Monday, July 27, 2009

Your personal, private choices can affect others

Barbara Kay, on legalizing assisted suicide:

As with abortion, if euthanasia and assisted suicide become legal, the voices of those who cling to the "sanctity of life" rubric will be pushed to the margins of public life. They will become pariahs, just as pro-life voices on campuses must fight tooth and nail to be heard.

Ironically, if euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are legalized (philosophically it comes to the same thing), by the time Mr. McKay's "wonderful life" has become less wonderful to the point of chronic pain and suffering, he may find, to his surprise, that against all logic he wishes to "cruelly extend" his life. But he may also find -- nothing could be more logical -- that others around him reproach him, saying no, "life is for the living," and therefore it is unconscionable for him to have such expectations.

Legalizing assisted suicide would mean that hospitals would become places where people are killed, not healed.

(Oh wait, they already kill the unborn).

The medical system would no longer feel obligated to heal people at the end of their lives. Treat that 90-year-old heart attack victim? Why? I'm only going to prolong his suffering and have to euthanize him anyway. Let him die. Why prolong suffering?

Life is not suffering. When you equate life with suffering-- even if you do suffer-- you cheapen life. Treat the problem. Suffering is the problem. Not life. Life is not a cause of suffering. Pain is. Treat the pain.

Always remember that even the most private of acts, when performed by millions of people, are not purely private acts any more. They are social phenomena, that society has an interest in judging, commenting and possibly (though not necessarily) regulating. There are social ramifications beyond the private space where you perform this act. You can't justify every behaviour on the basis of "my body, my choice", which is the self-centred abortion slogan that led to legalizing killing of unborn children. Choices lead to consequences that the rest of society must deal with.

Imagine if millions of people resorted to suicide (unassisted) to solve their problems. An unlikely scenario, but play along with me.

Consider the intense ramifications. Besides the predictable grief, there would be a lot of abandoned responsibilities. It would almost certainly affect the economy. Family life would be disrupted. I'm sure you can imagine other possible, large-scale results.

The point is that this private decision to kill oneself, when performed by millions, can be toxic, even if we grant people "the choice". Could we regulate such a practice? Probably not. But if millions of people perform it, then you can imagine there could be drug traffickers who would profit from this. You might imagine people lobbying for safe, legal and affective suicides in hospital so that people who attempt suicide do not have to suffer from botched attempts (and take up valuable hospital space). The funeral industry might benefit.

The structures surrounding the practice-- because these structures always develop around acts such widescale private acts-- benefit, and shut out opposition. "What's it to you if I kill myself-- it's my choice."

Never mind the consequences in the changes in belief and practices around the sanctity of life.

It's the same thing with assisted suicide. Once the medical system benefits from death (which it would, since doctors would be paid for it and it would free up hospital beds) you can imagine different structures erected to satisfy this demand, (like the suicide clinic in Switzerland) and the pressure for old and terminally ill people to die.

You cannot imagine that an individual's choice is the only thing at stake. People think that their individual desire is the only thing that matters, or should. But individual decisions have consequences, tangible and intangible. We shouldn't be fooled into the "my body, my choice" rhetoric.

Sometimes when you allow for bad choices for yourself, you take away choices from others.