Good Death: Another Oxymoron

The legalization of human euthanasia is a contentious issue in many nations. In the United States, euthanasia is often thought of as a closure for the pain of the terminally ill. Unfortunately, history and present global developments indicate that the promotion of euthanasia can create an environment where terminal illness, serious pain, and even consent are no longer considered requirements for the medical extermination of human lives. In the handicapped community, euthanasia is perceived as a potential threat to the societal value placed on the lives of those struggling with disabilities. Governments have euthanized the handicapped in the past, and now, movements for society to become selective about the life and death of its members may again be placing the disabled at risk. The United States should not institute a national policy legalizing euthanasia because it creates a great risk that such ethical disintegration may once again threaten the lives of the disadvantaged – and of all of us.

The euthanasia program of National Socialist Germany was initiated in 1939, two years before the beginning of Holocaust. The Nazi policy initially targeted mentally and physically disabled toddlers and infants, with doctors encouraging parents to enter their children into special pediatric wards, disposing of the “burdens to society” through starvation or lethal injections. Many parents agreed to the policy, and the doctors were not forced into their actions, but rather believed in the process. Soon the program would widen to include children up to seventeen, and then adults as well, gassed in euthanasia centers throughout Germany. Killings would continue up to a few weeks after the end of World War II, leaving thousands dead not from war or genocide, but from national medical practice.
Since the 1990’s, euthanasia has ended the lives of thousands in the Netherlands. It is reported that in 1995, eight percent of infant deaths in the country were due to euthanasia. The “livableness” of a newborn’s life is judged based on expected suffering and life expectancy, as well as the expected potential for communication, relationships, independence, and self-realization. This should bring to mind several questions: Can we question the “livableness” of life? Should we allow the disabled to be put to death? Should we allow anyone to put themselves to death? In my estimation, far too much could be lost if we do not say no.

When society determines that living should not always be a priority, it is no surprise that policy may soon drift from applying euthanasia in limited cases to expanding it as a choice for many situations. As in post-WWI Germany, popular opinion in the Netherlands has shifted; its people now believe that killing is acceptable in order to end futures it sees as inferior. Such ideas have spread elsewhere: Belgium is accepting laws similar to its neighbor’s, and in Great Britain it is reported that as support for euthanasia grows, the disabled are already being discriminated against in the medical system, receiving far fewer screenings for threatening diseases and even being refused life-saving transplants. To open the United States to so serious a cultural paradigm-shift would be a grave mistake.

As a child, I may have become mentally disabled had I not received essential surgery when I was three months old. I know that my parents would not have seen their son as undeserving of love, care, or life, even had I become disabled, and I know that the disabled throughout this country and across the globe believe in their hearts that their lives are worth living. To create a national provision for the application of euthanasia would be a threat to the most vulnerable in our society, regardless of how limited the law might be. Euthanasia is impermissible because it breaks our foundational beliefs in the value of life, found in religions the world over. Promotion of such policy endangers those who most need our support, and it lessens our own self-worth because it accepts the dangerous lie that some lives are not worth living. To oppose euthanasia is to affirm life in all its beauty – sometimes painful, yes, but ever diverse, and ever worthwhile.

[Note: This was originally an assignment for my American Government class.]