Another case of joint euthanasia in Europe

When people talk of socialized medicine in the European model, one touchy subject which always comes up is doctor assisted suicide, or “voluntary euthanasia” if you prefer. One of the more sensational headlines on the subject of late deals with a pair of elderly cousins, neither of which was facing an imminent, life ending condition, who decided to walk together into the dark rather than risk being forced to live without each other.

Two elderly Scottish cousins who relied on each other to get by have undergone joint euthanasia because they feared being put in separate care homes.

Stuart Henderson, 86, and Phyllis McConachie, 89, took their lives together in a Swiss clinic in November last year. Neither was terminally ill.

The pair had lived together for 40 years and managed to look after each other in a sheltered housing complex.

But, with Ms McConachie having injured her hip in a fall and with Mr Henderson’s onset dementia, the cousins worried they would be sent to different homes and separated.

Their joint deaths have sparked outrage among anti-euthanasia campaigners, who have described their case as “the ultimate abandonment” due to a lack of patient-centred care in the UK.

It should come as no surprise that this subject is just as controversial in Britain as it is in the United States. More conservative critics have lambasted the practice as a failure of the social medical care system (which certainly has plenty of faults in various areas) while supporters see it as a humane end of life option for the elderly or the incurably sick. This case in particular, though, is the sort the media loves to latch onto, since it has the elderly relatives who might otherwise be separated into a lonely life of public support.

Here in the United States this is probably one of the larger dividing lines between more religious, social conservatives and the libertarian branch. Not surprisingly, I tend to align more closely with the latter camp. I recognize that there is a huge and important moral debate over suicide under any circumstances, and families may find themselves at odds with their church when such a path is considered. You may remember the rather long running debate which took place here when we considered the death of Brittany Maynard.

It’s important to respect the religious views of everyone in such a discussion. At the same time, however, I still think it’s worth asking whether or not this is an area where the government has a proper role. Such an intensely personal matter as the end of one’s life strikes me as being just about as far outside the government purview as one could imagine. The counter-argument to this, of course, is that if someone assists the would-be decedent, (as defined in “assisted suicide”) were they guilty of murder? It’s a fair question and one which the courts haven’t definitively answered, though many conflicting rulings have been handed down.

I’ve actually learned quite a few new things from our commenters on this in the past and find the variety of views enlightening. But to continue what I see as an important debate, I would pose a new question: does the real definition of murder include taking a life which is being freely offered up? While it borders on the offensive to compare such a thought to matters of mere material goods, can you ever be accused of stealing something which is offered to you for free because the owner no longer wants it? (This analogy breaks down quickly, I admit, but it’s the best I’ve been able to do.) Murder is the taking of another life, but what if that person is done with living and will end it without you by hook or by crook?

I still can’t bring myself to concede such a thing as qualifying as murder. God may judge those who end their own lives, but man is not God. The real question is if there was a morally viable case that the lives of those two cousins from Scotland were “taken” by the agents they sought out to help them. I can’t make that case, but you are invited to do so.

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