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I'm A Right-To-Death-er
I think capital punishment is barbaric. Nobody has the right to take another person's life -- certainly not as punishment for taking another's life! But, what if a person personally wishes to end it all? Shouldn't that be their choice? Karen Armstrong writes in The Guardian of her mother's agonizingly prolongued life -- a life prolongued against her will:

I did not expect the doctors to administer a lethal injection. All she needed was a strong sedative to give her some rest and teach her body to surrender. But for some inexplicable reason this was not allowed. We regularly use medication to help us through life's physical and psychological crises: through childbirth, menopause, bereavement and depression. Why can we not use drugs to educate the body in the alien ways of death? I am sure that I would have had no difficulty procuring antidepressants to get me through my mother's dying, but she herself could have no such help - probably because it smacked of abdication.

...The nurses who cared for my mother were heroines. She was not an easy patient, but they were unfailingly kind, cheerful, tender, humorous and skilful. But they were clearly baffled by her refusal to eat, because they still desperately wanted to cure her. Yet what could recovery possibly have meant for my mother but appalling years in a nursing home, incontinent, bewildered, incapable of feeding herself, and unable to recognise her visitors?

We are not good at calling a halt to our technological expertise, even when it is in our interests to do so. We have created weapons that can destroy the world, and our greed for progress has perhaps irreparably damaged the planet. If we are able to do something, we feel we should do it. Because they can cure so many diseases, our medical personnel feel obliged to do so at all times. Their passion to save life is wonderful but not always appropriate. To condemn my mother to a living death against her will would have been an act of cruelty.

Of course, there are dangers. Old people must not be pressured into premature death by overwrought relatives. Many sufferers cling desperately to life - and they must be helped to do so. But when somebody has made her wishes clear - as my mother did every time she rejected the feeding cup - this should be respected too.

The religious may argue that she should have submitted to the will of God. But even the most conservative theologians believe that God works through the natural processes and in my mother's case nature was, with the best of intentions, deflected from its course. Without drips and antibiotics, her ordeal would have been over weeks ago. She had to wait until the nurses could no longer find a vein to medicate her and she could die of an awful bowel infection.

Tragically, in our own country, thanks to the religious nutters, Dr. Kevorkian -- a living saint to the rational and humane -- is rotting in a Michigan prison for helping desperately ill people, desperate to die, out of their misery. I've said about prostitution, "it's your body, sell it if you want to." I feel the same way about eggs and sperm, of course. And I think it's your right to die if and when you wish -- and to have help doing so, and without asking that help to risk a life sentence in jail for helping you out of living hell.

Posted by aalkon at March 26, 2006 8:26 AM

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This is not a question of medicine or morality or ethics. It is a question of who is running the show: the show that is your life. The GOVERNMENT WILL DECIDE who lives and who dies. And under what circumstances. It is not enough that old white men (I'm an old white man myself) have the power to rule, you must be REMINDED that they rule. They WILL be recognized.
As for the religious zealots, they were the government before we elected our despots. And they resent being displaced so they try to sneak around the laws and the rulers with pronouncements from GOD.
I am not a cynic, I did cynicism for years for the humor value. I am an educated optimist. I think positively, but I know better.

Posted by: Rhino Guy at March 26, 2006 8:55 AM

I'm a disappointed optimist.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 26, 2006 9:33 AM

I'm a vindicated pessimist

Posted by: lujlp at March 26, 2006 1:31 PM

Yeah, that works for me, too.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 26, 2006 1:44 PM


What is the proper method for ensuring that a violent felon is prevented from a repeat offense?

How is killing such a felon less humane than perpetually caging him?

What is the liability of the State when, not if, a released or escaped felon kills or maims again?

We have an interesting idea in the US. If you are defending yourself and use lethal force to prevent the completion of a capital crime against yourself, that's OK. (Note that you'll have no doubt as to who the bad guy is. The grand jury will figure out for you if you obeyed the law while avoiding being gutted like a fish.) But if the State steps in for you after the fact, the felon - if he gets caught - gets to live on. You don't.

That just doesn't make sense.

The solution to the capital punishment issue is self-defense. If a felon does not succeed, then no court may spare his life on the idea that his is worth something after a schoolyard massacre.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 26, 2006 5:22 PM

> How is killing such a felon less humane than perpetually caging him?

I think that's the whole point. Life in the can is a greater, not a lesser, punishment than death.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at March 26, 2006 5:37 PM

I think that's the whole point. Life in the can is a greater, not a lesser, punishment than death.

to the taxpayer or to the murderer?

Posted by: g*mart at March 26, 2006 7:39 PM

My cynical side sees a common thread between denial of the right to die, and not funding early treatment (i.e. the pap smear program discussed last week). While there may be moral or control issues involved for some, I think the bottom line is money, and both situations create customers for high-priced medical treatments (Whether on the patient's, Insurance companies', or Government's dime). As Chris Rock said, "There ain't no money in a cure, the money's in the treatment".

Posted by: Alan at March 27, 2006 7:58 AM

I always thought, following Locke I guess, that the basis of a government’s power, derived, of course, from the consent of the governed, was the right to assess penalties for breaking the law up to and including death.

This is, I'll admit, a completely different question of whether the government should exercise that right. However, the death penalty, in my opinion, is not about revenge or punishment, but about just recompense.

Posted by: Fritz at March 27, 2006 8:50 AM

What is the proper method for ensuring that a violent felon is prevented from a repeat offense? -- RadWaste

There's lots of options: lock 'em up, amputate all four limbs, fry 'em, use 'em for medical experiments, to suggest just a few. But why limit yourself to violent felons? These methods would work just as well at preventing any felon from offending again. And it would save time deliberating if we just had one way to deal with felons.

My big objection to killing people is that too often we kill the wrong person, or later get evidence that would have resulted in a lesser penalty. The death penalty coupled with sloppy policing and baying press is bad news. But my objections are more practical than principled.

Posted by: Norman at March 28, 2006 7:12 AM

So Armstrong, why did you have your mother in the care of doctors and nurses if you and her both wanted a quick death??? Do you not understand that keeping people alive is the whole point of their being?!?!...Also, no one needs Kevorkian to hold their hand...crybaby!!!

Posted by: marcus at March 29, 2006 7:35 AM

So - will no one state what the liability of the State might be for allowing a repeat offense?

Posted by: Radwaste at March 30, 2006 2:38 AM

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