An argument for the right to medical aid in dying.
This article is in response to the From Our Readers article, “Medical Aid in Dying Is not a Hypothetical “Slippery Slope,” but a Clear and Present Danger” by Gordon Friesen.
Mr Gordon Friesen summarizes the disability community’s concerns: “…if MAID were extended to individuals based on pain, suffering, or dignity-depriving dysfunction, it could lead to a judgment that individuals with disabilities have lives not worth living and result in pressure for those individuals to request MAID.” Hence, I take it he is not objecting to medical aid in dying (MAID) legislation limited to those with terminal illnesses. But what about extending MAID to cases of pain, suffering and loss of dignity?
His argument is based on a fundamentally invalid inference. Choosing to end one’s life in such cases is not tantamount to arguing that one’s life, or the life of anyone else in similar circumstances, is worthless. All life decisions involve weighing benefits and costs based on our own particular goals, values, and priorities. Such choices are highly unique and cannot be applied to others. Some of our values may take priority over life itself. Consider the Christian martyrs, or Socrates. A person electing MAID is not even saying that their life is worthless, just that the cost of going on is more than they are willing to pay. To clarify the distinction, consider a married couple choosing not to have children in order to pursue low-paying careers that provide service to others. They are not inferring that children are worthless or that others in similar circumstances should choose not to have children. Should they be deprived of the right to remain childless, lest others erroneously draw that inference?
Friesen objects to my phrases “undue influences” and “excessive external pressure.” No life decision is made in the absence of external considerations, often involving the impact of our actions on those we care about. Unless we are totally asocial, these factors always exert some influence on us. Yet our legal system manages to effectively, if not perfectly, characterize certain outside influences as undue or excessive, and apply that standard in situations such as choosing to reject life-saving medical treatment or making a will. I fail to see what makes MAID categorically different such that these sorts of safeguards are inadequate.
Dr Heinrichs is a psychiatrist in Ellicott City, Maryland.