A collective suicide
Written by: Ingrid Vatnar Olsen, student at Westdals Oslo School of Arts and Andrea Storhaug, student at NLA University College
The article was published in Norway`s leading newspaper “Verdens Gang” on October 27th, 2017 and may be read here:
I have the right to be in control of my own life. Not many would disagree with that statement. Our society highly values freedom and the ability to take our own choices. For students like us, that include the decisions to start a family, to remain childless, to believe in God or humankind, put career first, use our scholarships to buy beer or to rather buy a cabin in the wild. We live in a time when we proudly feed the need to make choices based on what works best for us. We want to take control of our own lives, but what about our death?
Euthanasia is illegal in Norway. Still, the debate raises ethical issues that needs to be taken seriously. As citizens, we have a responsibility to decide what values we want to build our society on, and what laws that will protect the life of the individual. If you don’t wish to live longer, there should be a possibility to end life. We understand this mentality, but it is frightening to see what ripple effects might follow this way of thinking.
There are many reasons why a person faces a situation where he or she desires to benefit from euthanasia. The state of Oregon has practiced euthanasia for several years already. In a research done by Death with Dignity National Center, the top reasons stated by a number of patients wanting euthanasia between 1998-2016, was mapped.
What they discovered will surprise many: only a few people specify physical pain as a reason. Today’s knowledge on pain relief makes it possible for most people to be offered a palliative treatment by the end of their life. The three most given reasons were the loss of autonomy, reduced ability to participate in activities that gave life reason, and loss of dignity.
According to the same report, nearly half of those who benefitted from euthanasia in USA reported that one of the reasons why they did so was their fear of being a burden for others. Loss of independence can lead patients significantly reduced by illness and disabilities to feel like a burden.
It can be painful to be ill and loose functions that the healthy take for granted. It is not unusual to bear shame and be worried that you will not get the help you need. It is not easy to carry this burden in a society where dignity and meaning is based how we perform and not who we are.
Is our value reduced when we become dependent on others? Our answer is no. People who lies on their deathbed, who carries a feeling of blocking a hospital bed that could be given to someone else – what signals are we sending as a society if our only help is a pat on the back and a message that says: Of course, we will help you die! It is problematic that our solution to someone’s challenge in life is to help him or her end his or her life, rather than to reduce the challenge.
Autonomy and individual rights are values that are highly valued in our society. Some thereby draw the conclusion that each individual has the right to end their life whenever they want. The challenge is that this type of autonomy can impair and not strengthen our rights.
We believe that to help someone to end their life is to violate human dignity. If euthanasia will be legalized, suicide becomes an approved action. Death aid can become institutionalized and normalized. The Netherlands is a good example. In 2002, it became legal to benefit from euthanasia there. Patients does not need to have a deadly disease or a short-expected life. The criteria are that you need to be in a state of intolerable suffering. During the years since, the law has been interpreted in ways that make euthanasia possible for greater groups. Death aid is now allowed in relation to psychiatric illnesses and it is being discussed whether life fatigue is a legitimate reason to benefit from death aid. In 2011, it was decided that only the patient can decide whether their suffering is intolerable.
This type of individual determination can start a debate where we can interpret death aid in the light of loneliness and a state of poor personal finances. Each year, 6900 people die by euthanasia in the Netherlands.
Is it possible to legalize euthanasia without gradually opening doors for greater groups to be affected by the law? No country has been able to.
Autonomy in the light of euthanasia will always include a third party, one that will perform the act. It involves a society and people who is facing the same situation. When we are on our deathbeds, will it be expected of us to consider ending our life? Will we have to defend our human value; why we deserve to live despite the fact that society no longer needs us? We can claim that we have the right to take control over our own lives, but autonomy can never be expanded to include others action.
By legalizing euthanasia, our society conveys that to choose death is a rational and acceptable choice of death:
“We understand that you don’t experience that your life has value. We will help you die.”
Are we really going to help children, young and elders to end their own lives?
By saying yes to death aid, we do not only affect the individual, but a whole society. We move from speaking of suicide to murder of society – a collective suicide. We kill each other on demand and by that we kill the inviolable human dignity.
Many need help to live, several need help by the end of their life and only a few need help to die. Ill, lonely and dying people deserve a better alternative from healthcare and fellow humans than an offer of a shortcut out of suffering. We do not have the right to decide when someone else’s life no longer has a value. Above fighting for the right to die, we should fight for life.