mother to cancer and I can understand how hard it is to watch a loved one fade away.

I never talked to my mother about euthansia. I never really thought to ask her. While I agree with the basic concept, I don’t know how I would have handled it if it had been an option. Selfish me wanted all the time I could get with her, while at the same time, I knew how frustrating it was for such a strong woman like her to be so helpless.

The palliative care she received in her last few days was phenomenal.

My best to you and your family.

Zev, I don’t think there are enough people that would “hasten” a loved one’s death for financial gain or whatever to even make it a consideration when talking about affording people the OPTION of euthanasia. When my mom got sick, she didn’t want to do any treatment at all. We begged and pleaded with her to start chemo, even though she knew deep down that it wouldn’t help. And it didn’t. It had absolutely no effect on her condition. I think most families are the same. They want as much time as possible (just like Gulo Gulo) and will do anything to buy it.

When it gets down to it, I believe it is an individual right to make the most important decision of your lifetime. You may have reasons that are perfectly sound in relation to your situation, but I just don’t believe that it’s anyone else’s call to make.

By the way, Rob, I’m very sorry for the experience you and your family are going through. My thoughts are with you.


I agree with you that most people will do the “right thing.” But by the same token we should then remove all gun control laws because most people will do the “right thing” with them.


In theory, I agree with you. In practice, however, I’m afraid the situation is too open to abuse. I think you’ll have too many people agreeing to die for the “wrong” reasons (financial considertations, family pressure, depression, etc.) than for the “right” reasons (quality of life, etc.).

Zev Steinhardt

Thank you, all, for your sentiments of support, I really appreciate it.

I suspected the opposition to human euthanasia was probably linked to this country’s “Christian influence”. How archaic.

I suppose I can see a situation where greedy family members of a rich soon-to-be-dececed could have a motive for hastening the demise, especially if the old bat had been a total bitch throughout her life to these people. But I would also think if that were the case, the “old bat” would want to hang out longer just to spite the rest, no matter how much “pressure” the others try to apply.

Yes, I suppose there would be a certain amount of abuse of such a principle. But aren’t there other abuses of generally good things that a small percentage of unscrupulous people take advantage of? (Not necessary to respond, that was more of a rhetorical question.)

Oh, and to comment on the comment about animals being differentiated from humans, i.e. animals being not held in as high a regard as humans: those people must never have had pets nor had to put one to sleep. That was probably the most devastating emotional event of my life. Now I never had a COW as a pet. If I had, I might be a veggitarian today.

In Oregon, where the system seems to be working well, you have to have a couple doctors agree that death is imminent within six months, I believe. There are safeguards built into the system to avoid most of the problems you mentioned. And to tell you the truth, not all that many people opt for it. But for the ones who truly believe that their quality of life is diminished to the point that they no longer want to go on (no quality remains), it is the best option.

Two important concepts for anyone concerned about the nature of his inevitable end of life:

  1. Living Will (Advanced Health Care Directive)
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

The former sets out exactly what you do and don’t want done for you when you are unable to speak for yourself.
The latter designates a person, and optionally an alternate, to speak for you and make health care decisions when you are unable to do so.

Together they can help avoid horrible situations; for example, when a terminally ill person is in pain and the medical care professionals are reluctant to provide more pain relief because it will slow the heart rate and hasten death.

You can also direct, for example, whether or not tube feedings and other specific medical procedures may be used. Many hospitals provide forms you can fill out on admission. I believe in some places this is required, but IANAL and I don’t know for sure.

The DPOA probably has to be done with a lawyer’s assistance, and it would not hurt to check with one for either document, just to be sure the signatures are unquestioned.

Everyone should do this not only for their own sake, but for the sake of friends and family who might have to guess, or worse stand by helplessly.