Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Exposing Another False Argument Against 'Right to Die' Laws

Brittany Maynard's date with death
Brittany Maynard - chose to end her life 3 years ago after developing inoperable brain cancer.

Back in November I posted about the passage of Colorado's Proposition 106, the state's aid in dying measure for those unwilling to live in abject pain with a terminal illness. Thus Colorado citizens will now have the same rights as brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard, though she  had to move to Oregon to take advantage of such a law. Here in Colorado, despite over $1 million spent by the Roman Catholic Church, it passed by nearly a 3 to 1 margin.

Recall the RC Church also inveighed against Brittany Maynard's  end of life decision. As I noted at the time (Nov. 5, 2014): "the Vatican's relics would rather she had been reduced to a drooling vegetable, with no bowel or bladder control, and not even cognizant of those around her."

To remind readers, the Vatican called Brittany Maynard's decision to end her life "reprehensible" and "absurd".  This is from a moral absolutist framework, i.e. when clerics believe they have absolute insight  into a moral problem when in fact the human brain's tri-partite architecture (neocortex, mesocortex, paleocortex)  imposes limits on the level of discerning such knowledge.   Given such a biological limitation, it makes more sense for humans - ALL humans of whatever faith (or none at all) -  to make use of "moral provisionalism” or provisional ethics. This was first described by Michael Shermer ('The Science of Good and Evil'). According to Shermer:

"Provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and moral relative systems. Provisional moral principles are applicable to most people, for most circumstances, for most of the time - yet flexible enough to account for the wide diversity of human behavior"

Thus, what is truly absurd is allowing a sentient being to descend into a totally vegetative state lacking any life quality - with excruciating pain to go with it. Hence, Brittany's choice to end her life constituted  a greater good over merely prolonging  an existence in a debased vegetative condition. The latter based on the specious presumption of "sanctity of life" imposed indiscriminately for any and all conditions.

We beheld similar irrationality of "life above all else" in the case of the UK infant Charlie Gard whose parents kept him alive with artificial means.  This was despite the fact medical experts had judged him incapable of a viable, independent existence where he could breathe, see, hear or remotely think on his own. Ultimately, they gave in only after a visiting U.S. expert on Charlie's condition arrived at the same conclusion.

Hence, the greater good again - in the Gard case-  was ending the suffering and degradation of life quality rather than allowing it to progress to the stage no authentic choice was possible.

Now, a WSJ letter writer - a Richard J. Wall Jr. - believes he has an even more solid argument against all right to die laws. In his letter he writes, for example:

"The Declaration of Independence puts life first among its catalog of inalienable rights....this means that 'pursuit of happiness' cannot logically include the intentional destruction of innocent human life."

But again, he's wrong- and for very much the same reason the Vatican was wrong in its judgment of Brittany Maynard: One simply cannot make absolutist moral pronouncements. Note this is not an absolute statement in itself, merely a statement of limitation, biological and theoretical, based on facts. If brains are limited in size and capacity they simply can't know everything, hence, can't render absolutist propositions about any positive moral actions. (This also follows from the Godel Incompletness Theorems).

Indeed, he's on even shakier ground than the Vatican given the 'Declaration' is a political document, not a theological one. The nature of happiness itself is not definitive or absolute and there are a multitude of perspectives. For example, to the Buddhist it means reducing one's desires and wants to zero. If one has no active desires and wants one cannot be rendered "unhappy" when they are unmet or frustrated.  The 'pursuit of happiness' then cannot be said to be definitive or the last word, based solely on some positive or affirmative action, or what one nation's political document proclaims.

To a sentient being, also capable of enormous suffering (because of being subject to the slings and arrows to which flesh is heir),  there must then include the ability to end life as well as continue it. This was the decision Brittany took when she realized her brain cancer would soon render her a living vegetable: minimal awareness, no control of bladder or bowels, and unimaginable pain only relieved by the most powerful drugs at the expense of any awareness. She didn't wish to endure such hellish existence, nor have others exposed to or burdened by it  - so she chose this way to end her life- and ought not be questioned or criticized for it.

In the end, Brittany made the only authentic choice - one of true ultimate salvation for HER.  In other words, in the context of HER pursuit of happiness, ending her life was the highest priority - given that life had mutated into a personal hell. Thus her intentional destruction of the life which has become a burden to her was a totally rational decision, contrary to Mr. Wall's claim.

Another egregious argument trotted out by Wall is:

"Proponents of physician -assisted suicide might benefit from a personal dose of humility.  Only a prideful person finds natural death an affront to his dignity".

An easy statement for a whole, healthy, self-righteous person to make who isn't covered with number two every hour -  even as his caretakers change his diapers every minute  - as he writhes in agonizing pain, pukes from the drugs administered (or the cancer's advance), and then goes periodically into uncontrollable spasms. Even as the most minimal consciousness recedes.  So, one can't help but wonder how Mr. Wall would have coped in his "natural death dignity" if suffering from the same brain cancer as Ms. Maynard. It's easy to adopt a cavalier pose and pontificate morality for others  when it's not your body taken hostage by a horrific disease..

He then goes on:

"Just as we did not bring our own lives into existence, so also we have no right to end them."

In fact this rests on a false analogy in comparing potential actions and conditions for a wholly involuntary.  unconscious state to a conscious one.  Yes,  our lives were 'brought into existence' in an unconscious state (zygote). But that entity has no conception of anything, including what it is. So it is daft beyond belief to compare the "rights' of a zygote to those of a fully conscious human being wracked by pain. The zygote has no capacity for independent choice of action but the suffering sentient human has at hand the power  (in right to die laws) to end his agony if he chooses..   The fact is that the sentient being has every right and then some to end that vegetative or other state which has been found intolerable. 

Colorado's law (Prop. 106)  offers all terminally ill patients who are at least 18 years of age to access life-ending, doctor -prescribed sleep medications so they can die peacefully. To qualify, the patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness by at least two doctors, be Colorado residents, and have no more than 6 months to live. They must also be mentally capable of making an informed decision in order to receive the prescription.  Without any hesitation, both Janice and myself would resort to its use if we felt it necessary - though we hope it wouldn't come to that. But like all who've used the law thus far, it is there if one has to use it at some future point. 

No comments: