Are Some Lives Not Worth Living?

The Claim

Is it possible that some lives are lives are not worth living? It certainly seems possible that a specific set of conditions could exist that render one’s life not worth living. Obviously, this claim carries a very nasty stigma. Eugenics may not be common, however, at one time this “science” was common. Now, such acts are considered utterly horrifying. These practices caused the bodies of many people to be ravaged at the hands of medical professionals. Sterilization was a brutal business.

The question I will address has nothing to do with the horror of eugenics. Social status, race, ethnicity, gender or any of the absurd categories that human beings have crafted to sort their peers have nothing to do with my question. Rather, I am trying to address a claim that is rooted in personal choice, and compassion.

A practical application of this philosophical idea is allowing for “physician assisted suicide”. By allowing patients to control how their lives end, they are granted more autonomy. People would have the final say in what happens to them, and their body. Additionally, this highlights the human capacity for understanding. By allowing “physician assisted suicide”, we show our ability to place ourselves “in-the-shoes” of someone with a debilitating illness.


The Classic Argument

The classic example of a life that is “not-worth-living” is one saturated with pain. To be more precise, an incurable and nonstop pain. The story usually unfolds around a fictitious individual with a horrifying illness that makes them suffer intense pain every second of their life. No matter what treatment is attempted or carried out, the pain continues. The individual is never freed from their painful prison; unless they are allowed to die. Death may be an extreme solution, but it is certainly a valid answer, especially when the individual’s life is filled with unending pain. Thus, the individual deems their life is “not-worth-living”, not a doctor or a medical professional.

Other well documented cases of individuals desiring to die, or protesting the state to allow them to die involved patients who are paralyzed. These patients are immobile, or near immobile, and therefore completely reliant on others. Generally, they must rely on their family members and medical professionals. Sometimes the individual becomes a paraplegic after they are in a car accident or suffer a stroke. Other times they become a quadriplegic after similar events. Again, this does not mean that in order to have a “life-worth-living”, an individual needs full control of their body. Individuals that are paralyzed, or partially paralyzed, are very capable of living full and productive lives.


Real World Solutions

Why then, might some people desire to kill themselves? In the case of a paralyzed individual, they may feel like a tremendous burden. This was the case with Elizabeth Bouvia. She was a quadriplegic from birth who felt she was a financial burden on the state of California. She was deemed competent, and self-aware. Her doctors, and psychologists believed she was “in-full-control-of-her-faculties”. However, the state refused her the ability (or resources) to kill herself, despite her well thought out and sincere wishes. She was, however, allowed to refuse her feeding tube, which would result in her starving to death. Seemingly, this was seen as a humane alternative to providing the patient with a lethal dose of morphine.

In other cases, an individual may be terminally ill. This is where my interests lie. Certain lives are not worth living because sometimes individuals are stricken with an unfortunate, and thoroughly debilitating set of circumstances. When a set of circumstances such as these are thrust upon an individual, they ought to have the legal right to end whatever is afflicting them.

The go to example of a terminal patient is one with cancer. If an individual is diagnosed with an aggressive and maniacal cancer that is quickly destroying their body, they may rationally come to the conclusion that they want to die on their own terms, perhaps before the end stages of the disease set in and condemn them to a bed. Equally so, others may wish to fight the cancer. Both are logical, and valid conclusions. However, I believe that people should seriously consider “physician assisted suicide”.

Most pain can be controlled, and yet, all pain cannot be remedied. Sometimes, the combination of illnesses and heavy pain killers have a way of tossing us back into the darkest moments of our lives, and locking us there for a little while. Other times, the physical pain is so intense medication alone cannot control it. Situations like these are prime examples of when patients should at least be allowed to review measures to end their lives without brushing against coarse stigmas and legal barriers.


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