Hearts & Likes
People are able to discern good from evil. More or less everybody will recognize and condemn an atrocity exhibited on their TV screens, provided they have no stake in it. In this respect, social networks present us with a panoramic display of humanity’s certainty in its moral principles. Namely, that’s where thousands upon thousands like the photo of some little, dying “angel” and write condemnatory comments under the picture of some sadist caught poisoning dogs. Whether they are themselves good or evil is immaterial. They passed their judgments and ascertained what is and what is not good. Admittedly, the principles providing them with the capability for moral judgment are rarely explicitly defined. Yet who would doubt, for instance, the sanctity of human life and the obligation to respect its final act as unquestionable values? The virtual heart and like under the photo of the gravely ill child, as well as the hateful commentary on the dog killer, clearly prove this fact.
Or do they?
Judging by the way things are going: no, they do not. Fleeting certainties of life are in fact its underlying principles. But nowadays man is offered a bold and final step over their boundaries. He is carried by a gushing stream of illusory freedom, springing from the illusory affirmation of importance by its consumers, i.e. continual progress in consummation of human rights. It is the demolition of everything that once was, without second thought, accepted as good and evil, and the institution of a system defining ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’. All is good if it’s not evil, and evil itself is nothing because it’s not good. In that sense there are no limits to freedom if there are no rational reasons for them, so the final sanctuary of the irrational, a final possible evil, is brought to judgment. It is death itself and its occasional accomplice – murder. “The right to die,” or opting to end one’s life by the hand of another, becomes the demand that can’t be ignored. The right to euthanasia is slowly but surely creeping up the list of human rights advocates’ priorities. And really, why hit the brakes when the highway of freedom is infinite and every few miles we storm by that jumbo-scale billboard that shouts, “Because you deserve it!”?
Here is why. Man must wake up in the middle of the night, sits up in his sweat-soaked bed and asks himself, “If death is my right, isn’t it therefore my duty?”
Early Euthanasia Movement and the Nazi Stigma
Euthanasia is a term still bearing the burden of dark connotations, and its contemporary advocates are all too careful to avoid using it explicitly. No surprise there because, however you flip it, Thanatos arouses no pleasing sensations, even if you pin eu- to it. Also, we must not forget that “mercy killing” in the previous century had its first legal coming-out party in Nazi Germany in the form of the Aktion T4 program conducted from 1939 to 1941, and aimed at the “mercy killing” of children and adults deemed “unfit to live”. Bearing in mind that, alongside the lethal injection and nutrition deprivation, it also premiered in the experimental gas chambers, it is strongly believed that Aktion T4 was a sort of exercise in preparation for the death camps. The program was publicly canceled on the 23rd of July, 1941, because Hitler had to respond to sermons by the bishop of Münster, Clemens von Galen, who unequivocally condemned the whole affair. However, the euthanasia program continued incognito, and the bishop’s clerical cadre was cut down to size.
Hitler’s experiment in eugenics almost unintentionally “mercy-killed” the young euthanasia movement in the West. Ignoring the state of affairs across the Atlantic, the Euthanasia Society of America, founded in New York in 1938, committed something along the lines of botched PR-suicide, when in the wake of World War II, it openly advocated the primary purpose of euthanasia as being the removal of “undesirable creatures”, meaning erasing those they deemed unfit for dignified life. In the clear words of its representative, neurologist Foster Kennedy, the overall purpose was conceived as mercy for “nature’s mistakes”, the mercy killing of “a person, who is not a person”. Such straightforwardness – seldom present among the contemporary advocates of euthanasia, as we shall see – is due to close ties between early euthanasia initiatives and the eugenics movement. In the age of the rise of Nazism and the beginning of the WWII, it proved to be a terrible advertising experiment. Euthanasia advocates had to wait for the revolutionary changes of the sixties in order to make a public comeback free from fear of lynching, although this time endowed with strict rhetorical discipline and new names for their organizations.
But we must wonder, would all this fuss have taken place if not for Hitler? Eugenics, or science of selection and nurture of desirable individuals was, before WWII, practically mainstream among American financial and scientific elites. The point of agreement with euthanasia advocates was the idea of systematization of acceptable and unacceptable species in a society conceived as a kind of zoo, admittedly not on the grounds of a Nazi-like Volk, but on the grounds of what we now call “quality of life” and the “autonomy of the individual”. In those days the term was “the pursuit of happiness,” in the sense of an individual’s right to accomplish material satisfaction, or enjoyment of life, as guaranteed by law. It is interesting to note, and at the same time seemingly hard to understand: wherein lies the autonomy of a sick child being killed by physician like a blind puppy? It is interesting because the accent of euthanasia movement in USA and UK before World War Two was laid precisely on “cleansing” society of infants unfit for quality autonomous life, while only since the nineteen-seventies do we find it staked as a right of conscious and autonomous individuals, mostly elderly people. But where there is a will there is a way. And where there is a way, there’s no trouble in procuring the logic. We’ll return to that later.
Arguments for Compassion
Ritual consternation over a long-vanquished “dark monolith” is an important method of morally tranquilizing a civilized people. Therefore, contemporary euthanasia advocates spared no efforts in learning the discipline of properly manipulating the public consciousness, better known as political correctness. So now we must be politically correct in thinking that “aid in dying” or “death with dignity” are something different from euthanasia, i.e. mercy killing or killing with a pinch of mercy. Moreover, advocates of “the right to die” ensure us that it is a form of palliative care, christened as “end of life care.” Also, a “gentle landing” is advertised as a procedure mostly intended for those whose lives have become intolerable because of physical and psychological suffering, and death is practically a deliverance from the undignified life. Furthermore, we must think that this “final exit” is a privilege of the elderly population. Among the agitprop materials of various initiatives and societies pushing the legalization of euthanasia, we often find life stories of elderly people whose lives became so intolerable that they had to spend considerable sums and raise hackles with their families in order to seek assisted death where it’s legally approved – in Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, American federal states of Oregon and Washington and, more recently, in Quebec, Canada.
Let’s check out two typical stories, still resonant in the public mind:
While listening to the meticulously directed outreach of Sir Terry Pratchett, a writer at the London Royal Physicians Society, where in the light of his maladies – he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease – he puts forward his reasons for advocating the right to assisted death, it is patently obvious that the BBC cameras are present in order to legitimize and propagate the affair on the national level. However, on suspending the ratio, we will feel that someone is addressing our emotions, our compassion, and not in the least our power of judgment. Pratchett advocates the system, but he addresses me, man to man, moreover through the mouth of the actor Tony Robinson, who reads his speech from the screen, because he himself feels unsure whether he could endure speaking for 45 minutes; the audience is melting with sentiments of quiet joy and sadness… Here and there we can almost see an occasional tear glistening in the half-darkness beneath crystal chandeliers … The-soon-to-be-dead man gently nods his head and smiles warmly. The scene is interrupted with saccharine humor and a reasoned discussion on “my life, my choice”.
Touching, only it’s hard to pinpoint what is exactly touched. Let’s try arousing our compassion with another example.
Before the camera, terminally ill Canadian Susan Griffiths reads her farewell message to the Canadian public, parliament, and the world, describing her diagnosis: she is faced with a progressive failure of her bodily systems and a life of complete dependence on others. No more gardening, no more going where she likes and doing what she wants. She realized that the complete loss of control is imminent, followed by a drastic decrease in the quality of her life. So why does she have to spend so much on a trip to Switzerland in order to procure assistance for dying on her own terms, in company of friends and family? She delivers her message because she wants all Canadians – nay, all people – to be endowed with the right to die in their own country, when they so desire, provided by government. Finally, the lady died with assistance, after a video compilation of her last days in the Dignitas clinic had been made as a last public farewell and testament to her bravery. We are informed that before departing to nothingness, she sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat with family and friends, and had “a hell of a laugh”.
Such scenes are literally gurgling with emotions. This author feels neither compassion nor understanding for these people, save for possibility of a bad taste in the mouth and acute nausea could be forms of compassion and understanding. Frankly, it is a natural reaction to emotional blackmail. This author apologizes henceforth to anyone who is able to feel touched by the above described display of emotions for his incompetence on the emotional spectrum and the over-sensitivity of his stomach.
Now, with apologies made, we can proceed to an exposure of facts and an analysis of concepts.
Euthanasia Facts and Implications
The contemporary movement for assistance in dying is a global network of organizations and foundations, working legally and legitimately on promoting the legalization of institutionalized mercy killings and aid for suicide. Euthanasia is at work only in the first case. The other, so-called “assisted suicide,” denotes situations where the physician a provides patient with information and means necessary to aid him in the taking of his own life. There is a third case, however, which often gets confused with euthanasia and assisted suicide, and that is termination of medical care. Euthanasia advocates are prone to obfuscate the differences between these three procedures, and push them into the legislation concerning so-called “terminal care,” or medical treatment of the dying. Now, wherever it has burrowed itself into legislation, euthanasia has piggy-backed on assisted suicide falsely compared to termination of medical care, and later has crept in all directions, from cases where a physician is allowed to off the patient on demand himself, to the euthanasia of those who can’t give or revoke consent, namely children.
Never and in no conceivable case is euthanasia suicide, which cannot really be legal or illegal, because suicide is an act of freedom negating any other will besides the will of a perpetrator. Euthanasia, however, presupposes legal and ethical reforms of the medical profession. An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, passed in Quebec, clearly shows the direction in which the legislation will develop once euthanasia has been legalized. Chapter 3, Section 1, Paragraph 7 states:
Every institution [meaning health care institutions such as hospitals and social welfare institutions providing medical care] must offer end-of-life care and ensure that it is provided to the persons requiring it in continuity and complementarily with any other care that is or has been provided to them.
In other words, the right of the patient to die is the duty of his physician to kill him. The law formally allows health-care workers to refuse service on moral grounds and obliges the institution to provide someone who will perform it, but in practice it will probably mean pressure on those who refuse. Furthermore, the experience shows that legalizing euthanasia soon opens the floodgates and incites a whole spectrum of death-related services. In the Netherlands, for instance, the privilege of an informed and mature patient above the age of 16 years soon evolved into the “active termination of life for children”, who can be euthanized in accordance to legally approved criteria. The guidelines for this procedure are gathered in the so called Groningen protocol, published in 2002, where three euthanasia-approvable instances are listed: for those who have no chance of survival, those who will be unable to lead autonomous life, and those who will be unable to realize quality of life. The criteria and fine points of every individual case have been laid down by medical professionals, and exhaustive consultations with parents are proscribed. In the end the decision can be approved only after judicial evaluation. At least that’s how it looks on paper.
Opponents of euthanasia, however, point out that in practice things turn out to be much messier than one should except from civilized Northern Europeans. True enough, just after the passing of the law legalizing euthanasia, the first voices advocating, among other things, euthanasia on demand for reasons of “bad disposition towards life”, could be heard clamoring. The Dutch Minister of Health at that time (2005), Els Borst, remarked that it really wouldn’t be such a bad thing if a “suicide pill” should become available to everyone, regardless of their health. Be that as it may, when we observe the results of the case-study on the reasons for eliminating 22 children (Verhagen, 2005), conducted in Netherlands between 1997 and 2002 (note that it was before the formal legalization of euthanasia), we can offer some informed assumptions. The overall reason for euthanasia (valid in 22 cases, therefore 100%) is defined as “extremely poor quality of life (suffering) in the sense of functional disability, pain, uneasiness, bad prognosis and desperation” or, in other words, “predicted lack of self-sufficiency” (100%). Further reasons are “predicted inability to communicate” (82%), “expected hospital dependency (77%), “long life expectancy” (59%)”. Obviously, in the case of 13 subjects the argument could just as well be deployed to speed up the inevitable, which served as the fundamental, and supposedly only, reason in the case of adults. However, we can see that it wasn’t valid for 9 subjects. Hence, we can assume that these toddlers could survive longer than criteria proscribes as a time frame for terminal care, if hospitalization was applied. In this respect following remark is of the essence:
The burden of other considerations is greater when the life expectancy is long in a patient who is suffering.
Clearly, justification for euthanasia grows stronger as a low-quality life grows longer. But who defines such life and how? Not the patients themselves, but the professionals interpreting their appeals or the appeals of their custodians, that is to say physicians and lawyers. In order for the law to be applicable to all, the definition of quality of life also has to be universally applicable. And that’s the point where things start to slide, as euthanasia opponents call it, down the “slippery slope” – once euthanasia practice legally commences, it can be applied to an ever-growing number of cases because the criteria may as well be applicable to all. But quality of something, as we know from logic, cannot be conclusively defined if we don’t know the substance of that which is qualified; if we don’t know what the human being is, we also cannot know what comprises quality of life.
But there’s a remedy for that, too.
Sophia’s “No-Brainer” Choice
The argument proceeding from the individual’s right to autonomy is a contemporary dogma; it’s a principle believed to be natural and inborn to each and every human animal and, consequently, devoid of any contradiction. However, its intrinsic contradiction is self-evident to anyone who would seriously consider it. Freedom of the individual transferred into law, and therefore entrusted to the state, presents some other individual with a duty. The physician per se is deprived of the autonomy of rejecting the infliction of euthanasia if he is to uphold the reformed imperative of his vocation, just as the infant he discards is not autonomous. And, henceforth, we can observe the return of the euthanasia movement to its eugenics roots: in order for a happy society to live, the unhappy elements have to die; in order for good to be absolute, evil must be abolished; for if murder would be evil, then the murderer could not be good. So if the murderer is good, then the murder is not evil.
Let’s dare to assume the following dilemma: if the surplus of patients in palliative care is a drain on the resources of those who could lead a happier life, which course of action would be rational? The greater good for the greater number. A no brainer, as some of the sincere euthanasia advocates along the lines of Peter Singer would say. This champion of animal rights in their struggle against human hegemony points out that a sick and/or mentally deficient baby is ontologically below the level of a healthy puppy (licentia poetica: he says “piglet”). There is no criteria to discern, save for the level of consciousness, itself defined by the flimsy standards of natural sciences that took over from all-but-extinct philosophy and soon-to-be extinct religion.
What to do then? What choices should the postmodern incarnation of Strytin’s Sophia from Sophie’s Choice make; the woman making her hideous choice not in the concentration camp, but at the food court in the middle of the shopping mall, with her credit card just one step from being revoked. Child or puppy? For likes of Singer, the matter is a no brainer, same as for the judiciaries who legalized euthanasia. And that brings us back to the question of Nazism and the unfair comparison of contemporary euthanasia practices with death-camp rehearsals. Namely, it is obvious that Nazis placed Strytin’s heroine before an insoluble dilemma: she had to choose which one of her two children would die in order for the other to survive. That’s really not a choice, but rather a method of suffocating her humanity, a method which ultimately doesn’t work. Forced choice is no choice at all. The National Socialists were determined to eliminate, in one way or another, everybody threatening their utopian collective as defined by race and complete surrender of the individual will to the State representing that race. But they never managed to force their victims into pleading for their own elimination.
Contemporary euthanasia legislation manages the diametrical opposite with forebodingly similar implications and a hearty potential for braving obstacles over which the Nazis stumbled. It reaches out to the individual will of every single individual against any form of community. The problem is: who is reaching out? Because the state or some other corporate entity must assure everybody’s right to be the master of his life and death, it must provide the legal framework, methods, and resources enabling the exercise of individual will. Euthanasia is therefore not throwing oneself over a moral precipice. On the contrary, it is the tossing of others into the abyss. The absolute peak of the divorce of freedom and responsibility, and the transferring of one’s own will and intimacy to another, presupposes the absolute right. That in turn demands the transfer of power over life and death of the individual to the system, because only an absolutely differentiated system can provide everybody with the exercise of his right to total autonomy. But if that’s the case, whence the assumption that death will become duty? No brainer: “Because you deserve it!”
Hard to swallow, one could say. Though, nothing is too hard to swallow when sweetened enough. If death can be consumed to pop songs and a festive atmosphere, and moreover, if it can reap a multitude of likes on social networks, why would painlessly kicking the bucket be any worse than choosing to play one’s cards to the end? Observing public reactions to the “heroic struggle” of people like Sir Terry and Ms. Griffiths to die when and how they like, one comes to the conclusion that support by far outweighs consternation, especially in younger demographics. Admittedly, emotional blackmail takes its toll, but then again nobody really denounced their act for what it is – a smarmy abomination. Not one word of consideration for their fellow men from those two, or any other motive besides their self-love.
In contrast to mere suicides, their appeals for changing the rules concerning everybody is an act of the particular, namely: absolute selfishness. And in that sense it is a religious act. The individual raises himself on a throne as arbiter of life and death, ordering the same right provided to everyone else. Yes, you read it correctly, he orders the right. And that’s precisely where the terrible threat of legalizing euthanasia insinuates itself ever deeper. Once death has been sold, i.e. when it becomes an act which the individual can treat as a manageable commodity, there is no more reason not to transfer management to more competent parties. For the slippery slope of the euthanasia argument is the only direction it can take. And although it is currently legalized in only a few nations, we can expect its rapid metastasis in the Euro-Atlantic sphere.
We should not be surprised when, alongside the noble profession of the life coach, we witness the emergence and flourishing of the art of death coaching, perhaps even as a social service. If murder is evil only when it affects quality of life, than why would quality-murder be evil? If it benefits the fiscal discipline of the medical sector, why wouldn’t it be celebrated as an act reaping thousands upon thousands of likes? If the death of a terminally sick little angel contributes to the well being of numerous puppies seeking homes, why wouldn’t it be cheered on as an act reaping millions of likes?
Well, we aren’t going anywhere; we’ll stick around and see what happens. A right divorced from duty is logically impossible. The argument of absolute inference is a circular argument, akin to the serpent devouring its own tail. Duty is right, right is duty, and therefore if there’s no duty, there’s no right, either. To be and not to be are one and the same. What is not devoured and excreted as acceptable and unacceptable does not exist at all. Therefore, undefined principles of human life are out-of-law as such, they are outlawed. Undefined freedom is outlawed, undefined goodness is outlawed, and undefined life is outlawed. Undefined is that which is not, nor will it ever be, truly systemized. But that’s not something mystical, something transcendent. It is life as we know it. And much sooner than you think, it will be decreed unacceptable. But only with your consent, only if you want it, and always with the motto: “Because you deserve it!”
Skimming the endless debate between advocates of euthanasia and their opponents, one cannot but sense the meaninglessness of it all. Both arguments and contra-arguments are infinite, and politics is clearly prone to provide people with what they deserve. We only ask ourselves: how can we resist? We will answer the politically correct wolves in sheep’s clothing with a necessary and universally applicable reply to emotional blackmail or the order to bend one’s knee before the usurper: Get thee hence, Satan.
Branko Malic writes in Croatian and English on philosophy, metaphysics, and metapolitics at Kali Tribune.
 For history of euthanasia movement in USA, see: Dowbiggin, Ian. A Merciful End – The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America (Oxford University Press: 2003.)
 Dowbiggin, p. 59 – 61.