I watched the Four Corners show Final Call last night. It concerned the euthanasia debate and the right of elderly citizens to suicide when they feel their lives are not worth living.
The elderly people interviewed impressed me with the care of their planned exits and with their resolve to achieve this final act of self-determination. They seemed highly intelligent people who had thought through the consequences for their families and for themselves of suicide. For the most part they wanted to die peacefully by taking a dose of Nembutal. They were not depressed, they were enjoying life now to the fullest and were not making their plans on the basis of short-term discomfit or pain or because of concerns they might be a burden on others.
The strength of their convictions was illustrated by their journeys to Mexico to secure illegal supplies of Nembutal and by their organization into groups to home-produce the drug. When the interviewer asked one chirpy 96 year old whether he was worried about being sent to jail for being involved in illegal activities his response was simple ‘they won’t be able to keep me there long’. It was a great reply.
The views of the medical profession and the ethicists on the show were unconvincing and shallow to me. They were essentially trying to impose their values (and in the case of the medical profession to secure a valuable market) on sensible, independent people who seem to have a perfect right to choose – it is their life.
Denying the right of such people to painlessly die forces citizens to unnecessarily experience pain and suffering. It is asserting the value of extending life as an absolute ideal irrespective of the views of the person whose life is being extended.
I am in favor of developing a pill, such as Nembutal, that provides a painless death to well-informed adults who seek to die. A concern is that the pill might come to be abused by adolescents and others who experience transitional emotional or other difficulties. Such deaths are unnecessary and impose enormous costs on others. I am absolutely not in favor of an open access regime to death pills for all. The difficulty of avoiding suicides by irrational youth or those needing urgent transitional care can be dealt with by prescribing the pill only to those people who are judged by a knowledgeable councilor to be well-informed and not acting irrationally on the basis of short-term problems.
It seems to me perfectly reasonable to suppose that elderly people make a rational judgment that their life is not worth living. It is their ‘Final Call’ and I cannot think of good reasons why their choice should not be respected. Of course those who choose to live their lives to the end even in the face of pain and suffering also deserve to have their views respected.
I am interested in the views of readers on this long-standing debate. I must acknowledge that I have not searched hard for counterarguments to the pro-euthanasia position and I would be interested in thinking about such arguments.