Euth in Asia

September 30, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 11:30 am   Category: Ethics

Not only do I think euthanasia should be decriminalized on libertarian grounds, but I personally don’t consider euthanasia to be immoral in all situations. There are several angles from which this issue is debated, but the ones I am most interested about here are the religious and moral angles.

Opponents of euthanasia often cite the sanctity of life and suggest that God opposes euthanasia, but I am a bit baffled on both counts. Frankly, I am not sure I what is meant by the sanctity of life. I see nothing in God’s behavior to convince me that he views life in the way that I am encouraged to view it. God lets people die all the time. I am aware of God’s commandment that “thou shalt not murder,” but that commandment does not imply that life is sacred any more than the commandment “thou shalt not steal” implies that possessions are sacred.

In all of the scriptures, I don’t know of any verse which condemns either suicide or euthanasia. On the contrary, the scriptures seem to portray this life as a time of tribulation and trial from which we are never safe until death. When they speak of “enduring to the end,” it is always a matter of our righteousness enduring, not our life. We are told to develop a certain disregard for life by laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven—where our treasure is, there shall our heart be also.

Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full. Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul. (D&C 101:37)

Care not for the life of the body; that is an interesting scriptural message. Obviously, the point of this scripture is not to say that life is unimportant; rather, it illustrates God’s perspective on life from eternity. The life of the soul is what matters. From that eternal perspective, the life of the body may at many times be inconsequential.

Now, I realize that my comments above will appear to many of you to miss the mark entirely. In the final analysis, we must deal directly with the morality of euthanasia specifically. I hope that my remarks above will help to clear the playing field somewhat so that we can look at this question openly. Opposing euthanasia based on the “sanctity of life” is too simplistic an analysis in my opinion.

When I consider the terminally ill widow suffering in pain, I start asking tough questions. Why must she suffer needlessly? Must I find “meaning” in all suffering and view it as somehow being ordained by God? If so, why is the use of pain killers acceptable? When we “let God decide when to take her,” do we have any basis for supposing God is deciding anything? Is it not rather more likely that physical processes are shutting down at whatever rates they naturally shut down and God is not intervening at all? When she dies and we thank God she was finally released from her suffering, are we not admitting that we think death was morally superior to life in such a situation? Is it simply cowardice that prevents us from doing the right (morally superior) thing? Is fear of a slippery slope adequate justification for forcing countless people to suffer needlessly?

What are your thoughts on euthanasia? Do you support or oppose it, and why?

58 Comments »

  1. Incidentally, I was somewhat surprised to see two recent comments here which suggest I may not be alone in my support for euthanasia.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  2. I may have been one of the commenters to which you were referring, and I must clarify that in my mind there is a huge gap between “extending human life at any cost” and euthanasia.

    I am totally in favor of people choosing a “do not resuscitate” order or to decline surgery. At the same time, I think actively choosing to end life is a sin.

    Comment by Naismith — September 30, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  3. I fear the “slippery slope.” The day may come when people are committing euthanasia rather than suicide.

    Comment by Jack — September 30, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  4. Jacob: I believe that life is sacred because it is a gift every day and it is unique in every way. Life is sacred because we know of nothing more valuable and more unique than a person. We know nothing more worthy of our entire life’s energy than living for those that we love. That is equivalent to viewing life as sacred.

    I object to euthanasia because I accept the Kantian notion of the universalizability of moral obligation. We must be able to so act that our will acts as universal legislation such that we can will that: (1) everyone in the same circumstances is bound by the same moral duties that I am; (2) I legislate that everyone act as I do by willing an act; (3) I must be able to will my act and my duties remain coherent. I cannot adopt a rule such as: It is morally permissible for me to end the life of anyone who asks me to do so. Given that everyone sees the obviousness of this observation, we now must begin to ask: what limitations are there on this supposed “right” for another to ask me to end his/her life? The devil is in the details — there is no coherent rule that I believe can function in such circumstances.

    How is this religious or spiritual? It is murder to take another’s life unless there are well developed rules of defense of others or one’s self (and country). However, such rules don’t apply with euthanasia. Further, the failure to find meaning in one’s suffering may be the greatest failure of human life. Who is to say what constitutes “needless” suffering? Is a pain from a scratch sufficient to justify euthanasia? How about the emotional pain of divorce? How about the pain from back pain that is excruciating and chronic? How do we know what advances medical science will make to end pain or miracles that may occur?

    The instruction to not be too attached to the corporeal and physical body works within the context of different issues than the conclusion that mortal life isn’t worth living so I can ask another to end it when I deem it to be no longer worth it. Such a view cheapens life beyond recognition and fails to see what is truly valuable in human dignity. No one would make it past teen age years on such a standard because teenagers lack the life’s experience to make judgment calls about whether life is worth it given the troubles that they face. What makes you think it gets any better with age?

    Comment by Blake — September 30, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  5. What kind of euthanasia are you talking about Jacob? There is obviously a big difference between ending life support on a terminally ill, comatose person and shooting a depressed person upon their request. So what kinds of euthanasia are you for and what kinds are you against? (And as Blake noted, isn’t the difficult parsing required enough reason to object to the idea generally?)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 30, 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  6. “…are we not admitting that we think death was morally superior to life in such a situation?”
    Perhaps, from our mortal perspective, but it is not our decision to make.

    In 1997 the church took an assertive stand against doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon. The North America Northwest Area presidency letter quoted a First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve statement:

    “A fundamental doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that each person is a child of God. Consequently, life—a gift from God—is sacred and to be cherished. The Lord has commanded that man should not kill ‘nor do anything like unto it.’ (D&C 59:6.)

    “One who assists the suicide of another violates God’s commandments. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes the judicial or legislative legalization of such assistance.”

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  7. We assist each other’s (slow) suicide nearly every day. Our automobiles spit out noxious gas, we vote fluoride into the water system, we feed our kids fast food, we sit on the couch, etc. etc.

    I don’t believe that I have the moral authority from God to force a person to be/do good, I also don’t believe that I have the moral authority from God to prevent a person from sinning (with the exception of self or group defense).

    To me euthanasia is a sin, but one that I don’t have a right/approval to punish the sinner.

    Comment by Daylan — September 30, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  8. I guess I’m more concerned about involuntary euth in Asia — there is a lot of it in every country that has embraced it.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — September 30, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  9. Naismith,

    Thank you for the clarification. I didn’t intend to put words in your mouth, I apologize if my comment was inappropriate. I would be interested in exploring the distinction between things like “do not resuscitate” orders, refusing surgery, refusing a feeding tube; and actively ending life. What is the difference that allows you to support one and consider the other a sin?

    Jack,

    Slippery slope arguments are often fairly weak, but I believe especially so in this case. The powerful and near-universal instinct to preserve one’s own life protects against slide down the slippery slope better than any legislation ever could. As for people committing euthanasia instead of suicide, I just don’t see this as a real danger. The states which have legalized euthanasia (e.g. Oregon where I live) always have protections in place to make sure people are of sound mind. They have mandatory cooling off periods to make sure that people have time to consider their decision. They usually require that someone is terminally ill and has been diagnosed by a doctor to have a short time to live. I mention these to illustrate that there are a number of ways to protect against a slippery slope.

    Stephen,

    I agree that involuntary euth in Asia is terrible; it is simply murder after all. I don’t know of a lot of it going on in Oregon, so it may not be an unavoidable consequence of legalization.

    Daylan,

    Yes, this is the libertarian argument I referred to in my opening sentence. If we are talking about legislating for everyone, it is hard for me to understand what basis we have for preventing a person of sound mind from choosing what to do with their own life.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

  10. Blake,

    You raise a lot of interesting points, let me try to respond to a few of them.

    Life is sacred because we know of nothing more valuable and more unique than a person.

    Death does not extinguish the person, so I am not sure why the value of a person should lead us to reject euthanasia.

    We know nothing more worthy of our entire life’s energy than living for those that we love.

    I agree. As a general statement, I believe the immorality of suicide to be based on this principle precisely. The people who are candidates for euthanasia are usually in a situation where they are no longer able to live for those they love. Either all their loved ones are already on the other side of the veil, or they are no longer able to contribute meaningfully to others because of their medical condition.

    Further, the failure to find meaning in one’s suffering may be the greatest failure of human life. Who is to say what constitutes “needless” suffering?

    If it is our responsibility to simply endure whatever suffering comes our way and find meaning in it, why is it acceptable to take pain killers, or anti-depressants? We reject the idea that there must be meaning in suffering every time we take an aspirin or put aloe on a sunburn.

    What makes you think it gets any better with age?

    I observe that there are not long lines of people who want to end their lives. Purely by coincidence, today’s Oregonian has an article about euthanasia and I found it interesting that it says far more people ask for the lethal prescription than actually use it. The instinct to preserve one’s life is quite strong.

    The instruction to not be too attached to the physical body is absolutely relevant in my opinion. The whole trust of that theme in the scriptures is that we must put our treasure and hope in the next life rather than the current one. What is so noble about hanging on to life when you are terminally ill and have terrible quality of life? Isn’t it clear that part of our difficulty in letting go of life stems from our lack of faith in the next world and our attachment to the things of this world?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 7:00 pm

  11. Geoff,

    What kind of euthanasia are you talking about Jacob? There is obviously a big difference between ending life support on a terminally ill, comatose person and shooting a depressed person upon their request.

    Well, if I get to specific about the kind of euthanasia I am talking about, it will be hard to avoid getting bogged down in the legal side of the argument, but I can understand your question. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that I am talking about a terminally ill person being allowed to request and obtain a lethal dose of morphine. To simplify things, let’s say that the person will self-administer the dose.

    My question is, what makes it wrong? If it must always and in all circumstances be considered a sin, why so? Similarly, if it may or may not be sinful based on the circumstance, what circumstances are relevant?

    Given Howard’s comment, I am anxious to make it clear that I am not in the business of opposing the views taken by the Church. I have thought about this issue for a long time, but I can’t say I remembered the Church’s stand against doctor assisted suicide.

    Given that, let me state the purpose of the post this way: I don’t understand the grounds upon which we have determined that euthanasia is morally wrong. Upon my own reasoning, I would come to a different conclusion than that of the Church. When I search the scriptures, I don’t find an obvious reason to oppose it. Even if we assume for this discussion that the Church has taken the correct moral position on this issue, I would like to understand the moral underpinnings better.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  12. Euthenasia is wrong because it reinforces the Nazi idea of “Life not worthy of life”. In a perfect world, perhaps there would be nothing wrong with euthenasia. But what happens when those who choose life in less then perfect circumstances are demonized for their consumption of societal resources. Obviously, they should make the “morally superior” choice, or so the thinking would go. Pretty soon you are euthenizing all the retards because obviously its horrible to live in such a way. Yet, we fail to notice that many with Down syndrome are very happy people. Eventually all kinds of defects would not be tolerated. Welcome to the perfect world and the master race. Of course, theoretically, euthenasia is of course strictly voluntary, but don’t tell me their wouldn’t be societal pressures. I already see and hear the disgusted comments by many of my peers in residency wondering how a parent dare care for their child with severe cerebral palsy, prolonging this shattered imperfect life. It would happen.

    Comment by Doc — September 30, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  13. By the way, Thou shalt not kill, or do anything like unto it, seems pretty plain in the scriptures, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Doc — September 30, 2007 @ 7:54 pm

  14. I used to be against euthanasia, but then I thought, “ah, what the hhhhhhh…”

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

    Comment by Jack — September 30, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

  15. I guess I am fine with not prolonging life via unnatural means, but am not fine with ending life via unnatural means.

    I’d rather live in agony (so long as I can live by willing myself to live. For me where there is no will, there is no life.)

    From a different perspective, If anyone asked me to assist them in killing themselves, I’d say no. So I am therefore against euthinasia, as I am not willing to do it myself.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 30, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  16. Doc,

    You make a good point, but doesn’t the same concern exist over financial considerations? Must everyone in the family go bankrupt prolonging Granpa’s life for another 6 months? Should my insurance be forced to cover me for every possible treatment, no matter how costly? Those are very real questions that people face today. If we admit that financial considerations must sometimes factor in, do we not end up in the same situation you describe, with people potentially demonized for their consumption of societal resources? I agree that the social pressure you are describing is a very real problem to be considered, but I am not sure how we can avoid it even in our current system. I was interested, though, in your suggestion that euthanasia might be okay in a perfect world. It seems you are suggesting it is these unintended consequences which make it immoral, not something intrinsic to the practice. By the way, don’t we call them the mentally challenged these days?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 8:07 pm

  17. Matt,

    I guess I am fine with not prolonging life via unnatural means, but am not fine with ending life via unnatural means.

    But why? Your position is a common one, but I am interested here in understanding the justification for that position.

    So I am therefore against euthinasia, as I am not willing to do it myself.

    What if it did not require someone else, as I described in #11? Upon what grounds do you feel justified telling someone else they must suffer for six months while they wait for their cancer to do its thing? Keep in mind that they are going to die one way or the other.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

  18. Yes, we call them mentally challenged, I was using the slur for impact to emphasize the idea behind it. The truth is mentally challenged will need to be changed again and again because mental incapacity is what makes it a slur. We cannot stand imperfection in our culture. We abhor it.

    I fully concur with Blake, “Such a view cheapens life beyond recognition and fails to see what is truly valuable in human dignity.”

    Obviously, this is a complex question, when it comes to consuming resources, prolonging life unnaturally, etc. the waters get murky. Death is a natural part of life and there does come a point when we should make peace with it, but I don’t see how that means we should hasten it. Personally, I believe people tend to overstate the suffering the infirm are going through because their is an emotional part of the in their stomach going “eeww”. What makes suffering needless? Was the suffering of the atonement needless? Is the suffering through education to grow and develop ourselves needless? Is the personal maturity gained by people with life threatening illnesses a result of something needless? This is not an easy question to answer. I think the lack of a clear answer is what makes this such an ethical conundrum. However, we cannot start with the assumption that all suffering is bad. We are told however that it is better to know pain so that we might know joy. We are also told in the Princess Bride Life is pain, anyone who says otherwise is selling something. Wise man, that Wesley.

    Comment by Doc — September 30, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

  19. Doc,

    Death is a natural part of life and there does come a point when we should make peace with it, but I don’t see how that means we should hasten it.

    Conversely, I wonder if our position that it should never be hastened betrays the fact that we have not truly made peace with death.

    A big part of my problem is that I don’t view death as a bad thing, per se. Certainly there is plenty that is terrible about death, but for me what makes it terrible is the suffering that it leaves in its wake for those left behind. As you say, death is a natural part of life and an unavoidable part of God’s plan for us. Consequently, there must be circumstances in which death (for the person dying) is a positively good thing. Right?

    If so, this throws a serious monkey wrench into Blake’s (and now your) assertion that it “cheapens life beyond recognition and fails to see what is truly valuable in human dignity.” It doesn’t cheapen life to view it in its eternal context. There is a logical error being made in maintaining that whatever happens naturally is what is morally the best. Let’s say that a terminal patient waits it out and finds meaning in her suffering and finally dies after six months. Should we feel bad that she did not live another six months so she could suffer that much longer? Of course not, but then, why should we be so committed to the first six months but not the second?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 8:53 pm

  20. Jacob,

    I actually think you make a good argument. If all of the proper legal precautions were in place I don’t see any reason why the concept that “euthanasia is evil” would be an eternal principle.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 30, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  21. 11 “…I would like to understand the moral underpinnings better.”

    Euthanasia interferes with God’s plan by cutting short the physical probationary state. The reason for suffering is explained in D&C 122:

    “If thou art called to pass through tribulation…if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less…”

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  22. Howard: Euthanasia interferes with God’s plan by cutting short the physical probationary state.

    Wouldn’t all medical procedures be vulnerable to this charge? They help us extend life beyond that which would be “natural” after all…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 30, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  23. Howard,

    The problem I have accepting your answer as my own is that it does not address the question I have asked a few times now about pain killers and anti-depressants. If everything that happens without my corrective action is assumed to be part of God’s plan for me, then it seems I am not justified in trying to avoid any suffering at all (if that suffering is not a consequence of sin, which I am obviously justified in avoiding through righteousness). By your reasoning, couldn’t I quote that same scripture as part of a polemic against Midol? Thus, your argument seems to be founded on a premise that no one really accepts. If you can deal with this problem I will be much more inclined toward your answer though.

    By the way, I am all for finding meaning in suffering, and there is plenty to go around. I don’t think anyone is at a loss for opportunities to grow through tribulation.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  24. Drat, Geoff beat me to it.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  25. Jacob: Do you approve of suicide? How is euthanasia any different from simple suicide?

    Moreover, your notion that we can simply choose when to end life because out suffering is too great — any type of suffering — doesn’t haven any identifiable line. You haven’t really addressed the issue, have you? How much pain is too much? Is psychic pain too much? Is being disturbed by the neighbors? How about chronic pain that we cannot end but it is manageable? You have not answered these questions and they are the ones that need to be answered.

    Further, it is one thing for a person to choose to end their own life. It is quite another to ask someone else to assist me to end my own life.

    As for ending pain by pain killers. Of course we ought to end pain when we can; but that isn’t the issue. The issue is what do we do when we cannot end the pain. Does it mean life is not worth living.

    I say again, you have not given a coherent account or either morality or any rule that could govern euthanasia.

    Comment by Blake — September 30, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  26. 22 “Wouldn’t all medical procedures be vulnerable to this charge?”

    Geoff,
    While these may seem logically reciprocal, they are not…at least not in God’s eyes. We have been given the power to heal. We have also been commanded not to kill or murder.

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  27. 23 Re: pain killers and anti-depressants

    Jacob,
    The issue is not pain killers and anti-depressants. We have been given the power to heal. The issue is ending someone’s life. We have been commanded not to kill, not to murder. Making someone comfortable until they die is not the same as killing them so the pain will stop. Some people cannot be made comfortable and that is where the reason for suffering comes into play.

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

  28. 23 “suffering is not a consequence of sin”

    Christ was sinless and he suffered. D&C 122 addresses Joseph Smith. He was tarred and feathered, jailed, and shot to death. I’m not sure how much he sinned, but I’m sure it was considerably less than I.

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  29. Howard: While these may seem logically reciprocal, they are not…at least not in God’s eyes.

    Care to back that claim up?

    Also, unless you are referring to healing through modern medicine — God does the healing when we exercise that gift of the Spirit, not us.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 30, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

  30. 23 One more thought re: pain killers and anti-depressants. God actually gave us pain killers and anti-depressants:
    D&C 89:10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

    After several years of studying herbs I use a combination of Boswellia (Frankincense), Turmeric spice, and dried Nettle Leaf in place of ibuprofen. St. John’s Wort is one of the most frequently perscribed anti-depressants in Germany.

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  31. 29 Geoff,
    He allows us to heal through him. Does he allow us to murder through him? No, we are commanded not to murder. They are not reciprocal.

    Comment by Howard — September 30, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  32. Howard,

    You have deftly moved from arguing that euthanasia interferes with God’s plan (#21) to arguing that it is prohibited based on the commandment not to kill. These are two entirely different arguments. If you are asked to defend one of these claims and you shift to the other it becomes difficult to keep hold of the discussion. It seems to me after reading your #26 #27 #28 #30 and #31 that your argument boils down to the fact that God has commanded us not to kill. Is that right?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 30, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  33. Blake,

    Do you approve of suicide? How is euthanasia any different from simple suicide?

    Well, I agree that euthanasia is essentially suicide, but in limited circumstances. Of course, I disapprove of suicide in nearly all cases, and further, I am in favor of laws prohibiting suicide. The differences between the two are pretty clear since euthanasia is almost always limited to cases in which people are terminally ill and of sound mind. Both of those seem like obvious and relevant differences. Every case of suicide I am personally familiar with was either a case of someone who was, at the time, mentally unstable. They were not in a condition to make rational decisions for themselves. With treatment, they could have gone on to live happy and productive lives. Cutting short a life in its prime (and often when whole families are dependent on that life) is morally different than cutting short a life that is nearly over, has no dependents, and no quality of life. You may disagree with both, but surely we can agree there are relevant differences in the moral considerations.

    Moreover, your notion that we can simply choose when to end life because out suffering is too great — any type of suffering — doesn’t haven any identifiable line. …You have not answered these questions and they are the ones that need to be answered.

    I am not sure why those questions among all the many questions became “the ones” that need answering, but I’ll concede that I haven’t answered them. It seems that we have all kinds of moral situations where we cannot provide a clear cut answer like the one you are asking for. Consider the issue of abortion for which the Church has taken a strong position against it in general, offered a couple of specific possible exceptions, and then left the question up to individuals to sort out with God through personal revelation in those exceptional cases. Does that mean the Chruch has not answered the exact questions that need answering? Well, in one sense yes, they have left them up to individuals to answer one-on-one with God. I will concede that I cannot spell out in legal fashion the exact criteria for morally acceptable euthanasia if you will concede that we cannot really do this for most issues. (If I follow your rules for morally acceptable killing in #4, then Nephi should be charged with murder.)

    Further, it is one thing for a person to choose to end their own life. It is quite another to ask someone else to assist me to end my own life.

    I accept. As of #11 I have simplified things by saying we will assume the person can administer their own lethal dose of morphine.

    As for ending pain by pain killers. Of course we ought to end pain when we can; but that isn’t the issue. The issue is what do we do when we cannot end the pain. Does it mean life is not worth living.

    Whether we should end pain when we can is certainly part of the issue because, as is obvious, we can end the pain. Again, the kind and the severity of the pain is not the extent of the moral considerations that must play into the equation. Pain of the most excruciating kind possible may not, in some circumstances, mean that life is not worth living. In other situations, particularly with the elderly who have lived good productive lives and outlived everyone closest to them, those who love them most are often the ones who wish most for their peaceful passing. So absolutely, I think there are times when death is preferable to life and we should welcome it for the person who is ready to move on in their eternal journey. You keep trying to boil it down to some metric of how much pain justifies killing someone, but this grossly oversimplifies the moral considerations.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 12:25 am

  34. 32 Jacob,
    “Howard, You have deftly moved from arguing that euthanasia interferes with God’s plan (#21) to arguing that it is prohibited based on the commandment not to kill…If you are asked to defend one of these claims and you shift to the other it becomes difficult to keep hold of the discussion.”

    No Jacob, I have not moved at all. Both are true.

    In 27 and 30 I simply addressed your 23 question:

    “The problem I have accepting your answer as my own is that it does not address the question I have asked a few times now about pain killers and anti-depressants.”

    by pointing out that God gave us herbal pain killers and anti-depressants and by pointing out that; “Making someone comfortable until they die is not the same as killing them so the pain will stop.”

    I do not assert; “…everything that happens without my corrective action is assumed to be part of God’s plan”.

    We are commanded not to murder, not to kill. We are not commanded not to heal, not to comfort, on the contrary, we are encouraged to heal and comfort.

    Killing interferes with God’s plan by cutting short the physical probationary state, healing and comfort does not. This is basically what I was saying to Geoff in 26.

    If euthanasia and “all medical procedures” that “help us extend life” were logically reciprocal in Gods eyes wouldn’t there be equal prohibitions against each?

    So, Jacob, it is you that has become the moving target:
    “The problem I have accepting your answer as my own is that it does not address the question I have asked a few times now about pain killers and anti-depressants.”

    Comment by Howard — October 1, 2007 @ 6:40 am

  35. Howard,

    I think you are missing the point of my question about pain killers. Pain killers do not pose their own ethical difficulty. They only serve to illustrate a problem I have with saying euthanasia is wrong because it “interferes” with God’s plan. Why does euthanasia count as interfering while taking pain killers does not? Your answer appears to be that God has commanded us not to kill, but he wants us to heal. Fine. The word “interfere” in your original argument made me think you were worried about our thwarting God’s plan of someone suffering for an additional six months before dying. In fact, it appears your only basis for calling euthanasia “interference” and pain killers not “interference” is the commandment not to kill. This is what I summarized in #32 and from your additional comment it seems I was correct.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  36. Jacob,
    “Why does euthanasia count as interfering while taking pain killers does not? Your answer appears to be that God has commanded us not to kill, but he wants us to heal.”

    Yes, also (see 6) the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and The North America Northwest Area presidency collectively state:

    “A fundamental doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that each person is a child of God. Consequently, life—a gift from God—is sacred and to be cherished.”

    and in specific euthanasia support of “God has commanded us not to kill”:

    “One who assists the suicide of another violates God’s commandments.”

    Comment by Howard — October 1, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  37. Jacob #17- basically, it boils down to my own subjective preferences. Obviously at first viewing I seem to be saying I am opposed to the unnatural taking or keeping of life, but my standards for what is “unnatural” are different for what is giving and for what is taking.

    I mean, I am prefectly willing to give or help give a life saving shot, but am unwilling to give or help give a life taking one, in any way shape or form.

    To add to my inconsistency, If someone were going to committ suicide I would strongly discourage against it and say it’s a bad idea, but I would never say such to the mother of the victim left behind.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 1, 2007 @ 9:33 am

  38. Doc,

    I never responded to #13. I had forgotten that the D&C version of the ten commandments adds that “anything like unto it” clause. That is a good pull.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 9:43 am

  39. Howard,

    You are starting to repeat yourself. I get your point about God commanding us not to kill. As I have stated, my problem is in trying to understand the moral underpinnings better. Every time you attempt to answer my question about moral underpinnings, I press you on your answer and we end up back where we started with you quoting the commandment to me. Do you have an line of reasoning that does not lead back to the commandment itself (i.e. one that is not circular)?

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 9:50 am

  40. This has been an interesting discussion. For me, the question revolves around the things of this probation which are within our purview and those that are God’s.

    Life – the giving / beginning of – seem to rightly and properly belong to God. As does death. (…unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death. Ps. 68:20)

    Headaches, heart surgery, menstrual cramps, etc. are conditions of mortality that we can – and should – do something about.

    The end of life issues seem to hinge on whether we are trying to impose our will on things that belong to God. Euthanasia and suicide suggest that we are telling God, “You really don’t have the right to determine when I check out. That is my choice; not yours.”

    Comment by mondo cool — October 1, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  41. Also, the “unnecessary attempts” to prolong life can also be statements that suggest raging against God’s sovereignty over our mortal existence.

    Comment by mondo cool — October 1, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  42. Jacob,

    The statement in 6 clearly shows that euthanasia violates God’s commandments. The “moral underpinnings” of God commanding us not to kill should be self evident. Sorry for the circle.

    Comment by Howard — October 1, 2007 @ 10:30 am

  43. Mondo,

    Your “You really don’t have the right to determine when I check out. That is my choice; not yours.” doesn’t hold up here. If that attitude is wrong then every life-saving medical procedure is wrong. That was the point we made to Howard earlier.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 1, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  44. Mondo,

    I think your comment gets to the heart of the issue, thank you. I believe that your claim underlies many of the claims here and this is one of the things that most interests me about this issue. Let’s call it “Mondo’s claim”:

    Mondo’s claim: The giving and taking of life belongs to God, whereas headaches, heart surgery, menstual cramps, etc. are things that we can and should do something about.

    Let’s examine that for a moment. Why is the giving and taking of life considered to be something God does? Am I to believe that cancer happens as a natural part of life, but the time of death is always caused by divine intervention?

    I often hear similar things said about the beginning of life. “Take as many children as God wants to send.” The question I have always had is, how do we know how many kids God wants to send? Are those who cannot have children cursed by God? Must we explain it as God not wanting to send children? For the couple that could get pregnant any month they tried, is that because God wants them to have 20 children? If we hold literally to the statement that God is the one who decides when to give and take life, these are the ramifications of our view we must consider. I, for one, am not ready to say God is deciding when to send every baby and when every person should die.

    It is obvious that when two teenagers in the ward become unexpected parents of a child it is not because God wanted to send them a child. When someone tells me I should have just takes as many children as God wants to send, I like to respond that the only way I can be sure God wanted to send them is by getting a vasectomy and having my wife’s tubes tied. That way, if we have a baby, we can be sure it was because God wanted us to and not simply because nature is taking its course.

    The separation of life and death as somehow uniquely in the province of God (Mondo’s claim) is simply untenable in my view. The giving and taking of life obviously have sticky moral issues surrounding them, but they are very often issues with which we are forced to wrestle. To pretend otherwise strikes me as moral cowardice on our part. No one said we couldn’t call upon God when things get dicey, but let’s not pretend the “right thing” can always be summarized in a simple rule. The world is too morally complex for that.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  45. Howard (#42),

    The “moral underpinnings” of God commanding us not to kill should be self evident.

    Sorry, I’m not letting you off that easily. Are there ever exceptions to the commandment not to kill? If so, what are those exceptions and are they always “self evident”? Was it self-evident to Nephi that he should kill Laban?

    That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. -Joseph Smith

    To assert that the moral underpinnings are self-evident seems woefully naive to me. If it was self-evident, there would not be a moral contoversy surrounding the practice.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 10:54 am

  46. Jacob J: I already declared myself subjective and arbitrary in #37, but here is something to consider.

    Euthanasia is ending the life of a person with a terminal illness or an incurable condition based on what many consider mercy.

    Here are a few scenarios:

    1. Bob is 95 years old, and he has terminal cancer, is in a lot of pain, and wants to die.

    2. Sally is 14 years old, has terminal cancer, is in a lot of pain, and wants to die.

    3. Mary is 4 months old, same scenario.

    4. Billy is 35 and mentally and physically retarded. His situation greatly diminishes his quality of life and causes him extreme amounts of pain, he can not live without machines attached to him. he is depressed,and would like to die.

    Do you euthanize all of them. Keep in mind that neither #3 nor #4 are accountable.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 1, 2007 @ 10:58 am

  47. Jacob,
    “Are there ever exceptions to the commandment not to kill?”

    Yes.

    But, based on the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve statement in 6, I would say that euthanasia is NOT one of the exceptions.

    Comment by Howard — October 1, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  48. stupid question, but has anyone linked to this yet?

    Comment by Matt W. — October 1, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  49. #43 Geoff J.& #44 Jacob J.:

    We live in a “natural” world with laws of nature that have been ordained by God. Does that mean we are forbidden to do anything to circumvent the effects of nature upon us? Do we no longer wear clothes? Forget eating or learning to swim? Do we sin when we choose to live in a safe place rather than on a snake’s or lion’s den?

    There are things God has commanded us to be the Lord over – and there are things He has not. The Scriptures and the Prophets have pretty well delineated between the two – at least to my satisfaction.

    Life begins according to natural law that God has established. Death is not necessarily of Divine Intervention – but should be the province of either Divine or Natural Law. He holds us accountable for how well we observe the conditions of both Natural Law and Divine Law.

    (Oh, and thanks. I’ve really hit the bloggernacle bigtime now. “Mondo’s Claim.” I’m going home and tell my wife. ;-) )

    Comment by mondo cool — October 1, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  50. I’m fine with euthanasia from a standpoint of the law. If a person possessed of full mental and legal capacity wishes to check out, I have no objections. I figure it’s none of my damn business.

    As to whether I would do it myself at certain times and under certain circumstances… The question is so situational and personal, that I don’t feel comfortable making broad edicts for myself, my loved ones, or anyone else.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 1, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  51. Matt,

    Good questions. It definitely highlights the stickiness to talk about real examples, and I think that is important. It helps us get in touch with our instinctive reaction as well as our reasoned reaction and try to keep them aligned.

    Before talking about any of these cases, let me be clear that the actual decision in a real-life scenario would involve many factors which cannot be summarized easily in a hypothetical. Those factors would influence my view of the moral question in addition to carefully considering the Church’s position which you linked to.

    With that caveat, the 95 year old is the standard case and if he is not a candidate than no one is.

    The 14 year old is not legally old enough to make that decision probably, which is relevant. One must also consider if there are chances for additional treatments to be discovered if she holds out a year. Is she almost definitely going to die within the week, or does she have 6 months to live, which might very well turn out to be 2 years? I don’t expect you to answer these questions, I am trying to highlight some of the other factors that would seem to me to be important.

    The 4 month old does not know what death is and cannot communicate a desire for death even if they had one. So this is a definite no.

    The 35 year old handicapped hypothetical, interestingly, would be allowed by the Church’s position to remove himself from the life sustaining machines if he wanted. I have a hard time understanding what is different about this and ending one’s own life. Unplugging the machine that keeps you alive is just like taking a lethal dose of morphine EXCEPT that it is possible that against all odds the person will live after being unplugged. But, on the other hand, against all odds someone might live after taking a lethal dose of morphine too. The problem is that the way you die after being unplugged is usually much worse (in terms of suffering for you and your family which looks on) than the way you die if you take a lethal dose of morphine. So in practice, it can end up looking like the religious groups are saying God is fine with you dying as long as you do it in the more painful of the two ways. That is an uncomfortable spot for me.

    Anyway, those are some thoughts, but of course I would not want to pretend we can say with certainty what is moral with such hypotheticals, we can only explore the issue.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  52. Howard (#47),

    I wrote:

    Are there ever exceptions to the commandment not to kill? If so, what are those exceptions and are they always “self evident”? Was it self-evident to Nephi that he should kill Laban?

    You responded back in a yes/no to the first question without addressing the two follow-up questions I had for you in which I predicted your “yes” answer and moved forward in the discussion under that prediction.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  53. Seth,

    That is a very reasonable view and is probably closer to my own than what I have portrayed here. When it comes to making a real decision, I think you are right that it becomes very situational and personal. I enjoy the debate on this mostly for what it exposes about our attitudes toward death and ethics in general.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  54. Jacob,
    The subject is euthanasia and your “…problem is in trying to understand the moral underpinnings better.”

    “Are there ever exceptions to the commandment not to kill? If so, what are those exceptions and are they always “self evident”? Was it self-evident to Nephi that he should kill Laban?”

    These questions only muddy the water.

    As I pointed out in 47, euthanasia is NOT one of the exceptions – please see 6.

    Comment by Howard — October 1, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  55. Howard,

    If you’re not interested in discussing it, just tell me at the beginning so I don’t waste so much time.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 1, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  56. Oregon is new to the cycle of euthanasia. I think that as you get further along, you will see more gratis help given people.

    If you follow the severely disabled and those who are part of that community, you will get a feeling for the aid that people receive in making the choice for euthanasia even when they are resisting the “help.”

    It is really sobering.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 2, 2007 @ 6:11 am

  57. Jacob: The interesting hypothetical issue to me is really: I’m 40 and of sound mind but broken heart, I’ve just gone through a divorce and I feel a lot of pain. I want to die. Can I elicit your help with that? If I self administer, isn’t that suicide? What about the effect on the others in his family who want to enjoy a life with him? If you assist me at my request, do we make a law that everyone who asks should be assisted in suicide if we can find someone willing to do it? How do we distinguish between murder and suicide?

    The most important issue: What is your ethical theory that says you can judge whether it is OK to assist with suicide? Even a utilitarian ought to be skittish about doing that kind of calculus. How do you weigh continued life and pain in such a scenario? I just don’t see any workable ethical theory that includes voluntary euthanasia.

    Comment by Blake — October 2, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  58. Blake,

    Interesting hypothetical, thanks for the questions and comment. I am going to accept as a given that he is really of sound mind although wanting to kill oneself in the depression following a divorce is potentially a case of a person with an unsound mind.

    I suppose I would say that such a person should have a right under the law to kill themselves if they want to. That said, this is not a case I would consider morally acceptable. As I consider the moral issues of your hypothetical, the following pop out to me:

    1. The effect on the others in his family who:
    …..a. depend on him.
    …..b. want to enjoy a life with him.
    2. The good he could do with the rest of his life for:
    …..a. himself.
    …..b. for others.

    When a person dies these are the things that seem bad about it. For 2b, it is impossible to weigh this against the good he might do in the same time period on the other side of the veil, but in the absence of knowledge we must assume this could be an overall loss.

    The cases where euthanasia gets some support are usually quite different on all of these counts. Most do not have dependants (1a) and most do not have long to live one way or another which mitigates 1b as well as 2a and 2b. These considerations are then being offset against a life which is characterized by pain and/or being in a state where the person cannot contribute much to anything. It might always be argued that a person could grow (2a) from finding meaning in their misery, but I have responded to this in previous comments. These are the considerations I would be weighing in the moral calculus.

    I am skittish about doing all kinds of moral calculus, but we don’t always choose what situations are thrust upon us. The Church makes a couple of exceptions under which they leave the decision about abortion to the mother/couple for prayerful consideration. I would be skittish about that calculus as well, but that doesn’t mean it can be entirely avoided. An excessive desire to always be on the “safe side” can lead us to make incorrect moral decisions. This is the moral cowardice I referred to before. We should be willing to face these issues head on, even if they are prickly. (That does not imply we will come down one way or the other, but that the argument of being skittish is not a good reason to avoid dealing with the issue openly.)

    If I self administer, isn’t that suicide?

    Of course, by the definition of the word “suicide” it is. Morality is not dictated by ugly sounding words though. There are no virtually no actions which can be declared immoral independant of their context. We sometimes make up words which couple the action with the moral judgment to make things easy to talk about. For example, “murder” is the word that means you killed someone and it was immoral (as a lawyer, you intimately familiar with the way these words multiply when we try to get very specific (e.g. notice how many legal words we have for killing someone)). If we just strip it down to the act itself without context, I can’t think of any action which is inherently immoral. I am obviously suggesting in this post that there may be morally acceptable situations for suicide.

    If you assist me at my request, do we make a law that everyone who asks should be assisted in suicide if we can find someone willing to do it?

    As I have said, I think an argument could be made that it should be allowed as a legal matter. I am absolutely NOT saying it would be moral as a general matter.

    How do we distinguish between murder and suicide?

    Well, murder is when you kill someone else and suicide is when you kill yourself, so that much is easy. Again, I think our language should follow the moral judgment, not precede it. Until we have determined whether someone was morally justified in killing we do not know whether it was murder. Labeling it “murder” is just a way to communicate that we have already made a moral judgment about this instance of killing.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 3, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

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