Friday, February 2, 2007

I’ve Seen This Movie Before…

In the 1920’s the Germans (among others) legalized euthanasia for people with incurable, life threatening diseases. They later expanded it to include serious mental illnesses, which, back then, fell under the rubric of “feeblemindedness”. This was justified on the grounds of quality of life: the people living with these conditions were thought to be suffering from such a poor quality of life, that death was the preferable option. Suicide was allowed, even encouraged. Eventually, the costs involved in caring for those who refused suicide were seen as a drain on the quality of life for the REST of society. For these people, euthanasia became less and less a matter of choice, and more a matter of government edict. It was only AFTER this stage that the Nazis entered the picture. People forget that Germany was a long way down the road to the Final Solution well before Hitler came to power; indeed, the initial steps were taken while he was still nothing but an unknown rabble-rouser.
So now, here we are, slowly moving down that road again. Euthanasia has become so common in parts of Europe, that the doctors and nurses that administer it have become almost blasé about it. And here, today, we get this story out of Switzerland, about how the Swiss courts may expand assisted suicide to people with serious mental illness. Could somebody explain to me how someone with a serious mental illness is in any kind of mental condition to make that kind of life or death decision?I’ve never understood the idea behind the whole “assisted suicide” thing. It seems to me that as long as you’re still breathing, and your heart is still pumping, there’s hope. With all the medical breakthroughs of the past few years, and all the potential ones coming down the pike, I just can’t see ending it all over a medical condition, no matter how serious or painful it might be. I’d feel pretty stupid if they found a cure the week after I pulled the plug.
In any case, is it really up to us to decide? I’ve always thought that there are certain choices that should not be put into the hands of human beings. We’re too short sighted, too fallible, and frequently, too selfish to be allowed to decide such things as when life begins, and when it ends. Once you have that kind of power over yourself, it’s all too easy to take hold of it over another. It’s been tried many times already, and it always ends the same. As I said, I’ve seen this movie before….

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