The Cradle And The Grave

As a generality I think we — as a people — are becoming far too selfishly frivolous when it comes to matters of life and death.  Or put from a different angle: those who are most in need of protection are having that protection rationalized away from them.  Those in the womb, “pulling the plug”, and those in the nursing home are being marginalized and stripped of their inherent value for — let’s face it, the convenience of others.

As I have previously written, I am torn on whether assisted death/suicide is morally permissible (See: Give Me Liberty, and Give Me Death).  That is to say, at the behest of the individual in severe unrelenting incurable pain, but not terminally ill (assisted suicide); and someone who is in severe and unrelenting pain but is also terminally ill (assisted death) should they be legally permitted to end their life with the assistance of a medical professional.  On this matter, I think a legitimate argument can be made as to why someone, of their own volition uncoerced, should be able to end their life.

But there are some who argue for rationing certain health care options for the elderly because of their age — because of the lack of quality of life they ought to be able to enjoy.  Every so often there is someone writing some essay defending the (for lack of a more sophisticated term) ‘mercy killing‘ of the elderly.  Because the elderly pose a potential financial burden on either themselves, relatives, or the government, some are trying to make the case that it is more feasible to “plan end of life care”, which is a euphemism for: either get your affairs in order and die, or we will get your affairs in order for you and “convince” you this is the right thing to do.

Then there are those who push (coerce to whatever degree) family members to remove life support for their loved ones in a vegetative state.  The reasoning employed here is quality of lifeQuality of life is as ambiguous and self-serving as the personhood defense for abortion (See: Get A Life, Part 3).  It is a subjective set of qualifications which may be adjusted depending upon who needs to pass or fail the protection test.  “What kind of life is it that they just lay there unconscious like that?  I know I wouldn’t want to be kept alive like this” or some other such rationale is given.  Now, it’s one thing if the patient has stated that they would prefer to be removed from the support, but it’s another thing all together to make that decision for them.

Next is the ever-present social hot button issue of abortion.  Abortion defenders will go to any lengths necessary to ensure a mother has the legal ability to end the life of her child while it is still in the womb (and even outside the womb.  I foresee a time when some group will lobby for post-natal abortion), arguing (falsely) that it is not human or not alive (See: Get A Life Part 1).  Claiming that it’s missing some intellectual qualities i.e., personhood all the while making exemptions for post-birth human beings in the same psychological state (adjusting the criteria for protection depending on who it is that they are trying to have fail the test, which only proves the personhood argument is meaningless, even to them).  Some abortion defenders will even go so far as to argue that since baby pigs are more of a person than an embryo or fetus and are killed with moral impunity, then it only follows that abortion is just as morally good or benign (See: When Pigs Fly).

And why, because they get in the way.  They create some kind of burden on someone else’s desires and aspirations.  Babies get in the way of sexual liberty (See: Can’t Hardly Wait).  The solution isn’t killing the child, it’s abstaining until you are financially and emotionally prepared for children.  But of course, sexual liberty trumps life when it gets in the way.

The invalid elderly and someone on life support create a financial and emotional burden on family members, or the government.  Their life gets too expensive, money drives life decisions.  It takes time and patience to care for the invalid and the medically dependant.  I have a grandmother who relies on my mother and aunt for all her basic needs.  I see how emotionally and time-consuming it is.  It isn’t easy.  But who ever said life is supposed to be easy and comfortable?  Sure, you could pull the plug, or withhold nutrition, but that’s for your benefit, not theirs.

It seems to be the case that groups of human beings who were once worthy of having their lives protected simply by virtue of their human nature is gradually dwindling.  Over time, cases are being made as to why certain demographics of people are being targeted for death.  And not just arbitrary groups either.  The ones being targeted are the most vulnerable among us.  Who is more vulnerable than a baby in the womb?  An unconscious patient in a hospital bed?  Or an elderly individual who may not be able to speak up for themselves?  It is these who are the least able to stand up for themselves that are being marginalized.


  1. Bravo. I see myself agreeing with everything you have written down here. To take your example, pulling the plug may be what you would want to happen, in the end it’s just that. A selfish way of making your own life easier. Putting yourself before others, making the quailifications foir life should be left to the person who actually knows about it – The Lord God of the Bible. Not humans, who are always seeking ways in which they might profit out of another. Kant is a great man to look into here, especially his Kingdom of Ends. Agian, great post, and God Bless you!

  2. Couple points:

    (1) There is a very good way to control disproportionate spending of huge health care costs of the very old or very ill: Make individuals pay, and not the government (or government enforced insurances). This will get families talking, people will start having their parents stay in their homes. People will think more. It will encourage healthier choices. It will make our decisions more obvious.

    (2) Studies shows that religious people consume the most amount of money on end of life heroic efforts — they are the least willing to die.

  3. BTW, I did a short post on the principle of #1 that you may agree on in part: Divide et Impera (since you seem to like the dead pretentious language of Latin).

  4. Terrance H. says:

    Completely agree, John.

  5. “Studies shows that religious people consume the most amount of money on end of life heroic efforts — they are the least willing to die.”

    I’d like to see some of these studies. Do you have any links?

    Personally, my family already knows that, if something happens, to follow a “no heroic measures” path. Just because my body *can* be kept alive after some trauma, that doesn’t mean is should be. If I’m in a coma, in a vegetative state, and the only thing keeping my body going is machines, they know I want the machines unhooked. If, on the other than, my body remains alive without the machines and only needs to be kept fed, then leave me be, but let me go if my body finally fails.

    Last year, one of my cousins, who had been in remission for lukemia for many years, learned his cancer was back. Having gone though years of treatment before, he didn’t want to go through that again. He was ready to go. He died in hospital, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

    There is a huge difference between saying, “Enough. Let me go,” and having other people deciding “Enough. You need to go.” Or even, “Enough. Get rid of me.” But how to make those decisions for people who cannot make it themselves (e.g. someone in a coma)

    Abortion doesn’t even fall into those grey areas. Abortion is “you are not worthy of existance.”

  6. I don’t know either, John.
    Is life so valuable that a person of sound mind cannot be trusted with his own possession of it?
    I’m of the mind that end of life decisions belong with the person living it. All the more reason for people to make a Living Will and Power of Attorney.
    When it comes to rationing healthcare I think we can agree that this is wrong. Certainly it is the case, however, that we prioritize health care in our society today- and whether the argument can be made that this is in some sense a form of rationing is what drives the healthcare debate on both sides of our shared border.

    Abortion is a different animal altogether. Even in the absence of consent from a patient- there is some reasonable understanding that a patients family would advocate their wishes. This isn’t always the case- but certainly a child would know well what their parent might want. A wife, her husband. A parent, their child.
    Who speaks for a child in utero? If they do, how could they assume that a healthy unborn child would want to die? It seems patently absurd. Thus the conjecture surrounding personhood.

  7. @ Kunoichi
    Because you asked, see these summaries with links:
    (1) Why religious people struggle harder to stay alive.
    (2) Be religious and Live Forever

  8. Glad to see such uncompromising support of national health care. Maybe for forced births, you can claim abstinence is an alternative that makes sense (even though it doesn’t). But nobody chooses to get old or sick. Either let them die or give them health care. You wouldn’t want to withhold care based on someone being a financial burden.

  9. @Sabio, thank you for the links, though they completely contradict your conclusion that religious people are “the least willing to die.”

    “…with some atheists taking them to imply that religious people are afraid of meeting their maker.

    That’s not quite how the study’s lead sees it:

    “There may be a sense that it is really not in the hands of the doctors to decide when to give up,” study researcher Holly G. Prigerson, PhD, of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute tells WebMD. “Refusing some of these very aggressive medical interventions may be seen as giving up on the possibility that God might intervene.” (WebMD)

    In fact, it turns out that religious people really are more optimistic that they aren’t going to die.That was the conclusion of a recent study by researchers from the University of South Carolina.”

    And if you followed the link to WebMD, you would have found;

    “There is also some evidence that incorporating spiritual counseling into end-stage medical care results in better quality of life and less aggressive medical intervention prior to death.”

    So what the studies actually found was the religious people were more hopeful, their religion helped them better cope with their illnesses, and the addition of spiritual elements to their care improved quality of life.

    Surprise, surprise; religious people tend to value life, including their own, and trust that God might have a different plan for them then doctors think will happen. “…researchers say these patients may be less likely to believe their doctors when they are told there is no hope.” You’re reinterpreting an unwillingness to give up hope to be an unwillingness to die. Very different conclusions than those who conducted the study reached.

  10. @ Kunoichi,
    The “conclusions” of the study was the mere fact of religious folks trying harder to hang on at the end of life.

    The reasons for “why” they do this is speculation on everyone’s part.

    I work with dying folks. I have my impressions, you have yours.

    I hope your views comfort you and your loved ones.

Any Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: