—!— WARNING —!—
This post talks about death, specifically euthanasia and suicide. Please be warned that these are sensitive subjects that might be triggering to some people. Proceed with caution.
Are you currently in a mental health crisis and in need of help? Call 0800-0113 if you are in the Netherlands. You can also call this number if someone you know is in a mental health crisis. You can also visit www.113.nl.
For other countries, please consult the list of suicide crisis lines HERE.
I have done my utmost best to treat these subjects respectfully and thoughtfully. In this post I will be voicing some opinions that might be considered controversial, or might contradict your own values and beliefs. I will be speaking openly and honestly about these subjects, so please be warned.
I want to state very clearly that it is not my intention to disrespect, hurt, insult, provoke or mock anyone. But I am aware that it isn’t within my power to prevent that for everyone. Therefore I want to apologize in advance for any hurt or offense caused.
I’m deliberately leaving religion out of this post. I have every respect for religious people, but involving religion would result in a completely different discussion than the one I want to have here. So me leaving it out of this post is no sign of disrespect, it’s rather that the religious aspects of euthanasia would warrant a separate post entirely.
Please know that you can contact me at email@example.com or via my Facebook or Twitter page if you feel like I should change anything about this post, or if you have any other commentary or criticism. You can also email me if you just need to talk, no matter the subject. My door is always open.
Euthanasia And Suicide
I want to talk about euthanasia. Now, I know that’s a heavy subject. But I feel that, just because it is ‘taboo’ in so many cultures, we don’t talk about it as often as we should.
There’s been a lot of debate about euthanasia, and about what we should and should not allow and under which circumstances. At the same time, we try our best to prevent suicide where we can.
What I find interesting about these two things, is that the general approach is to keep as many people as possible alive, and prevent death as much as we can.
I’ve experienced suicide and euthanasia a couple of times in my life. I’ve even had my fair share of suicidal thoughts over the course of my life. (Don’t worry, I’m safe as houses.)
After looking more closely at what leads someone to contemplate suicide or desire euthanasia, I’m starting to wonder if we shouldn’t adjust our approach.
Why do we appear to be so hell-bent on keeping everyone alive? Why do we consider living as so much better than not living, to the point where we keep people alive against their will?
Life and death
As a society, at least here in what we’d call “the West”, we agree that you cannot take someone else’s life and go unpunished. We’d call that murder.
Of course murder is wrong. I’m sure we can all agree on that. But it’s interesting to see why we think it’s wrong.
Fundamentally, it boils down to the fact that the victim didn’t choose to die, didn’t want to die. They were killed against their will, and you can’t reverse that.
And of course, I understand that no one should have the right to end someone else’s life against their will.
But since in the case of euthanasia and suicide it’s not inherently against the person’s own wishes, that can’t be the argument against it.
Instead, we seem to have this idea that life is and should always be preferable over death. That we should do whatever is in our power to keep people alive for as long as possible. Often even to the extent that living in agony gets preference over just being dead.
What I find strange is that we don’t feel even remotely the same when it comes to our pets.
An end to suffering
When our animals are suffering, regardless of their age, we euthanize them. Of course we first try to see what’s in our power to heal or cure them, but the decision to release them from their suffering is made a lot easier, and a lot sooner.
Usually we base that decision on how much quality of life the animal would retain if we let them live. If we could conceivably keep them alive for a while longer, but it would mean constant suffering, we put them to sleep. And we feel good about that decision.
As we should, in my opinion. It’s never easy deciding to put your beloved pet to sleep, but you know it’s for the best. You know they deserve better than to keep suffering only so we can enjoy their company a while longer.
So why don’t we apply the same logic to humans?
Animals versus humans
Of course there are a few differences. Firstly, these animals aren’t capable of letting us know they would rather be euthanized or rather stay alive. We can’t tell if they even think anything of the sort, but as far as we know they have no way of communicating it to us. So we have to make that decision for them, because without us, the result would always be staying alive in agony.
Secondly, animals aren’t our own species. Of course we are animals too, but the animals we euthanize are not our own species. And it’s a lot more complicated deciding over an equal, than it is to decide over another species entirely.
We have to decide over someone who is just like us, so suddenly our own thoughts about what we would want and would not want comes into view.
When discussing an animal, it’s much easier to distance yourself from it. Especially when you’re of the conviction that our pets don’t have conscious thought like we do.
And lastly, when you have a pet, the burden of responsibility very clearly lies with the owner who has taken that responsibility upon themselves. In the case of humans, it’s a lot more difficult. Especially since (luckily!) no one is allowed to own anyone else.
But what if someone explicitly and consciously asks for it? Then we get into the realm of trying to establish whether this person is accountable and mentally stable.
But here is where I really start to have problems with our euthanasia laws.
Of course no single policy can ever be perfect or a one-size-fits-all solution. Our policy here in the Netherlands errs on the side of caution whenever someone asks for euthanasia or assisted suicide. And that means not euthanizing unless one hundred percent sure that it was their own conscious, willing, voluntary decision.
That means that, as these laws are so strict, fewer people are getting euthanasia than should actually be getting euthanasia. And as a result, there are people suffering who could’ve been relieved from their suffering.
The flipside is that you prevent accidentally euthanizing people who, according to our views, shouldn’t have been euthanized. According to our current collective moral compass, that’s a good thing.
Apparently we’d rather leave people living in agony than accidentally euthanize one person too many. But is that really better?
Death isn’t so bad
I’m quite sure I’ve already lost a couple of readers by this point. I can’t be suggesting that it might be better to accidentally euthanize someone who could still have been saved?
Well, actually, I am. If you’re fuming right now, I get it. If you think I’m an insensitive bitch, you’d be wrong, but I can see why you might think that.
The thing is, death really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We all die, sooner or later. And unless you believe in an afterlife, after you die it’s just over. There’s no more suffering. There’s no more ‘you’ to regret dying too soon or making the wrong choice.
Personally, I think we’ve gone so far trying to prevent unjust deaths from occurring, that we’re now also preventing just deaths. How much suffering do we really incur by euthanizing one person too many? And how much suffering do we cause by keeping that person alive in agony at all costs?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m taking this lightly. I absolutely don’t want to create situations where we just euthanize everyone left, right,and center without thorough reasoning.
Yes, I know it’s complicated and that there are a lot of very undesirable side effects of making euthanasia easier. I know there’s a serious risk that people start euthanizing people just because it’s convenient, especially those who are helpless and defenseless. And believe me when I say that I am still fundamentally in favor of preventing that from happening.
No, what I’m talking about is all those cases where it’s clear that the person in question wants euthanasia consciously and voluntarily.
Preferably with the knowledge and approval of their relatives. After all, they’re the only ones who can suffer from the decision afterwards. But if they agree, they knew what they signed up for. It still hurt me whenever we had to euthanize a beloved pet, and of course I still suffered the loss. But that never made me regret our decisions.
In the Netherlands, it’s virtually impossible to get legal euthanasia when you’re healthy but you just feel like your life is complete. But why? Why not let people end their lives with a bit of dignity? Isn’t it their own choice? After all, the whole problem with murder was the fact that it wasn’t the victim’s choice, right?
No, you can only get euthanasia if you’re suffering without hope of recovery. And even then, it’s incredibly hard to get it.
Why don’t we just let these people go? What’s so bad about it? Why do we force people to keep living if they don’t want to live anymore?
The common argument against euthanizing too soon is that they could still have a better life. Their suffering could still go away. But what if it doesn’t?
Isn’t it poignant to realize you’ve forced this person to keep living in agony against their will, just to see whether they’d recover?
I completely agree that we have to at least try a few things before we decide to commit euthanasia. Especially in the case of mental suffering, like depression. We have to at least give it our best shot.
But if that doesn’t work, I think we should consider euthanasia a little sooner than we’d normally do. And yes, it could very well happen that sometimes you euthanize someone who might have recovered later in life. But is that really worth all the suffering it would’ve cost to find out?
Again, I’m purely talking about instances where that person asks for it voluntarily and of their own accord.
Sometimes there are still things that can be done, but that person is just tired of trying, tired of fighting any longer. And in those cases, I’d say it would be better to euthanize that person humanely and with dignity, than to run the risk of them taking matters into their own hands and committing suicide.
Suicide and euthanasia
I honestly wonder how many people wouldn’t commit suicide but turn to euthanasia if it were more accessible to them. And I think that is preferable.
So often, suicide comes unexpectedly, or happens in ways that cause unnecessary suffering to others, like those who find the victims, or bystanders.
What if we could reduce all that ‘collateral damage’ by making it easier for people who don’t want to live anymore to get a euthanasia assessment? What if we could normalize going to a euthanasia center if you want to end your life?
I want to stress that there should still be a thorough examination of the situation. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, ever.
An assisted suicide organization
But what I imagine is an organization that openly and honestly accepts anyone who is contemplating suicide, and is willing to help these people if euthanasia seems best.
If we manage to normalize going to such a place, that could also be our gateway to offering people help who otherwise wouldn’t have sought it. We already know that adding links to suicide hotlines (like I did at the top of this post) drastically increases the number of people seeking help.
Now, this shouldn’t be an organization that is going to try and keep you alive whatever the cost, and only decides on euthanasia in the severest cases. If that’s the public image of such an organisation, no one who truly wants to commit suicide would go there.
No, it should be clear that this organization will truly help people get euthanasia or assisted suicide if, after a thorough conversation (or several), that is still the person’s wish.
I imagine you can go there if you don’t want to live anymore. Trained professionals receive you, and hear you out over why you don’t want to live anymore. They discuss your options, and the possibilities and prognoses of treatment.
They let you think about it for a few days. And they promise that, if you come back and you’re still certain of ending your life, the euthanasia process begins. It won’t happen immediately, you’ll get some time to maybe say goodbye to your loved ones and relatives. However long you want.
And at any point during the process, you can still back out, up to the last second. If, and only if, you are still one hundred percent sure at that last moment, they’ll help you leave your life behind painlessly. If you have any doubts, they won’t go through with it.
Personally, I feel like euthanasia should be made more accessible. I feel like there are still far too many people who are being kept alive for the sake of living, even if they don’t want to live anymore or barely have any quality of life left.
This is an incredibly delicate matter that requires a lot of thinking, and a lot of discussion. Even to the assisted suicide organization idea I suggested above, there are many ifs, ands and buts, and many edge cases to consider and slippery slopes to look out for.
When thinking about how we should go about making euthanasia, we should never take it lightly. Even though I feel like death really isn’t as terrible as people think, especially when someone wants it voluntarily, it’s still a heavy subject.
And there are many more aspects to euthanasia than I’ve been able to touch on above. What about people who aren’t able to communicate? People who can’t be held accountable? How do you assess whether someone can even be held accountable? What about psychiatric assessments? And is the fact that someone has a mental illness reason to keep them alive regardless? If their mental illness causes them to want to die, doesn’t that still count? And how do you prevent doctors or even family members from choosing euthanasia out of convenience?
There are still so many questions. Maybe I’ll write another post about this topic in the future. But for now, I’ll leave it at this.
Necessary disclaimer (please read thoroughly)
If, after reading this post, you have the feeling that I’m suggesting we just kill anyone who wants to die, I want to urge you to first ask me personally if that is truly what I mean (hint: it isn’t).
This is a sensitive subject that is incredibly complex and calls for a lot of nuance.
Please don’t do me the disservice of jumping to conclusions that are based more on your emotions than on what I’ve actually written.
If there’s any negative assumptions you have about my views on this, please check the text again to see if I have literally said what you think I’m suggesting. If I haven’t said it literally, there’s a chance your assumption is wrong. Not because of you being you, but because of you being human.
Without having heard it from me personally, there’s truly no way of knowing for sure what my views are. So if it’s not in the text, you can’t know for sure, and it would be better if you check with me personally first before flying off the handle because of your assumptions.
I know I can be very blunt and open in voicing my opinions, and that might make it seem like I am unfeeling or insensitive, or like I don’t care. I assure you those aren’t the case. That’s why I want to urge you to please check with me first before passing judgment on me.