... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

519: an offered opinion on a thing

“I believe that decisions about the timing and manner of death belong to the individual as a human right. I believe it is wrong to withhold medical methods of terminating life painlessly and swiftly when an individual has a rational and clear-minded sustained wish to end his or her life.” 
Professor A C Grayling, Dignity in Dying Patron 

I was guided via twitter, as happens, to a blog post I find so baffling and stupid I just had to speak up; so here goes. It's written by a man called Simon Duffy and is called How Euthanasia leads to Eugenics. I've never heard of Simon Duffy and know nothing about him; that's not meant to be a snide who is he comment, just a statement of fact. According to his biography he is leader of The Centre for Welfare Reform, of which I also know nothing about, but it seems decent. It aims "to increase social justice, promote citizenship, strengthen families and enrich our communities," which sounds good to me; and although I am going to comment negatively on Simon Duffy's blog post I make no similar comment about the good work of the Centre for Welfare Reform. (At least, I assume they do good work, because as I mentioned I've never heard of them!)

How Euthanasia leads to Eugenics
…a [Nazi] Ministry of Justice Commission on the Reform of the Criminal Code drafted a similar law sanctioning "mercy killing" of people suffering from incurable diseases. The law read, in part:
"Clause 1: Whoever is suffering from an incurable or terminal illness which is a major burden to him or others, can request mercy killing by a doctor, provided it is his express wish and has the approval of a specially empowered doctor.
"Clause 2: The life of a person who because of incurable mental illness requires permanent institutionalisation and is not able to sustain an independent existence, may be prematurely terminated by medical procedures in a painless and covert manner."
From Forgotten Crimes by Susanne E Evans
Notice that the first clause is almost exactly what those seeking to advance euthanasia in the UK are putting forward as a reasonable legal measure. And notice the easy and natural step to by-passing the question of voluntary choice for those who might be deemed lacking mental capacity.
There is hardly a break between euthanasia and eugenics - the first creates the licence to ignore the dignity of human life, the second gives others the duty to ignore it.
I really don't know where to start with the blind, vicious and bloody embarrassing stupidity of this statement.  (I quoted Simon Duffy's post in full as it is short and appears convinced of its own completeness. Read the original here.) The title How Euthanasia leads to Eugenics sets out a difficult and bizarre idea and claims that it will offer evidence How.

Let's be clear: Eugenics is an awful idea and one that has no place at all in a civilised, humane and egalitarian society. But euthanasia is a good thing; the right of a terminally ill individual to choose the time and place of their own death, to allow them the dignity of choosing the end over a long and painful drawn out death.

Simon Duffy seems to believe that because a statement numbered "Clause 1" about euthanasia is followed in some list somewhere by a statement numbered "Clause 2" about eugenics, that this some how magically constitutes evidence of 1 leading to 2. I'd like to test this logic and see if it holds up to scrutiny by writing my own list:
Clause 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Clause 2: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
The first clause is Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the second is from the bible, Exodus 22:18. They clearly have nothing in common; I have just semi-randomly chosen them to appear in a list together. I chose the first because I agree with it, and the second because I don't. It's a stupid and pathetic point I'm attempting to make, but no stupider or more pathetic than the one Simon Duffy fumbles with.
(From now on whenever I mention clauses I'm talking about the ones Simon Duffy quotes, and not the irrelevant ones I just picked.)

He claims there is an easy and natural step between the two clauses, from voluntary in the first to involuntary in the second in the case of individuals whose mental illness does not allow their consent. I can see no easy or natural step there, nor any evidence that their may be one lurking in the shadows. One is voluntary, the other is not; these are not similar, they are opposite. Where is this easy and natural step? Where is it?

After his weak, fleeting and begging the question argument to support his hypothesis comes the poor conclusion: "There is hardly a break between euthanasia and eugenics - the first creates the licence to ignore the dignity of human life, the second gives others the duty to ignore it."

I argue that the right of a terminally ill patient, in full mental capacity to understand their choice, to choose to die is demanded by human dignity. Personally if I was in constant agonising pain, immobile in a bed, living with the knowledge of a certain imminent death I would demand the right to choose my own way out. If I was suffering from a degenerative brain disease, during the time I was still with it I would like to request that when it got to the point when I was no longer able to think, write, and recognise my loved ones I be euthanized. At that point, I believe there would be nothing left of me.

The second clause needs further consideration before a conclusion can be reached. A point that Duffy has failed to mention is that it refers to "incurable mental illness requir[ing] permanent institutionalisation". If this was on the Criminal Code of Nazi Germany it was written not only in a part of the world where illiberalism was destroying millions of lives, but it was written in a time when mental illness was much less well understood.

In the past just about any mental illness was considered incurable and people were institutionalised with all sorts of things that today are treatable. They even considered all sorts of crazy things to be mental illness that we don't in today's more enlightened times; homosexuality for example.

Of course the second clause is disgusting, but its probable meaning when it was written bears little relation to how it can be interpreted today; and above all there is no reason to suggest it logically follows from the first clause.

In conclusion:
Reasonably consented euthanasia: good
Eugenics: bad

(If my argument comes across as rambling or confusing, don't worry, it probably is. It's not supposed to be an essay; I'm not handing it in to be marked. I've just rushed it out. It's more of a rant than anything.)

“I wish to be treated as a responsible adult and believe that people should be legally able to register their wish for an assistance with suicide, if needed. I support Dignity in Dying primarily to help change the law on assisted suicide.” 
Sir Michael Holroyd CBE, Dignity in Dying Patron

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