Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part IX: Euthanasia

In my last post I wrote about how the Manhattan Declaration is a call for the religious sacrifice of human beings to a god on a scale never before seen in human history - in terms of the death and suffering that would be the consequence of adopting its position on embryonic stem cell research.

Not only do they insist on human sacrifice on a massive scale, they insist that the government must be a participant and an enforcer of this religious sacrifice, helping to ensure that its victims do not escape or seek any alternative where they might avoid this sacrifice.

The Manhattan Declaration also calls for massive human sacrifice in its position on euthanasia. Here, they demand that countless people endure endless and senseless torture because the torture of these individuals somehow pleases their god. Here, too, they demand that the government be involved in ensuring that people actually endure the suffering their god demands of people, and that nobody who is to be tortured find any sort of escape or release from this fate.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

There are many and strong reasons to prefer a quick and painless death to a slow and painful death. In fact, the Catholic Church itself once relied heavily on this fact. In torturing people into confessing their crimes against the Church - in confessing to witchcraft or to being a practicing Jew or holding that the Earth is not at the center of the universe - they gave their victims a way to end the torture. "Confess, so that we may execute you."

"We are going to torture you indefinitely. However, if you confess your sins so that we can pronounce you guilty of heresy, then we can convict you on the basis of your own confession, and end your life quickly instead."

Relying on the many and strong reasons that people have for preferring a quick death to long and agonizing torture, they acquired a good number of confessions - confessions to things that were so outrageous that we now know that they were lies told for the sake of bringing an end to the torture.

Now, in the 21st century, the authors of the Manhattan Declaration are insisting that people who are suffering a slow and painful - indeed, a torturous death must endure this suffering with no chance of choosing a quick alternative. The only virtue is that they are not the actual cause of the torture that others are being forced to endure. In their mind, God does the torturing. They must simply make sure that nobody steps in and puts an end to that torture.

In a sense, the inquisitors were much kinder to their victims than the authors of the Manhattan Doctrine. The Inquisitors gave their victims a way out. The authors of the Manhattan Declaration argue that all ways out shall be blocked, and the victim must be given no option but continued suffering.

They say that this is because God is made happier by their continued suffering. When, in fact, it is the authors of the doctrine who are being made happier by their suffering, who are then assigning their desires to God. This is because, "I want you to suffer" is not as likely to generate as much obedience as "God wants you to suffer and I God's voice on Earth."

I also know that, in my own case, if I should enter a state where I cannot hold intelligent conversations with other people, with no reasonable chance that I might recover (miracles do not qualify as a reasonable chance) then I would prefer that my body be killed. I do not think of it as killing me since, without a functioning mind, I would have ceased to exist anyway. My body, at that point, may be considered abandoned property of no further use to its previous owner.

Though I have lived a modest life, I have struggled to put money into savings that I hope to give away when I die. My preferred beneficiary would be an organization that promotes teaching reason to young students. If I should enter a state where my brain no longer functions but my body remains alive, I do not want that money wasted on changing my diapers whole I lay in a bed hooked up to million-dollar machines that do nothing for me as a person. In fact, spending that money on me, rather than sending it off to the cause I have worked to benefit, would be a case of keeping me alive while destroying one of the most important reasons I have had for living.

It would be like keeping a soldier alive by betraying the country and the Constitution he fought to defend.

You would not be doing me any favors at all.

Still, I have some secular objections to allowing euthanasia.

My main objection is a worry that insurance companies, with an eye to cutting cost, would market and sell euthanasia as a least-cost alternative to treating certain illnesses. They would put professional marketers at work who will call in focus groups and run all sorts of experiments to discover the most effective way to convince people with illnesses requiring expensive treatment that "It's time to go." It would likely involve giving the patient a sense of hopelessness and futility, accompanied by some comments about how "it pains your family so to see you in this state, but they would be able to put this behind them and move on if you will only agree to this procedure."

I do not know how much this concern weighs against the very real torture that we see on the other end, as well as other losses. There are also a million different options that a community (a country, or a state) might use to maximize the overall benefits while avoiding the worse possible costs.

Because of this complexity, what I actually argue for is a doctrine of "state's rights". I think that each state should feel free to experiment with different systems, and for those systems that work to be adopted by other states while those that fail are ultimately replaced.

However, this system of experimentation and adoption does not have room for an argument that says, "These people must be made to endure torture, and must not be allowed to choose an option that ends their life while helping to preserve that which gave their life value, because it displeases our God to deny them that option."

We should also take care to distinguish those people who say, "Unfortunately, there are some problems with allowing people to choose a quick and relatively painless death to enduring a long period of torture and agony," from those who say, "Hey! Great! We discovered some problems with allowing people to choose a quick and relatively painless death. Now we get to continue forcing them to endure a long period of torture and agony."

One identifies the latter group of people by their excessive enthusiasm with seeing problems with permitting euthanasia - with their eager willingness to embrace even the most absurd premises, the wildest leaps of logic, and to discover interpretations and that support their desired conclusions. These are people who do not have the best interest of others at heart. No good person - no person actually concerned with human suffering and the quality of human life - would ever behave that way.

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