CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Euthanasia and Compassion

Sep 24, 2010

Bob Brown’s version of social justice is to kill people from womb to tomb. In the perverted and dysfunctional morality of the Greens, compassion means to kill people. Talk about a brave new world where evil becomes good, and good evil.

Let me then look at one area where the rhetoric of compassion clearly gets lost in a sea of intellectual and moral confusion. Consider the debate about euthanasia. Not even in power for two weeks and Greens’ leader Brown informed us that the nation’s number one priority must be euthanasia.

And of course this is all somehow part of the Greens’ concern about justice, fairness, and compassion. So it is worth looking a bit more closely at the euthanasia issue, and how the notion of compassion has wrongly been appealed to in this contentious debate.

One of the most common arguments used for euthanasia is that it is the compassionate thing to do. After all, we put animals down to get them out of their misery, so why not do the same with human beings? There are a number of problems with this.

The most obvious point to make here is that we are not animals, so we should not be treated as animals. Life in all of its grandeur and complexity, including the end of life, is part of what it means to be human. While no one wants to suffer, a rich moral and conceptual heritage has developed over the centuries on the redemptive purposes of suffering.

Because we are different from animals, we deserve to be treated differently from animals. Human beings and animals are not moral equivalent, and therefore how we deal with people should be radically different from how we deal with animals.

Ethicist Leon Kass puts it this way: “It is precisely because animals are not human that we must treat them (merely) humanely. . . . But when a conscious human asks us for death, by that very action he displays the presence of something that precludes our regarding him as a dumb animal. Humanity is owed humanity, not humaneness.”

Or as Geisler and Turek state: “Since we believe human life has a higher value than that of animals, we do not treat humans like laboratory rats. Moreover, human beings don’t lose their value when they lose their health. People are valuable because of their humanity, not because they lack an infirmity.”

And Wesley Smith reminds us, “Most dogs and cats that are put to sleep are not killed because they are sick, but because they are abandoned. Thousands of pets are euthanized each year simply because they are unwanted. To follow this euthanasia argument to its logical conclusion, then, would be to countenance the mercy killing of despairing homeless people because society is unwilling to care for them – a ridiculous notion.”

Also, it is a very strange kind of compassion which says that the way to relieve suffering is to kill the sufferer. We should be concentrating on removing the suffering, not the sufferer. That is why the many advances in palliative care and the treatment of pain are so important: it really is quite unnecessary to argue for the legalised killing of patients, even if done in the name of compassion.

As Rita Marker states in her important book about Derek and Ann Humphry and the Hemlock Society, “The idea of killing the incurable, once before, was advanced as a remedy that has come to be known as part of the Final Solution. We pledged, ‘Never again!’”

And the real problem today is not that of over-treatment, but really one of under-treatment. That is, we have become all too willing to allow loved ones to die, without always looking at all the options, or exhausting all the alternatives. Resources should go into those avenues, and not into the quick fix “solutions”.

As Doctor John Ling states, “The truly compassionate person seeks to heal and restore, and bring hope and justice to the situation. The falsely compassionate euthanasiast just wants to end it all, and move on. True compassion and euthanasia do not mix.”

Indeed, we need to be honest about all this. When people talk about “I can’t stand to see Aunt Martha suffer so” they are really saying that they can’t stand their own suffering. They want the patient to be euthanised so that their own suffering can come to an end. It is, in other words, a fairly selfish concern.

The concern, in other words, is not so much to put the patient out of his or her misery as to put us out of our misery. We don’t like what we see, or feel, so we want the patient to no longer be around so that our own bad feelings can quickly go away.

As John Kilner rightly notes, “The statement of so-called ‘mercy killers’ in the past have often been telling in this regard. ‘I killed her because I could not bear to see her suffer’ may literally mean what it says – that first and foremost the action reflected the killer’s need to be free from his or her own discomfort. Barriers to killing patients not only protect society in general and the patient in particular but also protect caregivers from their own weaknesses – from subtly self-centered decisions that may well haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

So all this talk about compassion today is really quite misleading. As Nigel Cameron says, “It is hard to believe that those who cared for the sick in past ages were less compassionate than those who care for them today.” He continues, “The compassion argument entails a judgment made not by the self but by another in respect of the suffering of one who may or may not have an opinion as to the continued worthwhileness of life and/or the appropriateness of action to bring about death.”

He continues, “The point is that the compassion argument fixes the criteria for death decisions squarely and candidly where every suicide-euthanasia public policy proposal has perforce to recognize them to be: in hands other than those of the person who suffers. The compassion case is not about autonomy and the right to die, but heteronomy and the right to kill.”

Gilbert Meilaender takes this thought further. Maybe it is in fact a good thing to be a burden to others: “Is this not in large measure what it means to belong to a family: to burden each other – and to find, almost miraculously, that others are willing, even happy, to carry such burdens? Families would not have the significance they do for us if they did not, in fact, give us a claim upon each other. At least in this sphere of life we do not come together as autonomous individuals freely contracting with each other. We simply find ourselves thrown together and asked to share the burdens of life while learning to care for each other. We may often resent such claims on our time and energies. We did not, after all, consent to them….

“It is, therefore, understandable that we sometimes chafe under these burdens. If, however, we also go on to reject them, we cease to live in the kind of moral community that deserves to be called a family. Here more than in any other sphere of life we are presented with unwanted and unexpected interruptions to our plans and projects. I do not like such interruptions any more than the next person; indeed, a little less, I rather suspect. But it is still true that morality consists in large part in learning to deal with the unwanted and unexpected interruptions to our plans. I have tried, subject to my limits and weaknesses, to teach that lesson to my children. Perhaps I will teach it best when I am a burden to them in my dying.”

The compassion and justice being promoted by the Greens is a deadly compassion and a diabolical justice. It knows nothing of real care, real concern, or real compassion. Real justice and real compassion is about loving the sufferer while dealing with the suffering, not killing the sufferer.

[1358 words]

15 Responses to Euthanasia and Compassion

  • Hello Bill
    Although the pro death lobby promises to restrain its open ended euthanasia policy it has been shown that when such a policy is inflicted upon a country or state then it is used as it was not intended. A short time ago I spoke with a Dutch lady in her 70’s who has lived in Australia for most of her life. She recently went back to the Netherlands and visited an old friend also in 70’s. This friend said she was seriously thinking of ending her life by legalised medical methods even though there was nothing physically wrong with her. Her reason when asked was “I have discussed it with my children and members of my family and we think it is the best thing.” One can easily read between the lines.
    Bill Spence

  • A great introspective piece for all the fearful of our generation to hear. Its another reason why salvation is the most important pursuit amongst us, because without Him these fears are difficult to remove from the hearts of men, intellectually.

    From a spiritual perspective euthanasia also denies any possibility of a miracle. Imagine if pray was denied the widow woman’s boy who Elijah intervened and prayed for?

    It says “he fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.” What if he was even before diagnosed as terminal and euthanized or simply immediately buried 6ft under to end the suffering of an inconsolable mother.

    Bill Riz

  • We seem to have become a very anti-suffering society. In ages past people knew life was hard and good thing were to be given thanks for. Now we think we are owed an easy life and difficulties are beneath us. Women can avoid the ‘suffering’ of child birth with epidurals, families can avoid the suffering of a disabled child by aborting, shame and disgrace of an unplanned pregnancy can be avoided by aborting, and euthanasia allows us to avoid suffering and dying, care of those who cared for us when we were most vulnerable. We will be a very shallow society indeed if we can avoid suffering. Suffering makes us grow, disabled children bring much joy as well as tears, each person is capable of enriching another’s life even from their death bed if we are only willing to look beyond the disease and comfort the person.

    Kylie Anderson

  • Thanks Kylie

    Yes quite right. While we need not seek or desire suffering, it is a part of life, and how we deal with it is quite important. But we live in an age which seeks immortality, perfection, and a suffering-free life. That will just not happen in a fallen world, and attempts to build such utopias on earth usually end in great dehumanisation and depersonalisation. I talk about this somewhat here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/04/13/the-perils-of-perfection/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • And what is it that we are really avoiding by carrying out these things? (abortion, euthanasia etc) Facing up to mans fallen state in the eyes of a Holy God.
    Sickness, suffering, unplanned pregnancies – are all a result of either sin in the immediate sense, or sin and the subsequent decay that entered this fallen world.
    All this suffering is from the original sin – mans own fault, and it is only through God’s grace that we have the strength to live and die despite the suffering. Rom 8:28.
    Jenny McCourt

  • Thanks Bill
    It seems to me that our culture today rejects any kind of cross. There are pills for every ache and pain. Not many people are willing to suffer the slightest inconvenience.
    Even have your parents killed, (as is happening in Holland) so as to be rid of that problem and than give it a nice name, “compassion”.
    There is one problem though, the cross, and the resurrection go together. No pain, no gain, no cross, no crown.
    On the other hand, how many people are willing to suffer for selfish reasons? Operation after operation to “improve” their looks and body. Work seven days a week 12 hours a day for money. Suffer whatever it takes to grab that higher position. Even put our children in care five to six days a week where strangers take care of them.
    And when finally we have time for our kids, our kids have no time for us, in fact, don’t even know us. Then we will lament what ungrateful kids we have, and what did we do to deserve this. And that is the problem. Nothing was done for love of our kids, just for love of self.
    Anne Van Tilburg

  • What amazes me is that so many people think killing people like this is a good idea.
    Tas Walker

  • Some surveys published on the basis of for and against euthanasia, have come up with an alleged majority in favour of euthanasia. There is no guarantee that many of the pro euthanasia fanatics haven’t each voted 10 or 20 times. Also I believe there should be an overhaul of our electoral rolls. These are certainly open to abuse, particularly in marginal electorates. I was told by a former Swedish resident that Sweden has a system, whereby voters are checked through a voting card, each voter must carry, Not only does this recognize a valid voter, but also prevents people from voting more than once,
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • The irony of this “I killed her because I couldn’t bear to see her suffer – therefore I should be treated leniently because I am a compassionate person” stuff reminded me of a Koran verse I read. In The Table verse 35 in my translation (the verse numbers vary) it says that “the recompense of all those who fight against God and His messenger, is that they should be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternatively be struck off”.
    This is followed by “God is all-forgiving, all-compassionate”.
    The twisted logic seemed very similar to me.
    Ian Brearley

  • If we are honest there are times when we see the sick suffering and it crosses our mind to do something to allay their suffering. But ending their lives is not the answer albeit a pragmatic one. What differentiates us from animals is our humanity. We are not animals and the suggestion we euthanise animals so why not humans is nonsensical. We eat animals so why don’t we eat humans? It is because we are human and honour our humanity that we do not believe in mercy killing or euthanasia even if the person concerned wishes death upon himself or herself. Ultimately it is our humanity at stake – what differentiates us from other living creatures is our self-worth. Because we are moral creatures we can’t worship the god of pragmatism and follow its instincts. It is both a religious and moral issue because God tells us not to kill. And what about wars? Only when God orders it as in the Old Testament because he is the one who holds life and death in his hands and the only one with the moral authority to decide who lives and who dies albeit this authority is delegated to governments. Wars then become part of the ways of government that should seek peace.
    Steve Oh

  • Our Christian Heritage teaches us, ‘thou shalt not kill’.
    That means we don’t give anyone a right to end life, either the unborn or any terminally patients.

    MP’s, your conscience vote means that you oppose any euthanasia and abortion laws.
    Judith Bond

  • In a couple of words compassion means getting what you don’t deserve. Nobody deserves to live – that’s justice. Getting to live – that’s compassion.
    Greg Brien

  • Can I suggest that all those of us who actively oppose euthanasia, begin a serious campaign of letter writing to Health Ministers in our states, requesting more widely available palliative care and better understanding of such care as well as better pain management training for our doctors. We should also write to our members of parliament and the MSM.

  • There’s a lovely story told by Morris West in his novel “The Clowns of God”. Jesus is back eating a meal with some friends. He guesses that his friends want a sign to prove he is who he is. Instead he gives communion to a Down Syndrome child saying “I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you – eternal innocence…She will never offend me as all of you have done…She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human…She will remind you every day that I am who I am…This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!”
    Can we hear God saying “Treasure those who need to know they are loved despite their condition!”? The sanctity of life is far more important than the quality of life.
    Geoffrey Bullock

  • Those who voted at the last election for the Greens must be very disappointed that the Greens main concern is not the environment but euthanasia.
    Leon Voesenek

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