838, 839 & 840

theme suggested by rebecca. thanks.

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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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43 Responses to 838, 839 & 840

  1. Carole says:

    Hmm…such controversial matters require a little thinking time.

  2. chris says:

    ooo-oooh this one is going to be interesting. I’ve watched my dog slip slowly to sleep as he was put out of his suffering and finally found rest.
    And I spent a couple of weeks in an old people home spoon feeding people who were in a lot more discomfort than he ever was, suffering on…
    and yet, I’m still very torn. Are we too clever now? keeping people alive long beyond they ever were meant to?
    Are playing God more when we’re keeping people alive, or when we turn off their machines?

  3. Carole says:

    Meanwhile I got comment 1…woo-hoo! Off to watch ‘Being Human’!

  4. herbeey says:

    My third ever comic was very similar:

    For issues that are impossible to determine the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ of (like euthanasia and abortion), the best approach seems to leave it up to individuals to decide… Checks and balances should encourage people to give due consideration, since all we can do in such ambiguous issues is do our best. Make a good judgement to the best of our abilities. A system that facilitates that is as ideal as one can have in a confusing/messy/uncertain world.

    There are fine arguments for and against, which is the problem. It is disingenuous to ignore one side of the argument, which it’s easy to do when one is wanting to come to a conclusion on the matter.

  5. herbeey says:

    An interesting discussion that moves beyond the usual tos and fros of this matter, is the question of how much right we have to decide things on behalf of others.

    As the first comic shows, we sort of presume things about how people value their lives and how we will value our own lives in a similar situation.

    We impose a fairly excessive tax on smokers with the presumption that it will act as a disincentive for people to smoke. We presume that it’s the right thing to do and consequently devalue the choice of the individual. There’s something to be said for individual choice and there’s something to be said for community decisions. Maybe the smoking tax strikes the right balance between no restrictions and an outright ban?

  6. sharon says:

    OOOH, just got back from church where this was our topic. Bishop Chris Herburt spoke on euthanasia and assisted suiside…..fantastic

  7. youthworkerpete says:

    A very diffiult one.

    I think my first issue would be practical, not theological – would NHS trusts be tempted to switch machines off earlier if they were allowed to to save money?

    And let be honest – if cutting a persons life short by a few very painful weeks allows a cancer patient to recieve new and life-saving drugs, is this a bad thing?

    I suppose personally I’m erring on the side of ‘pro-life’, but to me this is far far less clear cut than things life the death penalty and abortions.

  8. Forrest says:

    Chris, you have a point, we may be too clever for ourselves. Sometimes it seems we as, individuals, institutions, societies, do things because we Can. Arbitrarily assigning the value that because we can it is by definition therefore wise, beneficial, and worthy.
    Well . . . not so fast gizmoDoc . . .
    Kathy and I have talked and neither one of us desire to be kept on life support after a certain point. There is a point of diminishing return. I’m going to spend eternity with God, although in no hurry to get there; and, to attempt to hold onto to a failed body looks vain foolishness.

    Problem with determining whether which is “right” is – what’s the standard for “right”? Is every person on the planet going by identical baseline? I think it’s pretty well observable that ain’t the case!

    On that last cartoon – it is spookily hilarious. And also true.
    Kathy is in so much pain so much of the time, it would be cruel to force her to stay in that body by fully artificial means when she could (should?) go on to be with Jesus and be healed of that pain eternally.
    And yes, it would be my pleasure to stand up for her right to do so.

    Therein lies ‘the thing’ – secular society can not understand this life is but a momentary trial in an eternity of existence.

    But then to do so, society, the whole of mankind, would have to accept “The God Of The Bible”, sin, personal responsibility for your sin, redemption, forgiveness, eternal life, and all.

    And most disturbingly, would have to accept that mankind is not as wise, and in particular, as powerful as it thinks itself is. Like hell it’s ever going to do that!!!

    Funny how society says it is not acceptable for a person to decide to end his own life, yet society endorses the operative inverse of that – others choosing to extend your life.
    I see two sides of the same destructive coin there.

    But who do I think I am to consider myself wise that way.

  9. Cooperton says:

    It annoys me when christians oppose euthanasia purely on moral grounds and by wanting to make sure it’s illegal. If they want to oppose it, they should do it by giving people a reason to live – standing with them, affirming their identity, valuing the contribution they can give.

    People with debilitating illness have already had to give up so much that everybody else takes for granted; I think it’s a bit rich for ‘healthy’ people to force them to give up their choice to end their life.

  10. Forrest says:

    Cooperton has said it well!

  11. marcolicious says:

    oh yes, and one more point I have heard Christians made, like, if you choose to switch off, it’s voluntary and suicidal, and you cannot go into heaven.

    seriously this kind of ‘being rational’ is threatening rather than helping the man.

  12. Caroline Too says:

    this is one of those subjects where it’s quite easy to come to a
    general conclusion (either way), but it’s the messy bits round the
    edge of the issue that makes is so difficult…

    agree with Carole (#1)

  13. jonbirch says:

    i find this subject to be one that i don’t have a static opinion on. it is, as someone above said, a very different thing to abortion, but i’m afraid i don’t have a static opinion on that either. i just find the shades of grey too much to handle in order to simply be a yes or no type person. thinking with head or heart takes you to different places too. rationally you may say ‘no’, then empathy allows for ‘yes’, even though you have a heavy heart.

    btw… carole… i am a massive fan of ‘being human’. series 1 was the best drama on telly that year i thought, and series 2 is looking to be just as engrossing. you really do get caught up with the characters.

  14. miriworm says:

    Whats the theology on ‘thou shalt not kill’ with regard to oneself these days ? :-|

  15. subo says:

    as I think Carer’s and Dr’s have a hard enough job already, I don’t think they should be dumped with the extra burden of giving further time to discuss ending life.

    everyone’s concerned about our rights to choose if we want to commit suicide, and yet since people successfully do commit suicide, this discussion seems to be about something else.

    it’s about involving people who are already working very hard, in discussions and decisions they didn’t choose to train to do

  16. herbeey says:


    Usual suicide is not a reliable way of doing the job for most people. Also, it could be that one might want to be euthanised when even the usual suicidal techniques become impractical.

    Everyone’s able to commit suicide in theory, but that simply isn’t the case in practice.

    Also, usual suicide techniques are often much more nasty for the individual doing it, as far as we can tell.

  17. rebecca says:

    I sparked this one off, so I’d better respond. I woke up on 27 December having remembered in my sleep two drastically contrasting views on euthanasia, both of which are (supposedly) Christian. But the first is from a work of fiction, so possibly it should not be regarded as automatically Christian. The book in question is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. I read it nearly twenty years ago, but there is one scene which sticks in my mind graphically. After a nuclear war (it isn’t a spoiler to write this; it’s obvious there’s going to be a nuclear war) the government offers euthanasia to people who are damaged and are suffering, but requires them to be checked first to ensure they are “sufficiently” suffering to qualify for insurance payouts. The protagonists, a community of monks, vehemently oppose this. Although I think most people would support them if they attacked the government for allowing the war in the first place, or for allowing the issue of suffering to get mixed up with insurance, what the monks actually do is oppose euthanasia as an absolute. They carry placards outside the euthanasia clinic saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, the obvious implication being that someone who opts for euthanasia will go to hell. (It doesn’t help that the government puts up a sort of Christ statue as a symbol of euthanasia).

    The opposite view is again from a book which I read about twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it quite so well. I think it is from Why Do Men Suffer? by Leslie D Weatherhead (the title of the book is a bit unfortunate, but that’s a discussion for another day). Weatherhead, who was quite a heavyweight Christian writer, puts in a footnote saying that the laws on euthanasia desperately need revising; someone will be criminalised if they assist a suffering human to die, or if they do *not* assist a suffering dog to die. BTW, this was written in the 1930s.

    A current view appeared in the Guardian last Saturday – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jan/16/charlotte-raven-should-i-take-my-own-life . I’ll let this one speak for itself.

    And my own views? Give me a bit of time — I’m supposed to be working right now.

  18. jonbirch says:

    what an interesting and affecting article, rebecca. thank you.

  19. Caroline Too says:

    I often find that these really difficult questions are difficult because

    they are pastoral questions

    and we want an answer in principle

    So, we want an answer that will be right for all occasions

    but we’ll only be able to ‘know’ the answer for a particular moment in that particular moment.

    Apart from anything else, finding an answer in principle forces you to define variables and conditions that are quite beyond definition.

  20. Carole says:

    OK, ready to write now. But I don’t have any clearcut opinions. As always, I am influenced by personal experience, so these could shift in the future.

    I can’t speak from the perspective of a person who wishes to bring about the end of their own life to reduce suffering. I have no idea how that must feel. But I can outline my own fears. I worry about legalising euthanasia because, as Subo rightly points out, it is an additional strain on those in the caring professions, whose work is difficult enough without added responsibility. I also have fears that once you have shifted the legal stance, it could become a thing of convenience – bring forward the deaths of a few of our terminal cases to provide bed space/ease funding problems etc. At what point do we begin making assumptions for those who can’t speak for themselves? Far-fetched? Maybe, but I wouldn’t like to see Pandora’s box opened.
    I have no evidence to back me up and I’m perhaps responding emotionally, but it does sometimes seem that you can be ‘too old’ for treatments.

    On the other hand, I wonder do we sometimes extend people’s lives too much – given the awful side effects of some drugs, would it be better to allow a disease to take it’s natural course in certain cases? Again, how do you make that call?

    Along with about nine other family members, I attended my mum’s deathbed. In the last few days of her life she was cared for and kept comfortable by doctors and nurses in a nursing. All the time I was with her I was willing her to die, probably as much to ease my own discomfort, if I am honest. When the moment came, it was emotionally charged but not without a certain fragile beauty. I believe my mum taught me a lot about how to die. I hope that when my time comes it is like hers. She removed a lot of my fear of death.

    I would not presume to think that what I have written will resonate with the thoughts/experiences of others. It is simply what my journey so far has offered up.

  21. subo says:

    thanks Carole, for sharing the experience of your Mum’s death, I felt really blessed by the warmth and meaning treasured in the telling, which was very welcome after a long monday

  22. jonbirch says:

    yes… thank you, carole. i very much relate to your story re. your mum as it resonates very much with my own.
    my mums death came only a month after her diagnosis which came only days after we were told she didn’t have cancer. turned out she had multiple cancers in her system. mum and dad within hours of the diagnosis had decided (it was mums decision that dad backed up) that if chemotherapy were offered she would not be having it. a few more years where my mum would have been a patient would have been terrible. that was not the legacy she wished to leave behind. she was a proud woman, hard working, a fun loving people person with tons of dignity. fortunately, i believe, for everyone, she was spared the extra months/possibly years of pain and spared carrying through any decisions. so, although her quick and untimely death came as a massive shock and bereavement to us all, in our hearts we knew she’d been spared, as were we. not sure it makes it easier, but am sure it was for the best. although i can’t help wishing it hadn’t happened at all.

  23. Palantir says:

    I think that the subject of ‘palliative care’ should be introduced into this discussion… I don’t really know how things are in other countries, but over here in the Netherlands,it’s considered as the best option. After all, it’s possible to die in a dignified way without anyone really contributing to it.
    Most people are, for instance, really afraid of pain etc, but there are a lot of things that can be done for them. Sometimes, that will have the side effect of actually dying – but palliative care is only offered in the terminal stage of life. It’s not a way to terminate someone’s life early, it’s focused on keeping someone comfortable for as long as possible.

    Also, I think that people need to be educated regarding the current abilities of medicine. We can keep people alive even though their own bodies can barely sustain them anymore – but that doesn’t mean tha they’ll have a meaningful life. And I’m now talking about people who are completely dependant on a ventilator and who don’t have any mental function left (Glasgow coma scale 3). Of course, you can keep them alive until they get ventilator associated pneumonia, sepsis and eventually die because of that.
    But perhaps, with the gift of keeping people alive, also comes the responsibility of knowing when to stand back. With as much as respect as possible.
    I think it is totally unacceptable to withdraw fluids and food – to me, it doesn’t seem exactly humane. The starting point should be the patient – so, if they – doctors and family – make the decision to stop treatment, they should make sure that the patient dies in a painless and quick way.

    But perhaps my opinion is like this because I study medicine :). I’ve cared for people in the last stages of their life and I saw their suffering and I really think that, sometimes, we just need to let people go – even if they are not yet in the final stages of their life. If someone is going to die from cancer in two months, why not allow him the dignity etc?

    Still, I don’t like the way those pro euthanasia / suicide organisations voice their opinions. Sure, we’ll need to widen our views of death and euthanasia but saying it’s a right and publishing books on how to do it etc. etc seems a bit creepy to me.

  24. theseoldshades says:

    Is the purpose of medicine to prolong life or to improve the quality of life?

    I think a sometimes useful distinction to make when thinking about the value of life/euthanasia is one between biological and biographical life. Biological life is the simple fact of being alive- respiring (or being kept respiring by a machine) etc. Biographical life if selfhood, autonomy, dignity etc. Sometimes you can have the first without the second and maybe in those cases euthanasia isn’t always a bad thing if it’s what the patient wants.

    Palliative care is so important, and more money should be invested in it in the NHS, but even palliative care can’t remove all debilitating symptoms in all cases- constant nausea caused by strong pain medication, incontinence, the inability to ingest solid food. Dignity is important too.

    I think the key is autonomy, it’s about respecting the patient’s wishes: giving them the best possible medical advice and then respecting (and sometimes aiding) their decisions, whether that is to live or to die. Of course, safeguards are needed, but keeping people unnecessarily suffering, terminally ill when you wouldn’t do the same thing to an animal has always seemed a bit strange to me.

    Sorry if this is very clinical and perhaps a little cold: it’s easier to think about these issues when you can be detached because you’ve never experienced them really.

    Love and peace to all who have, thankyou so much for sharing your stories, casts my views in a new light and makes me question them again and that is always good.

  25. Forrest says:

    there is probably some sort of connection of philosophy between euthanasia and abortion – this was brought to my attention today:

  26. Forrest says:

    Oh, ought to point out the above is satire, farce. (or is it . . . in an odd sort of way . . . ) ;)

  27. themethatisme says:

    As the holder of a chronic disease that will likely kill me, although it will take a long time to do so, I have had the conversation of the last cartoon. Beloved, has no doubt as to my wishes. She doesn’t like it but…

  28. subo says:

    once again, i value the honesty and ability to talk about our real life dilemmas on asbo, thanks too themethatisme for sharing so much of your own thoughts

  29. themethatisme says:

    Polemic text for anyone really interested in this subject. This one made me shift my thinking…noticeably.
    Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics.

  30. rebecca says:

    What I wrote yesterday has perhaps been superseded by some of the other things which have since been written, but I did say I would give my own opinions, and it’s useful to have an excuse to collate them. (I was even making notes during my choir practice last night, on a post-it hidden inside my music! What was the music, you might be wondering. An anti-war piece.)

    Recently a Muslim asked me if there was a Christian position on suicide — did it mean that somebody was automatically condemned? Given that he had just told me that one of his relatives had committed suicide, I don’t really know what answer he expected me to give, but I replied that there was not a “Christian position” on many things; we just have principles like “Love your neighbour as yourself”. And it is hardly loving to condemn somebody.

    There do seem to be some Christians who think that preservation of life should be treated as an absolute, but as a general rule I would say it is dangerous to have absolutes. As for the question of whether allowing somebody else to kill you is a fast-track to hell, it’s worth remembering that numerous people in history have been killed because they were Christian, when, if their duty was to preserve their life, they probably could have escaped. What about Jesus himself!! And then there’s Samson — the original suicide bomber… let’s not go down that route.

    There is also the question of “playing God”. But if it is “playing God” to do something that will change the time when somebody dies, surely that applies to doing something which will extend somebody’s life, as well as reducing it. And although there are arguments against artificially prolonging the life of somebody who is dying, I don’t think anyone is arguing that it is wrong to give people treatments that will restore them to health, when otherwise they would die.

    So, although I certainly have concerns about euthanasia, they relate not to any principle that it is intrinsically sinful or forbidden by God, but because of the potential it has to go wrong. [Aside — this is pretty much my opinion of genetic modification as well. And that has shown huge potential to go wrong — it seems to have become primarily about the rich exploiting the poor, and causing environmental damage. Another potential discussion].

    And it certainly does have potential to go wrong — it’s easy to think of a scenario in which somebody opts for euthanasia because of family pressure — but family pressure which is imagined rather than real. This is a lose-lose scenario, which can’t please anyone. At a British Library exhibition last year on the subject of law, visitors were asked to vote on the question of whether euthanasia should be legal, and more than 70% of respondents answered that it should, but only on the basis that it was subject to careful controls.

    And some other considerations:

    a) Nobody should ever be put in the position where they are making a decision as to whether they want to live or die (or even whether they want a relative to live or die) which is motivated by the prospect that if the person lives, they will have to spend their life fighting to have their needs met, or in poverty. I’m not expressing this brilliantly, and it is possibly less significant for somebody British than in other parts of the world — in the UK at least we don’t have to pay our own medical bills.

    This requires an ordering of society whereby the whole of society takes full responsibility for the needs of people who are sick or disabled. I’m reminded of an argument about abortion made by John Selwyn Gummer — he said that if society did not permit parents expecting a disabled child to have an abortion, society should also not require those parents to bear all the costs (financial or otherwise) of caring for the disabled child. He was arguing against abortion, but it is possible to imagine somebody using the same argument the opposite way.

    b) In the case of somebody who is not actually dying, but is incapacitated (think of Daniel James, who was paralysed playing rugby), what they need is, as soon as possible after their accident, a reason to be hopeful. If they are faced with the prospect of a lifetime looking at the walls (this is a quote from one such person), there’d be something wrong if they didn’t find death an attractive prospect.

    Joni Eareckson Tada is regularly cited as an example of how somebody can live an extremely full life despite being paralysed, but it is clear that she is an exceptionally talented individual. Can somebody who is not quite as “exceptional” really expect to have a life like hers?

    c) During the time when Diane Pretty was in the news, there was an interesting letter in the Guardian: it pointed out that it was not illegal to kill yourself — unless, it appears, you are too disabled to kill yourself. Does this amount to discrimination against disabled people? One argument that regularly goes around is that if somebody is denied euthanasia, they may then opt to kill themself while they are still able to. (Which carries the additional risk that, if they fail, they are likely to have increased their suffering further).

    I’ve written a lot, so I better leave it there. I’ll just return to something that Caroline wrote (#19): “we’ll only be able to ‘know’ the answer for a particular moment in that particular moment”. The last word is, everybody is different and we need to treat everybody as individuals.

  31. Forrest says:

    #30, by Rebecca, “but as a general rule I would say it is dangerous to have absolutes. ”

    Funny how that’s not an absolute rule that it’s dangerous to have absolutes.

  32. Forrest says:

    Ornery brat warning. “in the UK at least we don’t have to pay our own medical bills.” – that’s right, all the other taxpayers pay it for you.

  33. Caroline Too says:

    absolutely, Forrest (#32), for we have decided, as a nation, to take cost considerations out of difficult decisions like that..

    or, rather, we chosen to shift those difficult decisions to a different context.

  34. rebecca says:

    Forrest (#32): I’m not 100% sure whether you’re being serious ;-), but assuming that you are, what do you think of John Selwyn Gummer’s argument?

    (It’s possible that you’ve never heard of him. He was a Tory MP about 20 years ago, and he wrote a book, of which I have long since forgotten the title, but I do remember some of his views on abortion from the book).

  35. Forrest says:

    Rebecca, I am being serious. I’m on disability and am well aware my medical bills are largely paid by taxes seized under threat of government violence from people working to try to pay their own bills.

    Going to have to look up John Selwyn Gummer as being a MP he doesn’t much figure into politics in Missouri.

    Although, ironically, our apartment complex is “Selwyn Place” built in a 1914 Selwyn-Brown shoe factory.

  36. Cooperton says:

    I would like to think that we are all exceptional, but some of us are in a position to enjoy our own wonderfulness more than others. If we were all blessed of the human support, the necessary resources for survival and flourishment and the ability (alone or via the aid of another) to have an expression of ourselves, then I feel we would all look incredibly exceptional, regardless of whether the above equation inlcudes sickness, infirmity, disease or disablement.

    The social model of disability is built upon the notion that it is not illness or incapacity that disables a person, it is the way society treats that person. I wonder if the heartbreaking problem is that we inadvertantly abandon the sick, disabled and elderly in an isolated corner, unable to access meaningful social interaction, travel, expressiveness, sunlight, daily purpose and all the other elements of human existance that make life worth living. If collectively we are unwilling to offer these essential things to every individual irrespective of their ability to have amassed visible exceptionality, I fear we are very cruel indeed to stigmatise a way out for those left in the void our lack of provision creates.

  37. Forrest says:

    While we’re talking Doctors: http://www.sphere.com/the-point/article/reporters-become-part-of-the-story-in-haiti/19322723?icid=main|search3|dl1|link3|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sphere.com%2Fthe-point%2Farticle%2Freporters-become-part-of-the-story-in-haiti%2F19322723
    “Gupta told TVNewser that in such situations, he’s a doctor first. But Bob Steele, the Poynter Institute’s journalism values scholar, complained that Gupta crosses the line between covering the story and participating in the story too often. “It clouds the lens in terms of the independent observation and reporting,” the DePauw University journalism professor told the blog DimeWars.

    Gupta acknowledged such concerns in a Baltimore Sun interview, but insisted there’s “no confusion” in his mind about his overlapping roles as doctor and medical correspondent. “If people need my help … if they ask me, then I’m certainly going to help them,” he told the paper’s TV critic, David Zurawik.

    All the other TV news doctors dispatched to Haiti are doing double duty, too. ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser and his crew helped find a field hospital for a Haitian teenager who was about to give birth. (Click to watch video.) CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton found herself assisting with an amputation as soon as she landed in Haiti on Friday.”

  38. Tiggy says:

    And you know what, Forrest, there is hardly anyone in the UK who thinks it is wrong that the other taxpayers pay the medical bills for us. People here consider it right that everyone is looked after healthwise – even our right-wing politicians. So ponder on that one!

  39. jonbirch says:

    herbeey @ 4… :-D

  40. rebecca says:

    Forrest (#35) — you don’t need to look up John Selwyn Gummer; I was just referring to the reference which I put in my previous post (#30). I don’t think the name Selwyn carries much significance — he was sometimes referred to just as John Gummer.

    And as for your other comment, “taxes seized under threat of government violence” — I know you’re bitter, but is it really that bad? It sounds like something which might happen in a military dictatorship, not a country which prides itself on how developed and civilised it is.

    I am on long-term medication as well, and I regard the fact that that doesn’t automatically lead to financial ruin as one of the good things about living in the UK. I certainly am quite happy to pay taxes which fund other people’s medical care (and my own, for that matter).

    This is clearly leading to a new discussion, and it’s very topical!

  41. Pingback: Friday fragments—22.01.10 « Getting There… 2 steps forward, 1 back

  42. In my experience hospitals are doing a ‘good job’ in this respect. If someone who is old and frail is admitted and kept there a few days say to due to lack of ambulances then there’s a good chance that they’ll contract something that may mean that they won’t come out alive!

    On the other hand I have found GPs to be good at recommending ‘palliative care’ and found Palantir’s comment #23 most helpful.

  43. Dawn says:

    Abortion and Euthenasia are different, with Euthenasia often its the individuals own choice, but with abortion, someone else decides taht the baby will die. in the case of disablity, you can lead a rich life with disabilities, it there is the right support programs for people then it makes things much easier.

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