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Easeful Death. Is There a Case for Assisted Dying?

Author: Antonio Pardo
Published in: Mind and Brain 2009 (35), p. 96. review to Mary Warnock & Elisabeth MacDonald. Easeful Death. Is There a Case for Assisted Dying? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008; 155.
Publication date: 2009 

The introduction states that this is an ethical study of euthanasia and financial aid suicide. Is this morally justifiable? And, if so, should it be legally permissible? (p. VIII). However, the content leaves aside the rightness or wrongness of the action (which is the subject of ethics).

It begins by establishing the patient's autonomy in its most elementary sense: I decide about my life. With this premise, a dramatic description of a non-autonomous life concludes the loss of the dignity of a dependent life. In such cases, the compassionate thing to do for the patient would be to facilitate suicide or euthanasia, and to introduce such compassion into the law.

Some specific cases are then examined: patients who cannot commit suicide without financial aid (chap. 2), psychiatric patients (chap. 3), neonates (chap. 4) and incapable adults (chap. 5). In all of them it is postulated that, with legal safeguards for autonomy, at least financial aid should be admitted to suicide.

The counter-arguments are then reviewed: the sacredness of human life (chap. 6), the slippery slope (chap. 7) and the reasons for medical ethics (chap. 8). All are dismissed: the sacredness of human life because each person has his or her own concept of the sacred, the slippery slope because it should not be exaggerated (although he acknowledges that it is the strongest argument), and the arguments of medical ethics by simply stating that ideas change, and the current ethical arguments of medicine are the inherited ones, and need not be perpetuated.

He ends by analysing the medical reaction to the different procedures that can be carried out (chapter 9), and by putting forward a flattering perspective that we are not condemned to live (chapter 10). Moreover, he states that financial aid to suicide, with the proper legal controls, seems a good solution to avoid euthanasia (although, after the previous argument, we do not see what is wrong with it).

The play argues rhetorically: it presents extreme cases inducing people to think that provoking death is the best thing to do. It sometimes lapses into summary disqualification of the opponent. And it seems to ignore serious statistics on euthanasia in the Netherlands: quotation figures ten to fifteen times lower (taken from the benevolent Dutch official reports) to play down the issue.