Nope, there’s no slippery slope at all

Heaven forbid that anyone should claim there is:

Doctors in Belgium have granted a medically depressed woman the right to end her own life.

The 24-year-old woman, named only as ‘Laura’, told doctors she had suffered from depression since she was a child and wished to end her life, local newspaper De Morgen reported.

62 thoughts on “Nope, there’s no slippery slope at all”

  1. This story came the same week the Economist ran a cover and editorial calling for euthanasia to be legalised – declaring in their leader column that there is no slippery slope, and infact, euthanasia laws it place it’s legalised don’t go far enough!

  2. There’s a perfectly good case for letting Laura commit suicide but it’s quite distinct from the “no slippery slope” argument (which is not a matter of logic but of psychology).

    As a libertarian, or classical liberal, or whatever, what’s your argument against permitted suicide, Tim? Would you rather the girl spent the rest of her life in a straitjacket so that she can’t top herself?

  3. What’s the problem? Chick wants to kill herself, this way it won’t involve some poor bastard watching her step onto a railway line or a cop having to cut her down from the rafters.

    I can’t understand your concern, Tim.

    If it ever goes involuntary (a wholly different act) I will be with you.

    If you were a practising Catholic as opposed to a lapsed one, I would understand your take.

  4. It is indeed one of those residual bits of Catholicism. The ultimate sin, despair of God. Translated, in my case, into a rather more humanist idea that this is what those bloody amoebae, this life is, have been striving for for these past 4 billion years. Topping yourself is a betrayal of all that effort.

    Agreed that, without that belief in hte existence of God, this is probably a rationalisation of some core belief. But there we have it, no one said I have to be rational all the time.

  5. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “As a libertarian, or classical liberal, or whatever, what’s your argument against permitted suicide, Tim?”

    I am not Tim, but this has nothing to do with suicide as such. It has to do with murder. She is not asking for permission to kill herself. She can do that any time she likes. She is asking for a doctor to be allowed to kill her. That is a very different kettle of fish.

    If someone is allowed to enter into a contract that results in her death, is she allowed to enter into a contract that results in her slavery?

    Interested – “What’s the problem? Chick wants to kill herself, this way it won’t involve some poor bastard watching her step onto a railway line or a cop having to cut her down from the rafters.”

    Indeed. On the other hand it will involve everyone going to see their doctor wondering whether he is thinking that it is time to go and will prepare the next injection accordingly. Just before, in fact, everyone going to see their doctor will be assessed by said doctor to see if their continued lives have any further social utility.

    “If it ever goes involuntary (a wholly different act) I will be with you.”

    This woman is in the right state of mind to make a credible choice? She is, after all, arguing that she is so mentally ill she needs to die.

  6. “Topping yourself is a betrayal of all that effort.”

    Not having any kids is also a betrayal of all that effort. But if your “humanist” beliefs are correct its all a waste of time and effort in a meaningless universe anyway.

    As for the girl–did the medical pork not even try to cheer her up? Is depression now an incurable disease? If she really wants to commit suicide that is her business but the running to medical hacks makes it everybody’s business. The first duty of such is to save not take life. If someone is up shit creek with no hope of anything but suffering and death anyway–that is one thing. But depression FFS. Any hack involved in this needs to be barred (or whatever they call medical de-frocking) and beaten up as well.

  7. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I wonder how many people who are militantly against the death penalty on the grounds that mistakes cannot be rectified support assisted suicide for depression sufferers despite the fact that people do recover from depression. I bet there’s a healthy overlap.

  8. “In fact, everyone going to see their doctor will be assessed by said doctor to see if their continued lives have any further social utility.”

    Doctor: do you drink?
    Me: yes
    Doctor: hmmm….(pauses)….do you smoke?
    Me: no
    Doctor: ah.

  9. Most doctors refuse to certify someone as being fit to work. How the hell are they going to judge if someone is fit to die? It’s a bit fucking presumptious of them, really.

  10. The conclusion from many of these arguments really has nothing to do with assisted suicide per se; it’s more that it would be wise to exclude doctors from the practice. I agree entirely. The job should obviously go to the public hangman. If a country doesn’t have such a chap, then retired doctors could be used. Or nurses. There are apparently many suitable candidates in Mid Staffordshire.

  11. But two years ago [1999], for no apparent reason, the veil of depression lifted. For the first time in his life, Cohen sighed, looked out on the world and felt at peace with it.

    ‘There was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself. I remember sitting in the corner of my kitchen, which has a window overlooking the street. I saw the sunlight that shines on the chrome fenders of the cars, and thought, “Gee, that’s pretty.”

    ‘I said to myself, “Wow, this must be like everybody feels.” Life became not easier but simpler. The backdrop of self-analysis I had lived with disappeared. It’s like that joke: “When you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, it feels good when it stops”.’

    It was a remarkably late epiphany. Cohen had spent the past 50 years ploughing his way through drugs, drink, countless women and several religions in an attempt to find release from this ‘backdrop’ of self-doubt. But the cure was more simple – he learned to ignore himself.

    ‘When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you. It happened to me by imperceptible degrees and I could not really believe it; I could not really claim it for some time. I thought there must be something wrong. It’s like taking a drink of cold water when you are thirsty. Every tastebud on your tongue, every molecule in your body says thank you.’

    http://cohencentric.com/2015/04/03/leonard-cohens-list-of-pharmaceuticals-joke-his-not-at-all-funny-depresion/

  12. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “The conclusion from many of these arguments really has nothing to do with assisted suicide per se; it’s more that it would be wise to exclude doctors from the practice.”

    I think it would be better if doctors were not involved. But it is an interesting question about what makes a society worth having or at least defending. You can have a highly civilised society and slavery for instance. In fact most of them did. You can have a highly civilised society and public torture as in Rome. You can murder small children as in ancient Greece and China. I am sure Eskimo society was fine even though they abandoned the old to die on the ice.

    But no one has ever really done this before. I guess the Blank Slate-ists, who appear to be the majority even here, would argue that we can do what we like and it will have no larger social impact. But I wonder.

    Sackerson – “Cohen had spent the past 50 years ploughing his way through drugs, drink, countless women and several religions in an attempt to find release from this ‘backdrop’ of self-doubt.”

    Ahhh, if only I thought of that! Here I was thinking that it was my moral turpitude, but all the time, it turns out I was suffering terribly. And need lots of understanding, needless to say.

    “But the cure was more simple – he learned to ignore himself.”

    So Leonard Cohen joins the rest of us – most of us learned to do that a long time ago. Not sure this is an argument against assisted suicide.

  13. Some interesting points here – I like Rob’s about certification for work. But then, actually, in that case, too, all a doctor is doing is agreeing with the ‘patient’, much as he is re suicide.

    I don’t like SMFS’s suggestion that ‘everyone going to see their doctor [will be] wondering whether he is thinking that it is time to go and will prepare the next injection accordingly’, because that’s demonstrable bollocks.

    If it ever gets to that point there will be civil disobedience on a grand scale – there really is a difference between a 24-year-old woman saying to a doctor that she would quite like to die and a doctor saying to a 24-year-old woman that he would quite like to kill here (she not being an elderly person in a hospital bed – THERE’S your slippery slope), and one will NOT lead to the other.

    I’m not saying I much like the idea, but actually it’s not easy to kill yourself painlessly and cleanly.

    I’ve seen a soldier who tried to commit suicide; it made a lot of mess, and turned him into a very disabled person.

    Also, people have to pick up the pieces – sometimes literally. Can’t see that’s how an argument for disallowing an agreement between two individuals.

    I can see how there might well be room for counselling, cooling off periods, etc.

  14. My point in quoting Leonard Cohen is that depression is treatable, if not curable. I understand that chronic mild depression – the sort where you can still move, even earn a living – doesn’t in itself lead to sucide. There’s likely to be a trigger – maybe in the form of “advice”?

  15. “If someone is allowed to enter into a contract that results in her death, is she allowed to enter into a contract that results in her slavery?”

    I hadn’t thought of that. And the more I think about it, the more interesting that question is. It sidesteps the “curable” question, even the “slippery slope”. Is there a rational argument about agreeing to permanent slavery being unacceptable that does not apply to agreeing to be killed (particularly the consent of someone with severe mental health issues!)?

    Not often I take SMFS at face value and feel genuinely stimulated by the discussion but this really hadn’t crossed my mind before and I think it hits a pretty fundamental point.

  16. @MBE

    “If someone is allowed to enter into a contract that results in her death, is she allowed to enter into a contract that results in her slavery?”

    Not often I take SMFS at face value and feel genuinely stimulated by the discussion but this really hadn’t crossed my mind before and I think it hits a pretty fundamental point.”

    Surely the answer is Yes.

    For various reasons.

    Otherwise it presupposes that you or I or someone else has the power to prevent a sane adult individual (I accept some restrictions) from entering a contract because we disapprove of its effects. There are so many ramifications and implications for freedom that it ought not detain you much longer, surely?

    I wouldn’t enter into such a contract, but then neither would I become a prostitute, or a fruit picker.

  17. I agree with Interested. If you want to top yourself, you should a) do the job yourself, b) leave zero mess, and ideally c) don’t leave some poor bastard to find your body.
    I think that means heading for Arctic, freezing to death, and being eaten by bears/wolves.

  18. If someone is allowed to enter into a contract that results in her death, is she allowed to enter into a contract that results in her slavery?

    You can enter into any contract you like: the question is whether the contract should be legally enforceable. Here, should the contractor change her mind, neither the death nor the slavery is enforceable. No jurisdiction where euthanasia is permitted says otherwise.

  19. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    As in so many subjects, once you break the seal, then the process will be taken to its logical conclusion.

    As Gay Marriage now leaves the door open for the permission of incestuous and polygamous ( and possibly paedophile, for after all the ages of consent and responsibility are artificial constructs of the State) unions so allowing doctors to euthanise individual patients will lead to wholesale enactments ( Liverpool Pathway anyone ?). The Nazis tried this, of course, but the policy was stopped due to adverse public opinion.

    It should not be the role of the (liberal democratic) State to be complicit in the murder of its own citizens for no better reason than they are a “bit unwell” or “feeling down”. If you wish someone else to kill you, then hire a killer, not a state-licensed doctor. A single high-velocity bullet while you’re in the garden: ptui, job done ! Otherwise purchase a bottle of whisky and a revolver or a one-way trip on a Newhaven-Dieppe ferry.

  20. PaulB, your nonsense gets more and more unbelievable every day. I’m afraid I have to resort to Caps Lock for this one:

    HOW IN THE NAME OF EVER-LOVING FUCK IS SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN KILLED SUPPOSED TO CHANGE HER MIND AFTERWARDS???

  21. Interested>

    There’s a big difference between being allowed to do something to end your pain, and being allowed to do something which will cause continuing pain. What you seem to be missing here is that chronic severe depression is no different to, e.g., chronic severe pain from nerve degeneration, or some such. Slavery wouldn’t end that, but death might be blessed relief.

    Personally I have trouble imagining mental illness that severe, but it’s clear that there are some people who just want things to stop, and who medical science can’t help (at the moment).

    Just imagine if you were schizophrenic, and the voice you heard in your head was Ritchie. Does killing yourself sound a reasonable option now?

  22. BigFire>

    You seem to have rather spectacularly missed the point. The patient in question is not permitted to kill herself, as things currently stand. She’s locked into a straitjacket to stop her doing so.

  23. I think the question here is why anyone has to ask a doctor’s permission at all, and this comes down to the State cartelising medicine and thus denying persons the right to make their own decision and in particular obtain drugs without State permission.

    The answer of course is to end State licensing of these matters and thus enable people to purchase the means in Boots The Chemists (or indeed Sainsburys or over the internet or whatever).

    That is, the only reason anyone needs an “assisted” suicide is because they are prohibited from doing it themself by the humane means now available thanks to pharmaceutical science.

  24. Richard Allan, I fear you’re too hard of thinking to follow this discussion. But I’ll say it all more slowly, just in case:

    There are two considerations for the state: first, what private agreements will it permit, and second, what private agreements will it enforce.

    Currently, all states permit one person to act as another person’s slave, if they wish. Only a few states permit one person to kill another at their request.

    Currently, no state will enforce a contract against a person who agreed to be a slave but then changed her mind. And no state will enforce a contract against a person who agreed to be killed but then changed her mind.

    Thus, in so far as the law on assisted suicide should be like the law on voluntary slavery, we should allow assisted suicide.

    That’s my answer to the question I quoted.

    Your point about the permanence of death is relevant to the debate generally, even if not in capitals. My view is that if we allow euthanasia, we should a require clear, consistent, and well documented request.

    I disagree with suggestions that there’s a slippery slope between voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. On the contrary, by allowing properly documented voluntary euthanasia, we would create a barrier to non-voluntary euthanasia which doesn’t currently exist.

  25. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Dave:

    “You seem to have rather spectacularly missed the point. The patient in question is not permitted to kill herself, as things currently stand. She’s locked into a straitjacket to stop her doing so.”

    Metaphorical or literal straitjacket ? The De Morgen article is paywalled, but from the first two paragraphs this seems to be an expression of her “Free Will” to be euthanised and that there appears to be no constraints on her . She’s even appearing at a presentation of a book on the subject.

  26. Bloke in Germany

    Maybe you’d prefer it if she threw herself in front of a train?

    Actually, I also have serious ethical problems with assisting the suicide of an otherwise healthy and able-bodied person. I also have serious ethical problems with the law being informed by Catholicism, however residual. Those who want Mharia courts are welcome to submit to them – without forcing the rest of us to do likewise.

    Whether it should be a criminal offence to leave her alone in a room with a syringe is the question here. I tend to err on the side of leaving insoluble ethical problems to the people concerned, without the law butting in.

  27. This may count as anecdata but it causes me to take the side of the antis here. I have a close relative who suffers from a severe mental health problem which causes him to feel suicidal, sometimes dangerously so. Thanks to the inadequacy of the NHS he is not getting the treatment which could help him to overcome this, indeed his psychiatrist is worse than useless as she doesn’t seem to think that his condition is real ( as if any mental affliction could be described thus ), despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary. Should he be assisted by that same medical service to kill himself because he sees no hope ? I’d say any doctor who participated in such a thing should be struck off and probably jailed.

    If it should ever reach the point where assisted suicide is seen as a valid medical response to severe mental affliction then it will become if not the norm then certainly not uncommon. A state run medical system will always opt for the easiest options in treatment if it can and care for the mentally ill will become even less of a priority than it is now.

  28. I think we should listen to Thornavis as, being a former railway worker, he probably has more experience in “assisting” suicides than the rest of us. Even BiG has implied his successors could help out in this case.

  29. Currently, all states permit one person to act as another person’s slave

    Yet very few actually permit slavery (and in many of those that do _permit_ slavery, it is technically illegal but not enforced, particularly if the effectively-a-slave is a non-citizen.)

    The European Convention on Human Rights, for example:

    ARTICLE 4

    Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

    1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

  30. TN

    Fortunately and somewhat surprisingly, I was involved and then only indirectly, in only a couple of suicides in my time but others weren’t so lucky, including my father who saw a man jump onto the line right in front of him and lay his head on the track. That one was pretty clean as such things go but it shook him badly and he never forgot it. Which might seem an argument for assisted suicide but I don’t think it is, no one who isn’t a monster can remain unaffected by involvement in suicide whether officially sanctioned or not.

  31. Then have them bump each other off: if you are not prepared to help a would-be fellow suicide die, why should anyone else help you?

    In this suggestion, the only role for the state would be to ensure that no-one was wrongly charged with murder for having killed an unwilling person.

  32. The point here surely is that suicide is not a medical condition. It’s a decision. You might well argue that some mental conditions may influence a person’s decision to live or die, but it is not itself a medical issue.

    For instance, an entirely rational response to a terminal condition may be suicide. It is interesting that we consider it cruelty to keep a suffering animal alive, but prohibit the same consideration regarding humans. I suspect that this is, as Tim W kind of admits, generally the influence of Christian philosophy on our society, as with many moral issues which people pretend are purely secular these days.

  33. OK PaulB, let’s take a different tack. Should people be allowed to sign a contract under which they put on a “slave collar”? By this I mean a device by which, after the device is fitted, their will is totally controlled by another? This means that after the collar is fitted, they will not only be a slave, they will be totally unable to change their mind. I take it this is perfectly acceptable and the law should never compel a slave collar to be removed once it has been voluntarily accepted?

  34. Slavery would be impossible in a negative rights (libertarian) society because it would be impossible to enforce the contract. If the slave walked off the plantation, the best you could do is sue him for damages in the civil court; there would be no means to force him to continue doing slave work for you.

    The same as if you have any other employment contract and break it. The employer hasn’t got the right to kidnap you, chain you to the desk and beat you until you work, etc, because that violates all your other immutable rights.

    Rights are above the law, remember. They cannot be nullified.

  35. Ian B

    There is surely a fundamental difference between a terminal illness and a feeling of utter hopelessness brought about by mental illness. With the first assisting someone to die can be an act of mercy, whereas with the latter it is intervening to end an otherwise healthy life because of a condition that may in fact be ‘curable’. Conflating the two is a mistake. It is possible for the terminally ill to make a rational decision to end their lives but I seriously doubt that it is possible for the mentally ill to do that. So someone has to make that decision for them, just saying it’s no business of the state ( with which I would agree in the case of terminal illness ) doesn’t get us very far.

  36. Rights are above the law, remember. They cannot be nullified.

    That being the case then it is a gross infringement of those rights to assist in the death of someone whose illness renders them incapable of rational thought. Such an action should incur serious penalties as a consequence.

  37. dearieme said:

    Then have them bump each other off: if you are not prepared to help a would-be fellow suicide die, why should anyone else help you?

    You could match people up with an app.

  38. Thornavis-

    The problem is in defining who is rational. I think most of the people running the country are irrational. The problem is that we define rationality against an arbitrary standard of how we think others ought to think; for instance clinical depression basically boils down to “unhappy in a condition in which other people think one shouldn’t be unhappy”.

    Being suicidal doesn’t itself mean you’re mentally ill. It means you just disagree with other people regarding whether you should carry on living or not. You might have rationally recognised that your life is both unbearable and unchangeable- we are never supposed to admit this and always be positive, but it’s a state many people are in, and in that state, you effectively become a burden on yourself. If you’re permanently unhappy, it might be a perfectly reasonable idea to call it quits.

    But anyway, it’s not as if “as a society” we prevent suicide. We just force people to do it in messy and inefficient ways- jumping in front of trains, amateurish hangings that result in slow strangulation, guns (in the USA mainly), or using the wrong drugs.

  39. Bloke in Costa Rica

    It’s strange how many people botch their suicides or do them in unnecessarily messy ways when a bit of poking about on Google would point the way to several methods that are clean, quick, and effective. It’s almost like they’re not thinking about it rationally.

  40. Richard: “OK PaulB, let’s take a different tack. Should people be allowed to sign a contract under which they put on a “slave collar”? By this I mean a device by which, after the device is fitted, their will is totally controlled by another? This means that after the collar is fitted, they will not only be a slave, they will be totally unable to change their mind. I take it this is perfectly acceptable and the law should never compel a slave collar to be removed once it has been voluntarily accepted?”

    Arguments similar to this have been used to support banning smoking.

  41. Bloke in North Dorset

    Depressives are, almost by definition, not of sound mind and the State should not be on the position of helping people not of sound mind to kill themselves.

  42. Why is mental illness an excusing factor in committing a crime, but is not an issue when wanting to commit suicide?

  43. I suspect that this is … generally the influence of Christian philosophy on our society, as with many moral issues which people pretend are purely secular these days.

    Plus the sure knowledge that pets don’t normally leave money in their wills.

  44. Ian B

    The problem is that we define rationality against an arbitrary standard of how we think others ought to think;

    Not always some things really are irrational and some of those with irrational obsessions that cause them deep distress and induce suicidal feelings are capable of recognising that in their lucid periods. Which are we to regard as a non arbitrary standard of their choosing ?

    Being suicidal doesn’t itself mean you’re mentally ill.

    No but that’s not the issue, which is the reverse of that position, being mentally ill often means being suicidal. The problem is that it is often impossible to know if they will get better or to define the point at which that happens, so when do we say, OK, it’s hopeless you can now go ahead and top yourself ?

    If we assume that mental illness ultimately has a physical cause and I can see no reason for thinking otherwise, then we have to apply the same standards as we do to physical distress. We don’t reach for the death syringe if someone is in acute pain, we try to alleviate it, even though at that point the sufferer may long for death as a relief.

  45. Not always some things really are irrational

    By whose standard? To me, believing in God is irrational. Does it mean religious people should have their right to determine their own fate denied to them? Not so long ago, homosexuality was a mental illness.

    And then we get to the problem of who this “we” that everyone keeps talking about are. And why “they” have to ask this “we” for permission to make a decision about their own life.

  46. So Much for Subtlety

    Interested – “I don’t like SMFS’s suggestion that ‘everyone going to see their doctor [will be] wondering whether he is thinking that it is time to go and will prepare the next injection accordingly’, because that’s demonstrable bollocks.”

    Actually it is what is happening in Belgium and the Netherlands. A reasonable number of deaths now result from doctors deciding their patients would want to die if they were in the right state of mind to make the decision. So they make it for them.

    “If it ever gets to that point there will be civil disobedience on a grand scale”

    Except that every change in the law, changes society. We went from abortion being abhorrent to being celebrated. The same with divorce and homosexuality. Gambling is not much different. How do you know society will not celebrate involuntary euthanasia?

    “there really is a difference between a 24-year-old woman saying to a doctor that she would quite like to die and a doctor saying to a 24-year-old woman that he would quite like to kill here”

    Yeah but he won’t do that will he? He will just give her the injection. This is what doctors are already doing. Mainly in Europe and to the old. So how can you say it won’t happen?

    “Also, people have to pick up the pieces – sometimes literally.”

    As they do with euthanasia.

  47. Right last comment of the day or I shall go mad from sleep deprivation.

    This isn’t about denying people the right to their own fate, I’m talking here about actual demonstable delusions, this is largely because of the experiences of the relative I mentioned earlier, which I don’t want to be too specific about. As I intimated above, he is himself aware of his delusions during his calm periods. The condition is treatable to an extent with medication, which suggests surely that we are not dealing here with purely subjective views of reality. However the ultimate ‘cure’ can only come when he is able to come fully to terms with the fact that his delusions are just that. This can and does happen but it requires professional assistance which he is not getting due to the NHS not providing the necessary funding. He has very serious episodes of self harming and more or less serious attempts at suicide which cause his immediate family huge distress, I’m afraid I’m totally unimpressed with any claim that this is just them imposing their notion of normality on him, without them he might well be dead.

    If the medical profession is allowed, encouraged even, to just throw up their hands and say, sorry nothing we can do here except help you do away with yourself, then we really will be on a slippery slope.

  48. So Much for Subtlety

    Ian B – “I think the question here is why anyone has to ask a doctor’s permission at all, and this comes down to the State cartelising medicine and thus denying persons the right to make their own decision and in particular obtain drugs without State permission.”

    No one is asking doctors for anything except help. The question is not about people making their own decision. It about whether or not to charge a doctor after he has killed someone.

    “The answer of course is to end State licensing of these matters and thus enable people to purchase the means in Boots The Chemists (or indeed Sainsburys or over the internet or whatever).”

    I kind of think they do already. It is not hard to acquire enough sleeping pills to kill yourself. Most people who try aren’t really trying. But by all means, a Suicide Booth on every street corner.

    “That is, the only reason anyone needs an “assisted” suicide is because they are prohibited from doing it themself by the humane means now available thanks to pharmaceutical science.”

    They are not prohibited from doing it themselves. Suicide is not a crime. They may have trouble obtaining the sort of drugs that the doctors use – which may or may not be humane. But they can sit in a car and gas themselves with no trouble at all.

    Social Justice Warrior – “I disagree with suggestions that there’s a slippery slope between voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. On the contrary, by allowing properly documented voluntary euthanasia, we would create a barrier to non-voluntary euthanasia which doesn’t currently exist.”

    That is not how it has turned out so far is it? Every country that has gone down the voluntary euthanasia path has ended up with involuntary euthanasia except perhaps the US. This is just the typical leftist argument – as if divorce or now Gay marriage would strengthen normal marriage. I assume the people making it usually know it is dishonest.

    Bloke in Germany – “Maybe you’d prefer it if she threw herself in front of a train?”

    How is euthanasia going to stop anyone throwing themselves in front of a train? Catholics are less likely to commit suicide than non-Catholics, or at least more likely, they are less likely to make it obvious they have committed suicide. Somehow I don’t think making it more socially acceptable to end your life will stop people ending their life in the middle of society.

    “I also have serious ethical problems with the law being informed by Catholicism, however residual.”

    No votes for Catholics!

    “Whether it should be a criminal offence to leave her alone in a room with a syringe is the question here.”

    No it isn’t. Because that is not what is on offer. The question is whether we should charge Doctor Shipman if he simply said his patients wanted to die.

    “I tend to err on the side of leaving insoluble ethical problems to the people concerned, without the law butting in.”

    Not insoluble. And of course that is a bizarre position.

    Thornavis
    July 4, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    This may count as anecdata but it causes me to take the side of the antis here. I have a close relative who suffers from a severe mental health problem which causes him to feel suicidal, sometimes dangerously so. Thanks to the inadequacy of the NHS he is not getting the treatment which could help him to overcome this, indeed his psychiatrist is worse than useless as she doesn’t seem to think that his condition is real ( as if any mental affliction could be described thus ), despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary. Should he be assisted by that same medical service to kill himself because he sees no hope ? I’d say any doctor who participated in such a thing should be struck off and probably jailed.

    If it should ever reach the point where assisted suicide is seen as a valid medical response to severe mental affliction then it will become if not the norm then certainly not uncommon. A state run medical system will always opt for the easiest options in treatment if it can and care for the mentally ill will become even less of a priority than it is now.
    Tim Newman
    July 4, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    I think we should listen to Thornavis as, being a former railway worker, he probably has more experience in “assisting” suicides than the rest of us. Even BiG has implied his successors could help out in this case.
    Surreptitious Evil
    July 4, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Currently, all states permit one person to act as another person’s slave

    Yet very few actually permit slavery (and in many of those that do _permit_ slavery, it is technically illegal but not enforced, particularly if the effectively-a-slave is a non-citizen.)

    The European Convention on Human Rights, for example:

    ARTICLE 4

    Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

    1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

    Thornavis – “Which might seem an argument for assisted suicide but I don’t think it is, no one who isn’t a monster can remain unaffected by involvement in suicide whether officially sanctioned or not.”

    The thing about social norms is that they are social norms. You change the social norms and obviously the social norms change. Decent people had no problems with slavery. Everyone did it. It was normal. Increasingly fewer people have any problems with abortion although some of the older people here have residual feelings of disgust. Society has moved on.

    We won’t be monsters. We just won’t care. That is what a social norm is.

    Ian B – “The point here surely is that suicide is not a medical condition. It’s a decision.”

    I am not sure that is the point. That is a question to be debated. At best.

    “For instance, an entirely rational response to a terminal condition may be suicide.”

    It might be. It might also be an entirely rational societal response to punish suicide. Certainly to punish the doctor standing over the patient with a needle insisting it was for the best.

    “It is interesting that we consider it cruelty to keep a suffering animal alive, but prohibit the same consideration regarding humans.”

    Humans having slightly more value than animals. We don’t eat the elderly for instance.

    Ian B – “The point I guess being, exactly why does the State get to “sanction” suicide or not?”

    The question is still where and when the State gets to sanction murder. Not suicide. Anyone can kill themselves. I may not put a gun to someone’s head and blow their brains out.

  49. Thornavis-

    We’re not talking about delusional people though, but rather people who are “irrational”. The problem is how we decide whether somebody’s emotional state or opinions are sufficiently irrational that we deny them the right to make decisions. It is a difficult question.

  50. So Much for Subtlety

    Ian B – “The problem is how we decide whether somebody’s emotional state or opinions are sufficiently irrational that we deny them the right to make decisions.”

    Not really. Because they are dead. Once they are dead, there is no way to determine what their emotional state was. So we have to rely on the person who killed her. I don’t think he is going to say she was insufficiently rational to make this decision.

    Also, if we accept one killing, no jury is going to ruin a man’s life because of the small chance it was another sort of killing. We find it virtually impossible to convict doctors as it is.

  51. Every country that has gone down the voluntary euthanasia path has ended up with involuntary euthanasia except perhaps the US.

    There are three countries which have gone that way outside the US – Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In both Netherlands and Belgium, research (asking physicians anonymously) shows that non-voluntary euthanasia rates fell after voluntary euthanasia was made legal.

  52. So Much for Subtlety

    Sorry about that poor editing earlier.

    Social Justice Warrior – “There are three countries which have gone that way outside the US – Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In both Netherlands and Belgium, research (asking physicians anonymously) shows that non-voluntary euthanasia rates fell after voluntary euthanasia was made legal.”

    So ….. as you have no evidence for the claim you made, you are going to make another claim? I will agree that presently there is no barrier between voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. As they are both murder.

    But claiming our doctors are killing us without our consent and if we allow them to kill us with our consent, they will graciously agree to kill us without our consent at a slightly slower rate is not a very good argument. It is also not the argument you made.

  53. @SJW

    “You can enter into any contract you like: the question is whether the contract should be legally enforceable. Here, should the contractor change her mind, neither the death nor the slavery is enforceable. No jurisdiction where euthanasia is permitted says otherwise.”

    We’re specifically talking about changes to the law. I would not want a situation where you were unable to unilaterally repudiate a contract for suicide or slavery, but I’d be happy for such contracts to be legally enforceable (especially in the sense that they created no civil cause of action which might lead to damages) with a clause allowing the contractor to be released at any point in slavery and at any point up to the application of the needle in suicide. I wouldn’t sign either such contract on either side, but it’s not for me to say you can’t.

  54. In this talk of contracts, we need to distinguish between two cases. (1) A, who wants to die, pays B to facilitate that. (2) B, who wants to kill A, pays A to permit it.

    I think these two are quite different. In (1), I think the state should give B immunity subject to following proper procedures. A, of course, has purchased a service: there’s no obligation on A to use it. In (2), I think there should be no immunity.

    __

    Regarding the empirical effect of euthanasia laws on non-voluntary euthanasia: there are data from Netherlands and Belgium. Both countries passed laws legalizing voluntary euthanasia in 2002. (I don’t know of any data from countries without such laws.)

  55. “Rights are above the law, remember. They cannot be nullified.” Pernicious rubbish. Man is a social animal, so his rights are civil rights, stemming from the society of which he is part. Such rights are the subject of endless debate and change – including nullification. So the Anglo-Saxon’s right to own slaves was nullified, and the Dane’s and the Briton’s and the Gael’s. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly.

  56. So Much for Subtlety

    Social Justice Warrior – “Regarding the empirical effect of euthanasia laws on non-voluntary euthanasia: there are data from Netherlands and Belgium.”

    I am unconvinced that these articles say what you claim they say. It seems to me that the Dutch one is saying Dutch doctors are using euthanasia but more are moving to what is clearly the Liverpool pathway – deep sedation and a withdrawal of fluids.

    What do you think it is saying?

  57. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “So the Anglo-Saxon’s right to own slaves was nullified, and the Dane’s and the Briton’s and the Gael’s. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly.”

    And the Scot’s. Don’t forget Scotland was very late in banning slavery.

  58. SMFS: the Netherlands paper says there was a big fall in non-voluntary euthanasia following the 2002 Act. The Belgian paper (I messed up the link before) shows a similar fall shortly before their Euthanasia Act.

    Both clearly disprove your claim that legalizing voluntary euthanasia encourages non-voluntary euthanasia.

    more are moving to what is clearly the Liverpool pathway – deep sedation and a withdrawal of fluids.
    Withdrawal of fluids is not part of the Liverpool pathway.

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