Point The Right to Die: A Plan for the Worst
by Katelin Davis
Counterpoint A Modest Proposal:Mandatory Euthanasia
by Avni Mehti and Clark Baxtresser
Dear Mother and Father,
If the time should ever come that you are forced to choose whether to lay
me, your child, beneath the Earth or to sustain my life, know that I cherish my life up
until the point that you know I am no longer coming back. With this caveat, I submit
to you my “living will,” to guide you in the event of my incapacitation.
First, I want you to fight like hell to save my life. I want you to fnd the
best doctor, surgeon, expert, and facility available if there is any chance for my
survival. If I am in a vegetative state, I want you to stand next to my bed and plead
with my unconscious mind to pull through if you felt that there is any way that I
can for the sole reason that I still have a life to live. There are people across the globe
I want to touch and challenges I want to face. I want you to use every bit of your
energy to save my life until you knew for certain that my feeding tube is in my vein
for good. I want you to promise that signing off to a “do not resuscitate” (DNR)
will be your last resort.
Your loving daughter,
I required roughly fifteen different leads, a few medical and personal journals, a trip to the death and dying section of Borders, and a call to my grandmother to tap into the complex and controversial realm of euthanasia. Still, upon sitting down to write this article on the ethics of assisted death, many preconceived notions littered my mind: the bureaucratic red tape, Dr. Kevorkian’s local legacy, the ghost of Terri Schiavo. Even after my research, I admit that I cannot approach the issue unless I were to experience it deeply, unless I had some kind of channel into the minds of those who have decided whether to die.
In lieu of imagining the unimaginable, and as an alternative to exploring politicized viewpoints (see: “Obama’s death panels”), I choose to present a clear account of the facts. Before I begin, I feel that I must say unequivocally that families have a responsibility to confront what is a pink elephant in the rooms of their aging. Our elderly’s preferences regarding death and sustaining life via medical procedures are idiosyncratic, and we owe it to them to offer a meaningful opportunity for discussion.
First, let’s talk legal: Unless certain actions are taken before a patient is in critical condition, dying with dignity may not even be an option. Above all, exploring the possibilities of a durable medical power of attorney is the first step in giving the right to death to your loved ones. This allows another person, close to the patient, to make decisions regarding life support after his or her loved one is no longer able to decide for himself or herself.
To own the right to your death, one must have a living will that describes the medical practices that can be carried out once he or she is incapacitated.
Next, to own the right to your death, one must have a living will that describes the medical practices that can be carried out once he or she is incapacitated. Such a living will (like mine, above) would include such stipulations as how long you would like to be kept on life support before letting you pass away or whether you want to be resuscitated in the event of collapse.
Third, how can one exercise the right to die? Euthanasia is not exclusively defined by an injection of chemicals to force death upon someone. Passive euthanasia can be a decision to not fight off pneumonia or to not use a certain medication. By letting life take its course and not interfering with the body’s mechanisms, the patient and the family can end suffering without treading into the murky territory of “assisted suicide.” Even today, the United States Supreme Court has upheld one’s right to deny life-sustaining care as a protected form of dying.
By letting life take its course and not interfering with the body's mechanisms, the patient and the family can end suffering...
Finally, where can you choose to die? Right now, euthanasia is not a widely accepted medical practice in the United States; however, one state, Oregon, has passed legislation securing the right to die, and other countries like the Netherlands protect this right.
I hope in this short review to have condensed the facts and eliminated some misunderstandings surrounding euthanasia. To be clear: human life is awe-inspiring; it is all we have. Every day we strive to make our lives meaningful and to cherish our loved ones before they leave this world. Yet the ability to make informed decisions about alleviating suffering and ending life when it no longer meets its own definition deserves some space. My advice to you: think about your worst-case scenario, and start planning.
Currently, the vast majority of health care costs belongs to the elderly; this money goes towards keeping them alive despite severely reduced qualities of life, and there exists a huge imbalance in the amount of money spent across age groups. We are essentially providing care for those who have already had a long life while jeopardizing the potential benefits available to those who still may lead full lives. Are we throwing money towards a group of people that should, more than anyone else, accept their mortality because we, as a society, cannot accept our own imminent demise? Pause to consider; meanwhile, babies are dying as our elderly keep breathing. Is this logical?
We are essentially providing care for those who have already had a long life while jeopardizing the potential benefits available to those who still may lead full lives.
We do not think so. Imagine a world in which death was considered just as natural as life, one in which we did not accept religious or moral claims as ultimate truths, and one in which we could recapture the philosophy implied by social contract theory: that a healthy society is dependent upon strict obedience to a belief in something larger than the individual. Imagine a world in which health and prosperity are available to everyone, regardless of race or class. We argue that this world is within our reach if no one were to live beyond the age of 65. In short, we propose mandatory euthanasia.
“Mandatory” might sound scary to some, but what is truly scary is the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown. Yet compulsory euthanasia allows death to be controlled and changes our entire perception of what it means to live. In effect, people could come face to face with their inevitable mortality early in their lives, and all children would be raised to be aware of their lifespan, but why? We seek to normalize death, to reduce its reputation for torment to harmless banality, and to improve quality of life for all.
Specifically, mandatory euthanasia gives new value to life. When the prospect of death is a mere mystery in the distant future, we are psychologically conditioned to believe that we will live forever. This mentality is dangerous, for it allows one to lose sight of obtaining happiness and satisfaction in the present. “Life” today is a too easily procrastinated chore, a reality deferred to a future date. As we try to keep each other breathing for as long as possible, beyond monetary calculations, there are such qualitative costs involved. The more we focus on prolonging life, the less life is actually lived. In many cases, we are artificially manipulating what should be the most natural thing in the world: the transition from life into death.
Although this sounds radical, we have become accustomed to far more disturbing realities: witness the crippling, surreal poverty of our international neighbors. Indeed, the blindness driving our inaction on human rights questions mirrors our cowardly relationship to death. Perversely, people see death as the final opportunity to reconnect; sons and daughters fly home to see their dying parents because there is no time left, but where were they before? The status of “death” is as sad a commentary on ourselves as our ”discovery” of Haiti’s poverty after the hurricane struck. Why can’t we learn to see what is front of us before it demands our attention, why can’t we start making it better?
Think about yourself: it surely would be a blessing to have the opportunity to say goodbye to one’s family and friends in advance. They could even be present at your moment of departure. Funerals could develop from their current somber mourning standard into a joyful celebration of an individual’s 65 years on Earth. In fact, the party could happen before one’s actual death. It is a common fantasy to be present at one’s own funeral, and knowing when you will die opens that possibility.
For stubborn number-crunchers among you, we can identify many benefits that would accrue to a society enforcing mandatory euthanasia: Overpopulation pressures would disappear. Hospitals would have far more room and time to devote to younger, healthier clientele with more promising life prospects. Nursing homes could be converted into schools, parks, or businesses to meet changing demand. Global warming could be successfully abated as fewer elderly drive and consume!
... money spent on elderly health care could stimulate the economy and fund social programs...
Yet most importantly, the money spent on elderly health care could stimulate the economy and fund social programs: rather than simply extending questionably valuable forms of life, we could begin addressing the innumerable problems that everyday cheapen its quality.
Of course, we know that such a change may be a long way off, but please, for a moment, imagine how your life would be affected if you knew, without a doubt, that it was to end at a specific point in time. What would you do differently? How would you think differently? You may be surprised at what you discover.
About the Issue
Point author: Katelin Davisis a University of Michigan junior in the Program in The Environment. Her passions include plants, animals, people and the energy that exist among them. She also likes small and medium brown paper bags.
Counterpoint author: Avni Mehta is a University of Michigan senior majoring in sustainable development systems and policy. She is a writer and a locally-renowned chef. Clark Baxtresser is a University of Michigan senior majoring in music and a member of the Men’s Glee Club. He is currently researching the psychology of cigarette smokers on campus.
Edited by: Chris Koslowski
Cover by: Meirav Gebler