Euthanasia

This article argues that, given an atheistic viewpoint, euthanasia should be more freely available to those who want it.

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If a dog is dying and in pain, vets will generally put it out of its misery. That is an act of mercy, offered without the dog's consent but for the dog's good.

If a person is dying and in pain, in many parts of the world, no one is allowed to afford them the same mercy, even if they ask for it: they just have to continue to suffer. Even where it is allowed, the conditions placed upon it often exclude many people who would want the service.

Euthanasia

The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath which has been used by medical practitioners since about the 4th Century BCE includes: I will do no harm or injustice to them. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. This implies that assisted dying is never condonable.

In an updated version, this is replaced by If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God. This leaves a little more wiggle room.

Religious Considerations

The taboo on suicide comes in part from religious considerations.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 in the Revised Standard Version says: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are. This is often taken to mean that suicide will lead to damnation.

However, the New International Version says: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. This seems to imply that it is the community that is the temple rather than the individual.

Other translations give defile the temple rather than destroy the temple. So, all in all, God's word as available to us is unclear on this important point.

Other passages used to justify the illegality of euthanasia include:

we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverence. (Romans 5:3)

A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. (Job 14:5)

Thou shalt not commit murder. (Exodus 20:13)

None of these passages speaks unequivocally against euthanasia, so it is a stretch to say that the bible forbids it. Besides, not everyone is Christian and it might be argued that Christians have no right to impose their religious beliefs and restrictions on people who aren't Christian. Some will say that not allowing someone to die voluntarily will save their soul, something of infinitely greater importance. But, from a Christian perspective, non-Christians are already damned anyway, so suicide will make no difference.

Conclusion

All in all, there seems to be no reason why euthanasia should be disallowed. Those who believe it to be wrong, for religious or other reasons, do not have to avail themselves of the service. But there seems to be no reason why those who want the service should be denied.

Gathering one's loved ones, saying one's final goodbyes, then passing on in a dignified manner is in many ways better than dying in pain in the night with no one around.

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