Blindness a Cause for Euthanasia?

EuthanasiaA rather morbid case has played itself out in Belgium recently and it made me think about euthanasia.

The basics of the story is that identical twin brothers decided to commit suicide rather than face a life of blindness. The pair was born deaf and recently suffered degenerative eye disease that would have quickly left them blind had they not killed themselves. Belgium has relatively forward-thinking euthanasia laws that allows people to opt for suicide under certain circumstances. If a person has made their wishes clear and is suffering unbearable pain, according to an attending physician, then it is legal have someone kill you. Belgium is considering extending the law to those suffering dramatic loss of mental faculties as well but that’s not really the point.

I’m a proponent of euthanasia to alleviate end-of-life suffering. I’m of the opinion that people in the last stages of life and suffering horrible pain with no prospects except more pain are more than entitled to kill themselves, it is cruel and vicious to force them to continue to suffer. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. This is simply someone facing a terrible ordeal who decides not to go on. Now, this certainly happens all the time without help. People kill themselves under far less duress. I friend of mine in college suffered horrible injuries because a man, whose life was in a shambles, decided to kill himself by crossing the highway divide. My buddy was coming the other way. So, the idea of someone who is suffering, being allowed to kill themselves without endangering others has an appeal to me.

However, the idea that someone who is suffering from a non-lethal, non-painful illness being sanctioned to kill themselves is somewhat disturbing. I’m fairly certain the government shouldn’t be all that involved in this decision one way or the other. If a person wants to kill themselves then they should be allowed to do it but if someone helps them that’s when things get tricky. The person helping could and has been charged with murder. So, should the government allow people to kill other people who want to die, for moderately good reasons?

Tough questions.

Medical advances are changing the world but the thought of living deaf and blind, Helen Keller excepted, is not a pleasant thought. Even if there was hope that a cure might be forthcoming.

I think that I’m going to have to come down against the Belgium decision at this point. If a person is suffering from terrible pain and wants a physician to aid in their death, that’s more than fine by me. On the other hand, if a person is suffering from emotional trauma, a non-terminal, non-painful disease; then they can and should be allowed to kill themselves. But, they should figure out how to do it themselves. It’s not that hard. Admittedly they might stupidly choose to cross the highway at seventy mph and maim an innocent but I don’t think that’s reason enough to allow doctors to kill anybody that asks.

People get depressed but then overcome that depression. People suffer terrible losses but recover. If you want to kill yourself then go ahead, but don’t ask anyone to do it for you and expect them not to be charged with murder.

It’s a tough one. What does everyone else think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

2 thoughts on “Blindness a Cause for Euthanasia?

  1. Blindness is not itself a cause for euthanasia, but then I have wondered what life would be like for somebody who became deaf and blind. I’ve also wondered what it would be like for those who were born deaf and blind and who knew nothing else.

    I think that if there was no prospect of being able to correct the deafness or the blindness then life would be timeless, immeasurable, simply a series of sensations as one’s hands are placed on the food plate, washed, then dried. A hand pulling you this way and that. The feel of various materials (which you would know the names of if you had been told, but not if you were born this way). Temperatures, smells, tastes, textures, wet, dry etc.

    What kind of life would that be?

    Perhaps if you were born that way and knew nothing else then you would not pine for what you had lost, but for those of us who were born with both hearing and sight (or who were granted them later), the loss might cause emotional distress and a feeling of despair.

    I suppose that the twins felt that being deaf and blind would detract from their quality of life so much that they could not face being alive anymore, because all that they would be left with would be memories along with the senses of touch, taste and smell. It might also mean that they would place an undue burden of care upon their family.

    They must have felt very strongly about this.

    I myself have often thought that if I was no longer in a position to experience life to a reasonable degree, whether it be through being deaf and blind or through loss of my conscious mental faculties, that I would like for others to euthanise me. The only thing that would prevent me from putting that in a will as I get older, would be the prospect of medical science advancing sufficiently to correct such problems, either before they happen or afterwards.

  2. That decision should be between the deaf-blind and his doctor. If euthanasia is denied a deaf-blind who cannot obtain drugs or a firearm, then in the event the deaf-blindness proves intolerable, he may have no choice but violent self-mutilation, possibly endangering others. The one deprived of all visual and auditory stimuli–living with a hood over his head, buried in silence–must decide if he can stand it, and no one else.

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