Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Euthanasia and the loss of trust

Gordon Friesen
Gordon Friesen
President, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

At the root of utilitarian death-medicine lies the idea that certain lives are not worth living, and/or collectively not worth paying for. It is often clothed in theatrical protestations of compassion for suffering, but the motivation is essentially practical, and that sort of practicality comes at a terrible price.

Unsurprisingly, the deepest social harm which is created by the practice of euthanasia (or perhaps merely revealed by it) lies in a general climate of fear and distrust.

For medically justified euthanasia creates distrust, providing a pseudo-scientific rationale for parents, spouses, children and friends --indeed for community itself-- to abandon those to whom they would otherwise owe a solemn and mutual duty of aid. It thus presents dependent individuals with the terrifying obligation of justifying their own survival. And it presents all observers to these facts with a similarly terrifying presentiment of their own future.

Or as jaded Soviet executioners were once said to joke: "You today. Me tomorrow."

We often touch on this harm obliquely, when we talk of the lost trust between doctors and patients, or more generally, between society and people who are "vulnerable". For these are the two sides of dependence most commonly exposed in a public and critical fashion.

Life supporting doctors now claim a right of continued practice, according to traditional ideals of ethical and trustworthy care; at the same time, the ill and disabled tell us of death now increasingly offered in substitution for that care. In both cases, we see a vigorous rejection of euthanasia: the ill and disabled overwhelmingly refusing this most insistently proffered "option"; and a strong majority of doctors refusing to personally provide it: both acutely aware that the willingness of some doctors --to kill their patients-- creates a corresponding distrust of any doctor at all.

But it would be a mistake to view the euthanasia problem only in this light.

For to be perfectly clear: all social relations depend upon trust. Pledges of friendship, marriage, inter-generational and community support --all must be unconditional, if they are to have any significance at all.

As stated above, the utilitarian vision of public health establishes patient viability upon "quality of life" judgments which closely mirror the more crude criteria of productivity and usefulness. Of course we all wish to be useful, but just as obviously: we will all one day lose that favored status; and so will every one that we know.

To make supportive relationships conditional on such judgments is thus to install a deep sense of fear and uncertainty in daily life.

"Is it time for me to throw my partner under the bus?", one might reasonably ask, "Or is she now preparing to dispose of me?"

Clearly, if such thoughts are admitted as possible, then they also become inevitable, and trust is no more.

There are a number of strategy games, and in particular an old board game named "Diplomacy", in which players must initially cooperate in order to prosper, but in which continued "success" eventually depends upon adroitly timed betrayals.

That, I believe, is the sort of pathological social dynamics which we are now creating with medical euthanasia.

Previous articles by Gordon Friesen:

  • If euthanasia is legalized as a cure for suffering, then suffering people will be "cured" with euthanasia (Link).
  • An unapologetic recommendation of absolute prohibition on killing (Link).

No comments: