An argument against assisted dying or euthanasia often goes like this one from the blog BioEdge (a bioethics blog run by an Australian Roman Catholic). Under the headline “Locked-in patients are happy, says Belgian researcher,” Michael Cook, the author, points out that
Only 7% [of those with Locked-in Syndrome] were interested in euthanasia.
And since, he says, if they would only wait, they would find that they can adapt to being locked-in — that is, conscious, but unable to move, or to communicate except (possibly) by moving their eyes — there is no reason to provide euthanasia for that small percentage. Hence: “the 7% solution.”
Basically the same thing applies to people who are dying. Harvey Cochinov et al., in their paper “Dignity Therapy: A Novel Psychotherapeutic Intervention for Patients Near the End of Life“, point out that dying patients can, by the use of their techniques, be given a sense of their continued dignity and value, and Margaret Somerville has taken this as evidence that assisted dying is unnecessary. In her article, “Suffering with Dignity,” published on Mercator Net (another Roman Catholic bioethics blog — God’s minions ceaselessly at work making life miserable for the rest of us), she says that what Cochinov’s “dignity therapy” does is to show that:
We can give people “mini-hopes” – things to look forward to – even when a long-term future is not possible.
And she argues in the same article that:
Euthanasia is proposed by its advocates as an appropriate response to pain and suffering, precisely because, they argue, it gives patients ultimate control over what happens to them.
But both claims are wrong. Advocates of assisted dying do not say that assisted dying (or euthanasia) is “an appropriate response to pain and suffering.” That is not the claim. What advocates of assisted dying claim is that choice in dying is the appropriate response to people who are suffering. And giving people “mini-hopes” is all very well — and we should do it if we can and if people want – but in Cochinov’s research 9% of the research group still wanted help to die. So, whether a 7% or a 9% solution, there are always some people who would choose to die, regardless of the mini-hopes or the chance that they might learn to adapt to circumstances they now find intolerable.
Arguing against providing assisted dying for that 7% of Locked-in Syndrome sufferers who ask for it, Michael Cook says:
I am not a philosopher, but shouldn’t an informed choice lead you to choose something good?
Dying is never a good, then? Why then is it that so many people say, when someone has died, and is now released from the suffering they endured as they died, ”It’s sad to see him go, but it really was a blessing”? This is said again and again. Surely, given the early Christian arguments in favour of dying as martyrs — see my last post on Jim Spiegel and his funny argument – as well as the hope of heavenly reward, and joining our loved ones who have gone before us, death, for Christians, can’t be all that bad.
In a response to the Belgian research, Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu points out two important qualifications. First, the research includes responses from only 40% of those who were approached, and the original target group included only those with Locked-in Syndrome who can communicate! Second, he points out that, while it is true that the human ability to adapt to circumstances and find meaning in apparently intolerable circumstances is remarkable, it is still the case that:
What makes each person’s own living hell is a matter for that person. It is subjective. And we can adapt to hell. That is important for all of us to know. But it does not change the rights of individuals to make what they will of their lives, including choosing the conditions under which and the time to end them. [my italics]
In other words, forcing even 7% to stay alive in what they consider a living hell is forcing them to live in hell, and forcing anyone to live in hell — while it seems completely acceptable to the Christian god — is a form of tyranny which, for human morality, is intolerable and cruel. It just goes to show that Christians are cognitively challenged when it comes to morals.
Thanks to Chris for this link to a comment on the Belgian (Steven Laurey) study: Neurologica Blog.