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I Killed Someone Once
February 16, 2010 6:58 AM   Subscribe

"And maybe this is the time to share a secret that I've kept for quite a long time. I killed someone, once..." So begins BBC journalist Ray Gosling's televised confession in which he briefly describes the time he smothered his lover who was dying of AIDS. Police are now investigating.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (106 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"And maybe this is the time to share a secret that I've kept for quite a long time. I killed someone, once..."

Me too, but I don't go blabbing about it in a public forum.

Note to Police: Not really.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jesus.
It's a good thing I already know I'm incapable of watching the entire thing.
posted by kavasa at 7:22 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gotta love the way you've presented this. You seem to have left out the part that he did it to end his lover's suffering. FFS.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:24 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


You seem to have left out the part that he did it to end his lover's suffering.

How so? From the FPP:

he briefly describes the time he smothered his lover who was dying of AIDS
posted by Pollomacho at 7:25 AM on February 16, 2010


Eh? I think it's pretty much implied that if your lover is dying of AIDS they are suffering. It's not phrased in any kind of sensational or accusatory way.

Also there should be riots if he's prosecuted for this.
posted by Nomiconic at 7:26 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry. Blinded by emotion. Please disregard.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2010


It's kind of odd that the BBC article starts out, almost immediately, with a "dissenting voice" from (I presume) an anti-assisted-suicide advocacy group.

I mean jeez, talk about the downfall of modern journalism.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gotta love the way you've presented this. You seem to have left out the part that he did it to end his lover's suffering. FFS.

We are asked not to editorialize in FPPs. FFS.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:29 AM on February 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


This is a pretty amazing minute of footage. I wonder if took multiple takes for him to get through his confession? I can't imagine he'd said that out loud too many times before.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:29 AM on February 16, 2010


I certainly read it as a merciful ending thing. And while I also wouldn't blab about it in public, I'm not going to claim that remaining silent is the right thing to do. Before something can be normalized (and regulated) it has to be brought out of the shadows. Back in the 50s, people had to say they were gay when that was still illegal to build a critical mass of "we can't jail them all, we better legalize this".
posted by DU at 7:30 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I find his later interview, in which he says he didn't expect it to be broadcast nationally, as it was intended for a Midlands audience, with whom he shares a really intimate relationship, to be really interesting. But that's because I'm from Minnesota, which is about 30,000 square miles larger than the entirety of England, and I'd find it odd if, say, local newscaster Don Shelby confessed to having killed somebody once as an act of murder, and then expressed surprise that it was broadcast throughout Minnesota, as his confession was intended for a Minneapolis audience.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:33 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


There are lots of instances where people are in the last stages of dying of cancer and their partners or families go ahead and overdose them with morphine, knowing the result.

Just sayin'.
posted by Danf at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really want to give Mr. Gosling a hug right now.
posted by psylosyren at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


There are lots of instances where people are in the last stages of dying of cancer and their partners or families go ahead and overdose them with morphine, knowing the result.

The story reminds me very much of the great film Brother's Keeper.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sanctity of life should never overrule one's desire to end their own suffering.
posted by NationalKato at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


Dr Peter Saunders, from Care Not Killing, said Mr Gosling's account sounded like a case "not of assisted suicide but of intentional killing or murder".

...

"At the moment all we have is Ray's word there was a pact and it wasn't clear from his description whether his lover even wanted to be killed or asked to be."


Are you suggesting that if we knew his partner's will, then it would be okay? If it was clear his partner had asked to be killed rather than endure suffering, you wouldn't be bothered by this at all?

I feel we've reached a wonderful understanding here.
posted by Sova at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also: The Care Not Killing website has me raging thoroughly:

Some people steal because they or their families are starving. But no one is suggesting we should have a law that licensed theft in advance for starving people.

No, no one is suggesting that thing that isn't actually even slightly analogous to the actual thing you're talking about.
posted by Nomiconic at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a lot of suffering that needs to be ended in this world.

I'm sure you have a list.
posted by clarknova at 7:45 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


But no one is suggesting we should have a law that licensed theft in advance for starving people.

First of all, "theft" implies an unwilling parting on the part of the "victim" whereas assisted suicide is NOT that.

Also, some would argue that that's exactly what taxes are. Whether a mandated payment is the same as theft I'll leave to the philosophers.
posted by DU at 7:48 AM on February 16, 2010


"local newscaster Don Shelby confessed to having killed somebody once as an act of murder"

In 1990?
posted by autoclavicle at 7:49 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think I've ever wanted to bake a pan of brownies and bring them over to someone more in my life than I want to bring brownies over to Mr. Gosling's for tea right now.

Could we get a little more context about this clip? What is the program that it was filmed for, and why would it have been appropriate to include?
posted by Mizu at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2010


If you truly want to see something truly heartbreaking, try to find this. I mean I'm a straight guy pushing 50, but it truly blew my mind. For whomever is still out there grousing about gay marriage or whatever, I think they should be duct taped to a chair with their eyes pried open with toothpicks and made to watch this. Fair warning, this is gonna be one of those things you can't unsee,
posted by timsteil at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


That was a really heartbreaking clip.
posted by graventy at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2010


Don Shelby confessed to having killed somebody once as an act of murder, and then expressed surprise that it was broadcast throughout Minnesota, as his confession was intended for a Minneapolis audience.

So that's what happened to Paul Magers!
posted by boubelium at 8:03 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


It was very moving. Brave man.
posted by Flashman at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


You should all really see those 2 documentaries about Ray Goslin.

He was a TV presenter in the 60s, but went utterly and completely broke by the 2000s. The BBC made a documentary about him living in a old, old house, packed full of junk. Basically he was old, dirty man living among his own dirt and paperwork.

After those went out, he actually got his old job back, from what I gather.

This is a nice clip.
posted by Harry at 8:06 AM on February 16, 2010


This, obviously, is tragic, intense, and complicated. And yet:

Isn't it awfully exciting to watch culture spin itself out on the fly? Wherever we are in twenty, thirty, or forty years, we'll know we were there to watch it happen bit by bit.

Often I find myself wishing that it all could just happen, you know, faster. Getting episodes on a slow drip like this can be excruciating.
posted by Poppa Bear at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


How spectacularly beautiful - to love someone so much that you can help them leave your life forever because it is what they need. Fuck the resurrection story. Fuck the star-crossed lovers. Fuck the epic journey to destroy the ring. This is real tragic beauty.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2010 [36 favorites]


The sanctity of life should never overrule one's desire to end their own suffering.

I'd imagine that someone would be rather strongly guessing their god(s) will if they were dying a slow death with no way out except for death. A life of suffering with no chance for respite (in this world) doesn't seem so very sacred if you're the one living it.

But until I'm there, I can only provide my conjectures and wild guesses. And I hope/pray that I'll never be there, in either of the shoes of Mr. Gosling or his lover.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't it awfully exciting to watch culture spin itself out on the fly? Wherever we are in twenty, thirty, or forty years, we'll know we were there to watch it happen bit by bit.

I know what you mean and to some degree do share that feeling, but on the other hand it mostly depresses me, just about daily, to see that we still haven't overcome issues that we as a species should be bigger and smarter than to let bother us. Like you, I just wish overnight everyone could suddenly accept homosexuality, rather than fearing it. All these irrational beliefs, be they about gays, left or right wing politics... It's just too frustrating half the time.
posted by opsin at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I certainly hope that if or when the time comes, I have someone in my life who loves me enough to do the exact same thing.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sanctity of life should never overrule one's desire to end their own suffering.

Reads like someone who's never had to suffer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:32 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


C_D - are you reading that backwards? It's a bit complex to parse, so maybe you should try again.
posted by muddgirl at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


I think this piece gives a bit more context about how this 'confession' came about - he was doing a piece on mortality and thought it would be important to include his experience.
posted by winna at 8:35 AM on February 16, 2010


Civil_Disobedient -- I think you're missing out the 'never'. I actually did that too, the first time I read it.
posted by Drexen at 8:36 AM on February 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


There's heart-wrenching short film about this topic (loving murder) called Love (includes a link to watch it online).

It pretty much sums up the pro argument, it's sad that laws are w/o compassion and judges/jury are forced to follow minimum sentencing guidelines.
posted by jpeacock at 8:39 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just wish overnight everyone could suddenly accept homosexuality, rather than fearing it.

Me, too, but I think this specific instance is about end-of-life issues as much, if not more, than homosexuality. Don't know if we'll ever be able to substitute "death" (or maybe "bereavement," even more so?) in that wish. Homosexuality, we've at least got a shot at.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:39 AM on February 16, 2010


muddgirl, I suspect the BBC have done that because the default position among the vast majority of UK readers will be of sympathy and support for Gosling, so it's OK to get the dissenting voice up there near the lede, plus there's the added factor that the quoted doctor is making accusations about the BBC's own behaviour, so they'll want to look even-handed about that..
As I understand it, the police are obliged to investigate any admission like this, and I am fairly confident the CPS won't take this to court on the grounds that it won't be in the public interest.
posted by Abiezer at 8:40 AM on February 16, 2010


In Canada, the Robert Latimer case is similar. Snuffed his suffering child, and paid the price for the crime of murder.

Compassionate it may be, but until the laws are changed, it's still a crime with a victim.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reads like someone who's never had to suffer.

C_D, I may have written it in a clumsy way, but I think you misunderstand my point.
posted by NationalKato at 8:47 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Abiezer - it just strikes me as odd, given that they could have included more relevant dissenting quotes than those from an organization who are against what is at this point a theoretical crime.

If the news agency potentially acted inappropriately by not reporting to the cops when the segment was filmed, then a journalistics ethics expert would be a better source to talk to. Heck, even an expert on end-of-life issues. But I just don't see how "Care Not Killing" has a legitimate dog in this fight, especially before police have even investigated whether the confession is possibly true.

I mean, might as well throw in a disclaimer from pillow manufacturers while they're at it.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2010


God, how awful. I'm interested to hear this man speak so honestly, frightened for him that he might be in legal trouble, and mostly just overwhelmingly sad at this man's loss. I admire his courage for speaking out.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2010


Just after Christmas, my wife's 91 year old grandmother (who was living in an assisted living facility, doing pretty well) had difficulty standing up from her chair. The nurse on duty noted very high blood pressure and called us (we're the responsible family for her care). We instructed them to take her to the small hospital (a block away). I arrived shortly afterwards, she was alert, scared, and embarrassed to be there, she hated being a burden on anyone.

I sat with her through the night in the ER as they attempted to pin down the symptoms, eventually doing a cat scan and suspecting a neurological issue. At 3 am she was transferred to a larger hospital, I went home for the rest of the night.

The next morning we arrived to find her looking a bit weak, and as the day went on we started to suspect a stroke due to some very subtle changes in her speech and face.

By the next morning the neurologist confirmed the stroke, and also informed us of multiple tumors in her brain. Ironically her regular physician called us that day to report that a biopsy done two days before on a strange spot on her skin indicated cancer.

Three days after the stroke, she had lost all movement on the left side of her body, her speech was getting worse and she looked like she had aged 5 years. Each day her physical abilities deteriorated, however, through the communication we could manage, it was clear that she was still sharp as a tack mentally, she knew full well what was happening. The neurologist told us clearly that this was not going to get better.

At the end of the first week post-stroke, we began to discuss palliative care with the team at the hospital, we had had many conversations with her in the past about how this type of situation might be handled, and she had made it clear that she did not want any heroic measures taken.

Three days later we transferred her to a hospice facility, by that time she was barely talking, was on tremendous amounts of pain killers to relieve the agony of tightened muscles in her leg and arm.

By the next day, there was only about ten minutes where we felt we were connecting with her, the morphine had been increased to huge levels, and doubled whenever she indicated that it hurt.

Late that afternoon, as we sat on the couch in her room watching her sleep fitfully, we saw her open her eyes. My wife went to her, took her hand, her grandmother said my wife's name and closed her eyes.

A few minutes later, she stopped breathing, I started to stand, my wife, still holding her hand indicated that I shouldn't do anything, I stood there silently. After about three minutes with no breathing, she opened her eyes and looked at us. My wife quietly said "It's OK, it's time. We love you." Her grandmother nodded her head twice, and closed her eyes.

Although I've experienced the death of many people I love in the past 61 years, I had never been present when it happened. And, although the quick route through the hospital and the struggle with medication, tubes, catheters, etc. was not pleasant for her, those final moments were peaceful, she made a decision and let go. My image of death changed from that point on, I no longer see it as something that is imposed, but as as journey we could chose.

This beautiful woman could have been kept alive for weeks, maybe months, while her cancer spread, while the silent tumors in her brain became larger and began to scream for more pain, and as the dignity of her 91 years of grace and kindness was lost in the tubes and monitors of a cold hospital room. She made a choice and communicated it well before the stroke, and we, in a way, made the same decision Gosling did.

May any attempt to place blame or guilt on him because of his actions fail miserably and, instead, move us further to allowing each individual to die thoughtfully and peacefully.
posted by HuronBob at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2010 [142 favorites]


Well we know his side of the story.
posted by pianomover at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


May any attempt to place blame or guilt on him because of his actions fail miserably and, instead, move us further to allowing each individual to die thoughtfully and peacefully.

Unless it was murder, also a pillow held over your face by another person till you suffocate doesn't seem to fall into the "thoughtfully and peacefully" category.
posted by pianomover at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


After a night of drinking we were standing outside the bar just the three of us, just a few minutes before dawn, when he said "How can you let people suffer like this and turn away from them and do nothing?" Then tears pooled up around his eyes and his voice cracked and he said "Never, never again . . ." a sobbing sound "To let people suffer alone like that because they're gay?"

That is as close as I've gotten to the suffering of the AIDs epidemic, how sheltered I've been from it. To see this smart, kind, larger than life man with this wound that will never heal wrestle with the pain of it and the indifference of the straight community was enough to knock the cobwebs lose from my heart. I've lived in the shadow of human suffering and not heard their cry until it was to late. It's all just to easy.
posted by nola at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2010


Hospice.
posted by pianomover at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2010


HuronBob, thank you for sharing your experience with us.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, the issues raised are entirely within Care Not Killing's purview AFAICS. I don't agree with the positions they advocate, but from what I can tell they go about it in a pretty responsible fashion (was just reading their article on the issues surrounding Gosling's statement) - there are strong views on this but the debate's not as poisonous as it might be in the US (there's a number of Christian groups in Care Not Killing but it's not exclusively so and we're not having exactly the same culture wars). Plus various of the concerns from the disabled groups and so on associated with the Care Not Killing campaign are legitimate to raise in the public debate.
The DPP was asked to come up with guidelines late last year on when to prosecute in instances of assisted suicide and he made it pretty clear compassionate grounds would feature strongly when weighing a case, though I believe those are still only interim guidelines and I presume with Mr Gosling the police be looking at whether there was any pact and so on. But given the controversy the issue arouses and the fact it is genuinely a matter of life and death, I think the debate has been by and large reasonable.
posted by Abiezer at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, the issues raised are entirely within Care Not Killing's purview AFAICS.

IF the confession is true. Which we don't even know. Because the investigation is ongoing.

Maybe it's just a personal editorial quirk, but publishing "he shouldn't have done what he claims that he did" is a waste of space.
posted by muddgirl at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2010


"a pillow held over your face by another person till you suffocate doesn't seem to fall into the "thoughtfully and peacefully" category"

Everything is relative...
posted by HuronBob at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


RAY GOSLING with the very first garden gnome.

free ray gosling.
posted by Hammond Rye at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


You just made me cry a little bit, HuronBob.

In a good way, though.
posted by idiomatika at 9:56 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Incredibly brave of him to confess this.

I love Ray Gosling - such an amazingly interesting and expressive voice. I remember listening to him a lot when I was growing up.
posted by DanCall at 10:03 AM on February 16, 2010


This issue is a bit more complex than some of you are making it out to be. While I agree that the ability to determine the course of your own life is a critical right in any remotely good society, it is not the only issue here. Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that individuals have the right to end their own lives in times of extreme duress and pain. (I'd even grant the stronger claim that individuals have the right to end their own life at any time whether they are suffering or not, since it's hard to draw a non-arbitrary line between these two scenarios.)

But what should we think about the effects of establishing a permissive policy based on that right?

Imagine two individuals both equally infirm (elderly or not). One wishes to have a so-called dignified death in which no extraordinary measures are taken to prolong his life. (I say "so-called" because I do not agree with the implication that other deaths are not dignified.) Perhaps he even wants his life to actively ended in the right circumstances. The other wishes to live as long as possible and to have all heroic measures taken on his behalf. Certainly he has the right to that position.

If decisions were made in a vacuum then perhaps we could accommodate both desires, but decisions are not made in a vacuum. The man wishing to have his life prolonged will almost certainly feel pressure to opt for euthanasia. He will be unable to avoid all of the positive sentiments directed at "the right to choose death" (like those expressed in this thread). He will almost certainly think of himself as a burden on his family. Perhaps his desire to cling to life will be seen as irrational and inappropriate (certainly there is a undercurrent of this tone in many commentaries on the issue). Is it right that this man feels pressure to end his life before he wants to? Is it right that he be made to feel bad (and thus that his suffering be increased) by his desire to live? Is it acceptable that he might choose to die before he would normally want to because of this pressure?

I am not saying that this observation makes it obvious that euthanasia ought to be kept illegal, but there are good (rational, moral, humane, humanistic) points on both sides. The answer is not obvious. In fact in other other cases we definitely circumscribe individual freedoms because of the negative effect that exercising them would have on society as a whole.
posted by oddman at 10:03 AM on February 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


This is a really, really difficult thing for me to read today. For anyone who hasn't nursed a love one through terminal illness, I hope you never have to. Especially a non-verbal person, who can't express their own wishes. The sense of wanting just one more day with that person, of being willing to do anything or suffer any pain to save them, can be violently real. On the other hand, the knowledge that no self-torture will save them, that they might be in pain they can't express and the feeling of inadequacy as a caregiver (and in my case, parent) is something I wish no one had to endure. Having had to walk this path myself, I can't presume to direct what other families should do in the absence of express wishes from the patient, however when a patient can express their desires, I believe they should be absolutely followed.

I have seen this topic discussed on Metafilter in various ways, and it seems to me to be one of the topics MeFites handle WELL. With kindness, with consideration, with gentleness and with an open mind.
posted by bunnycup at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


oddman, I agree that the answer is not obvious. All I can hope is that, in the example you provided, that person's family and friends will accept his decision to prolong his life as long as possible, and thereby alleviate some of the guilt and/or pressure he may feel within himself for the perceived burden.
posted by NationalKato at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2010



The sanctity of life should never overrule one's desire to end their own suffering.

Reads like someone who's never had to suffer.


Hmmm. Looks like c_d's account has been hacked.
posted by notreally at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2010


Looks like I am one of the few people here who thinks there is a big difference between hospice care, medical assisted suicide, and smothering someone with a pillow with no indication that they wanted to be killed.
posted by grouse at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2010


grouse... in the article linked "the Nottingham filmmaker said he had made a pact with his lover to act if his suffering increased"

I guess, at this point, I'm taking him at his word.

A couple of folks have noted the "smother with a pillow" aspect of this and see it as problematic. I can't disagree with that. Perhaps the point that should be taken is, without a cultural acceptance of assisted suicide, people resort to methods that are, often, not the most effective (for lack of a better word).
posted by HuronBob at 10:23 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


thanks for that story, HuronBob.

Prosecuting this man would be a moral travesty as well as a legal one. I would certainly do the same in that situation, and would hope my lover would do the same if I were the one on the hospital bed.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, we know nothing about the condition of Gosling's partner at the end. We can only speculate whether or not smothering was any more traumatic than, say, removing a feeding tube.
posted by muddgirl at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


God these stories always break my heart. HuronBob, thank you for sharing your experience with your wife's grandmother.

This Swiss film, about the right-to-die association Exit, is one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen. I saw it at a film festival, and although I've searched for it on DVD, it unfortunately doesn't seem to be available. If you ever get the chance, do see it. It is beautiful and moving, and provides a picture of what the right to die with dignity means, for those who seek it and those who provide it. (Trailer here.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2010


there is a big difference between hospice care, medical assisted suicide, and smothering someone with a pillow with no indication that they wanted to be killed

I'm not so certain I would put medically assisted suicide into that spectrum of choice, when it is no more a legal option in the UK than asphyxiation with pillow. Both would be considered assisting with suicide — if not outright homicide — and the person who does either could well be charged and sentenced to a long stretch in Her Majesty's prison system.

Regardless of the option chosen, there should certainly be a legal framework that demands instigation by and the assent of the patient. That assent appears to have been provided to Gosling, unless the police determine otherwise from their investigation. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that a terminally-ill, end-stage AIDS patient would wish to be kept alive by all means possible.

If Gosling is guilty of murder, then he should be prosecuted. But that is not at all obvious from the situation as described so far.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:00 AM on February 16, 2010


There are lots of instances where people are in the last stages of dying of cancer and their partners or families go ahead and overdose them with morphine, knowing the result.

Yes. They do.
posted by jokeefe at 11:07 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Until our laws accommodate euthanasia in a manner that ensures the dying have chosen to terminate their lives, we pretty much have to err on the side of safety, which means treating this case of suffocation as a murder.

It sucks, but to not maintain the law as currently written is to introduce a monstrous hole in our ability to prosecute murder.

It behooves us to get our shit together rather more quickly than we have, because it is abundantly clear that end-of-life issues are causing unreasonable suffering and leading people to take unreasonable risks in their effort to do the right thing.

There are a whole lot of baby boomers facing these decisions right now. I anticipate that their experiences watching their own parents suffer years of dementia and pain are going to inform their decisions and help us move toward a reasonable set of preparatory planning and communication.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:53 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


If decisions were made in a vacuum then perhaps we could accommodate both desires, but decisions are not made in a vacuum. The man wishing to have his life prolonged will almost certainly feel pressure to opt for euthanasia. He will be unable to avoid all of the positive sentiments directed at "the right to choose death" (like those expressed in this thread). He will almost certainly think of himself as a burden on his family. Perhaps his desire to cling to life will be seen as irrational and inappropriate (certainly there is a undercurrent of this tone in many commentaries on the issue). Is it right that this man feels pressure to end his life before he wants to? Is it right that he be made to feel bad (and thus that his suffering be increased) by his desire to live? Is it acceptable that he might choose to die before he would normally want to because of this pressure?

It's not any more acceptable than it is for the first man, whose doctors and family may pressure him to live in pain even though he wishes to die.

He will be unable to avoid all the positive sentiments about "the sanctity of life", after all, and will almost certainly think of his wish to die as a burden on his family, who must risk imprisonment to fulfill it. His desire to die will be seen as irrational and inappropriate (certainly there is an undercurrent of this tone in many commentaries on the issue). Is it right that he be made to feel bad (and thus that his suffering be increased) by his desire to die? Is it acceptable that he might choose to live longer than he would normally want to because of this pressure?

Is it right that he not be allowed to die?

That, to me, is the difference here. No one seriously suggests that ill patients be forced to die, yet we routinely force them to live, and then speak in hushed tones of how slippery-slope the whole issue might become if we did not. Well, guess what? We're already at the bottom of one end of the slope. We already force everybody to die our way, often to the point of deliberate cruelty.

If this were really about "pressure" and "decisions are not made in a vacuum", then the obvious solution would be to mitigate this through the counsel of a doctor, and then allow the patient and their family to decide. This is exactly we do for major surgery, chemotherapy, and other life-altering medical decisions, despite the fact that many choices amount to a wish for death... yet somehow the immediate decision to die is "different". Not to me.
posted by vorfeed at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love Ray Gosling - such an amazingly interesting and expressive voice. I remember listening to him a lot when I was growing up.

Yeah, I grew up with Ray Gosling as well. In the 60's, he was a young, trendy radical reporter working out of the North West for Granada.

He vanished from my TV screen for ages, and the next I saw him -- which must have been nearly forty years later -- he was presenting a documentary about the injustices meted out upon the men who'd gotten arrested and jailed as part of Operation Spanner.

Gosling was one of the UK's earliest activists for Gay Rights -- and certainly one of the highest profile activists in that period before it became acceptable. The website that he produces with fellow activist Allan Horsfall, Gay Monitor stands out as a beacon of humanity in an inhumane world.

There aren't many as brave or as committed as Ray has been. Hope this doesn't end badly for him.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:14 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


there are good (rational, moral, humane, humanistic) points on both sides. The answer is not obvious.

This is true of most contentious issues, both the ones MetaFilter "does well" and those it does not.
posted by cribcage at 12:23 PM on February 16, 2010


vorfeed, as I said there are good points on both sides. But here is something else for you to consider:

The person forced to live longer than they wish to is forced to endure pain without their consent. This is usually described as torture.

The person that is forced to die before the wish to has their life taken away without their consent. This is usually described as murder.

The default position that you decry would therefore seem to be founded on the belief that murder is worse than torture. This seems, to me, to be a reasonable intuition. Certainly I would rather be tortured than killed. (Of course I would rather be neither tortured nor killed.) Which is to say, that a restrictive law that prevents murder at the cost of some torture is not as bad as a permissive law that prevents torture at the cost of some murders.

I realize that this will seem to many to be a false dichotomy. Why not have a mediation system that neither tortures nor murders? Of course, this is the ideal. The question is, given our culture and our health care system (in the US) is such a solution going to come out soon, even if it's possible.
posted by oddman at 12:26 PM on February 16, 2010


The default position that you decry would therefore seem to be founded on the belief that murder is worse than torture. This seems, to me, to be a reasonable intuition. Certainly I would rather be tortured than killed. (Of course I would rather be neither tortured nor killed.) Which is to say, that a restrictive law that prevents murder at the cost of some torture is not as bad as a permissive law that prevents torture at the cost of some murders.

Which is, of course, why we routinely torture our beloved pets to death rather than stoop to "murdering" them, right? And why we don't tend to consider a quick, painless death to have been a "blessing"?

The belief that murder is worse than torture does not always match our culture's view of pain and death, as the points above make clear. There are many cases in which we do tend to consider torture to be much worse than death, and the prolonged suffering of a person who is severely ill and/or close to death is one of them. The belief that murder is worse than torture does happen to match our culture's view of criminality... but the idea that this is a criminal matter rather than a medical one is a political decision. No one claims that a patient who asks for chemotherapy has chosen "torture" over "murder", for instance, even though that parallel is just as valid as yours.

Also, our system of law has often chosen to be permissive over restrictive, when the choice arises -- we often say "it is better for the guilty to go free than for an innocent man to be jailed", for instance, and we often allow whole cases to be overturned on evidence, even when it's reasonably obvious that the defendant is guilty. IMHO, if we can do that, we can certainly say "it is better for some murders to go un-prosecuted than to force everyone to be tortured".

And, again, you're framing this as a choice between a system which forces murder or a system which forces torture. This is not what I'm advocating -- I'm advocating a choice. Unless you have serious evidence as to why our entire society would suddenly choose to kill Grandma despite her wishes, I don't buy the idea that allowing this choice inevitably leads to forced murder, the way disallowing it currently has led to forced torture.
posted by vorfeed at 1:00 PM on February 16, 2010


The lack of a legal assisted suicide option seems to me to force medical professionals to look the other way.

There may be the occasional case where someone took advantage of that tendency to snuff a relative who didn't actually want to die yet, but was running up the hospital bills, or maybe who had just confessed to something that was weighing on them for a long time, such as an affair, etc...

Basically, I think the edge cases of murder masquerading as assisted suicide would be lessened by legalizing it and developing a process that included the input of patient advocates and medical professionals. Also, it might relieve people like Ray Gosling of some of the burden of decades of horrific guilt.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2010


The problem I have with the assisted suicide movement is that it permits us to assess the viability of another human life and make a call: live or die.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2010


Um, seriously? Death panels, KokuRyu?
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:24 PM on February 16, 2010


The problem I have with the assisted suicide movement is that it permits us to assess the viability of another human life and make a call: live or die.

Ah, no, assisted suicide means that we can legally enable another human life to make the call for themselves, even if they are completely paralyzed. If we were making the decision, by any definition it wouldn't be suicide.
posted by cmonkey at 2:29 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem I have with the assisted suicide movement is that it permits us to assess the viability of another human life and make a call: live or die.

Again, I think this pretends as though we don't already make this call. I think we do, even to the point of using extreme measures to enforce that call; we simply call it "live" regardless of whether or not that human life agrees.

If the vast majority of people in this country were dying natural deaths, I might have some sympathy for your argument; as it is, most people die in the hospital, a place where they are already forced to keep living due to the choice of another. The idea that there is no "call" involved in initiating resuscitation and/or connecting dying patients to life support is somewhat bizarre -- feeding tubes, oxygen lines, and the like don't spontaneously jump down patients' throats.

Deciding to help people live is just as much a call as deciding to help them die.
posted by vorfeed at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2010


vorfeed, you may not think there is a distinction between how pets are treated and how people are treated. I do. In any case that's a derail.

Second, I am not disingenuously framing the date. I explicitly acknowledged that there is a conceptual false dichotomy and stated that my concerns are actually about the practical ability to implement a just system.

Third, your request for data is, I think, unfair. I am discussing a realistic, plausible scenario. Nevertheless there is plenty of evidence that people give in to peer pressure on all sorts of issues. So, it is reasonable to assume that things will be no different in this case. Furthermore, we don't have to imagine a nefarious family that chooses to commit murder under the guise of mercy. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to think that a permissive policy will lead to a permissive default attitude in society (this sort of trend is born out by history, e.g. divorce). Thus people may feel that they don't have the option to stay alive, even though no one is explicitly pressuring them.
posted by oddman at 2:56 PM on February 16, 2010


You know what, I'm just going to go on record as saying that I support people giving in to peer pressure to end their lives on their own terms. We've spent the entirety of human existence fighting death as a terrible and awful thing and I think it's put huge deep scars into the collective psyche of our species. If the next generations of humans look at the end of life not as something to be feared and delayed but something to be accepted and decided, then I think we'll actually be going a lot further toward conquering death than any Judeo-Christian-pseudo-deity has.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:13 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think you're missing out the 'never'. I actually did that too, the first time I read it.

I IS STUPID.
Sorry. I happens from time-to-time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:14 PM on February 16, 2010


It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to think that a permissive policy will lead to a permissive default attitude in society (this sort of trend is born out by history, e.g. divorce). Thus people may feel that they don't have the option to stay alive, even though no one is explicitly pressuring them.

So, does it follow that people feel they don't have the option to stay married, even though no one is explicitly pressuring them?

This is what I meant by my "request for data" -- while permissive policy may indeed lead to a permissive default attitude in society, I see no evidence whatsoever that this leads to a lack of choice as to which option to take. Society does not force people to drink, to smoke, to divorce, to eat at McDonalds, to be promiscuous, or to take any number of other actions toward which it has an extremely "permissive default attitude". Currently, however, society does force suffering patients to live.

I am discussing a realistic, plausible scenario.

I disagree. "If we legalize X option, people will eventually be forced by society to do the exact opposite of what they do now" is neither realistic nor plausible. Again, this did not happen with regards to your own example, despite widespread legal and social acceptance of divorce, and I am having a very hard time imagining a future in which it might happen with assisted suicide because we legalized it. The law simply does not drive cultural values to this extent.

Besides, as greekphilosophy points out, a change in this particular cultural value might not necessarily be a bad thing. We are all going to face death; thus, death is a part of each of our lives. In the long run, an emphasis on how we die rather than when we die might actually increase our respect for the entirety of human life, not just the part that happens when we're healthy.
posted by vorfeed at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fortunately, the discussion of euthanasia is already well underway in Canada.

Cancer is the highest-ranking killer of those above the age of majority, but medical technologies make it possible to delay death for weeks and months. I daresay most people have counted down the days of a loved one's unbearable suffering while cancer gnaws their organs, brains, and bones. It is the stuff of nightmares.

As a consequence, I think most of us understand that it is often better to die peacefully without excruciating pain, than to be subjected to end-of-life "care" that only serves to put off the inevitable at the cost of torturous suffering. One can hardly bear witness to the drawn-out process without feeling horror that we allow the medical establishment to do such things to our family member.

In my blunt opinion, those who oppose the development of right-to-death laws are either ignorant or cruel. Spending some time on a cancer ward might be just the ticket for changing their minds. Let's see how they feel after they watch people die in sustained agony as fruitless measures are taken to delay the inevitable.

It's time for our culture to grow the fuck up. We're not going to escape death. Let's make it as good as we can, then. We need legalized euthanasia, and a framework that supports individuals and families in making decisions based on love, not fear.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, no, assisted suicide means that we can legally enable another human life to make the call for themselves, even if they are completely paralyzed. If we were making the decision, by any definition it wouldn't be suicide.

What about children? Ought they to be able to decide for themselves? What about retarded adults? I'm thinking about ones who can't really understand the idea of death.

And should it be a crime to persuade someone to commit suicide? Say, a wealthy and elderly relative?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:40 PM on February 16, 2010


Certainly I would rather be tortured than killed.

This is a bit more complex than a choice between torture and death. If anything, it's a choice between 'being tortured' for an extended period with no hope that the torture might do anything but get more painful and debasing until an inevitable painful death; or being killed quickly and without much pain.

And even if you're still certain that you'd make that choice, that you'd rather live through every single second of excruciating pain that you could squeeze out of your life, what makes it the only valid choice? Or, rather, why is it that someone who would make a different choice shouldn't have that honored?
posted by polymath at 4:59 PM on February 16, 2010


I stand on the side of defending folks' right to choose to die when they want to.

I'd prefer it to be with as little drama and trauma for survivors as possible.

Part of what bothers me about folks who moralize about the choices other folks make about when and how they want to die is that those moralizers make that end messier with their dissent. On the other hand, I also defend free expression.

I just wish that we could be nicer to each other even when we dissent.
posted by kalessin at 5:04 PM on February 16, 2010


The person forced to live longer than they wish to is forced to endure pain without their consent. This is usually described as torture.

The person that is forced to die before the wish to has their life taken away without their consent. This is usually described as murder.

The default position that you decry would therefore seem to be founded on the belief that murder is worse than torture. This seems, to me, to be a reasonable intuition. Certainly I would rather be tortured than killed. (Of course I would rather be neither tortured nor killed.) Which is to say, that a restrictive law that prevents murder at the cost of some torture is not as bad as a permissive law that prevents torture at the cost of some murders.


This isn't a fair description. It's not like they're tortured for a while, then released and they return to health. The two possibilities are an immediate easy death and a torturous slow death with a very small possibility of a return to health through a miracle remission, say less than a one in a million chance. Most of us would consider the slow painful death to be the worst of the two possibilities.

It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to think that a permissive policy will lead to a permissive default attitude in society (this sort of trend is born out by history, e.g. divorce). Thus people may feel that they don't have the option to stay alive, even though no one is explicitly pressuring them.

At one time I had a similar concern about abortion. By making it difficult to get an abortion, society would champion the worth of the fetus and ensure that the decision was made with due gravity. The more easily accessible the procedure is, the less regard we show for the consequence of the procedure, the demise of the fetus. I still think this argument has merit. The decline in the percentage of children given up for adoption suggests that we have grown more casual about the destruction of a fetus. This is tragic and I would expect tragic consequences from enabling access to euthanasia or widespread adoption of policies like this. But still, I choose those options over their alternatives, because I believe people are good and I want them to have the capacity to respond to their occasion. Furthermore, I believe we nurture goodness by encouraging each other to make decisions, to take initiative, to accept consequences and to recognize the necessity of trusting each other. On either side of these dilemmas there will be horrific outcomes no matter what policy we make. Given that starting point, we can trust that the people involved will respond as well or better than any restrictive policy over the entire set of instances where this choice would be or could be made.
posted by BigSky at 5:05 PM on February 16, 2010


What about children? Ought they to be able to decide for themselves?

In my experience, which is not of a medical practitioner but as a parent who lost a child to cancer and who lived 6 months in a cancer hospital and supported others through friendship and listening, childrens' wishes on these matters are to some extent considered. The extent I mean is that for verbal children of an appropriate age, the kinds of procedures they want or don't want are discussed and their input is considered. Thus, they may express an unwillingness to undergo certain "last chance" treatments, or may participate in the decision to stop cure-based treatment and transition to palliative care. They will typically be involved in decisions about the level of pain medication they want, particularly when pain control sacrifices mobility.

Of course, adults are participants in their own care decisions as well. I find it to be a great inconsistency with our ideals of autonomy in medical decision making that we allow adults to decide whether to receive blood transfusions or not, to receive chemo and radiation and organ transplants, but once they are beyond all help we then to some degree force continued life on them. Able but sick adults sometimes have options, but how much more respectful could an already terribly difficult process be if rather than denying autonomy when it might be most critical, we respected it? I don't think respecting autonomy in the right to die is as big a leap from respecting autonomy in the right to live, as some rhetoric claims it is.
posted by bunnycup at 5:11 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Society does not force people to drink, to smoke, to divorce, to eat at McDonalds, to be promiscuous,"

Are you serious?
posted by oddman at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2010


"Society does not force people to drink, to smoke, to divorce, to eat at McDonalds, to be promiscuous," Are you serious?

Yes, of course. There are millions of people who do not do those things, despite social pressure. In fact, I'd wager that the majority of us choose not to do at least one or more of them. Thus, society does not force (key word: force) these kinds of behaviors, as it does currently force patients to live.

Again, if we're to accept that a "permissive default attitude in society" causes people to believe that they "don't have the option", then why do we continue to behave as though we have options? Do you, yourself, seriously feel as though you have no option but to wash your Happy Meal down with Jack Daniels before smoking a smooth Marlboro outside of the divorce court you've gone to because you'd rather sleep around? Come on.
posted by vorfeed at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2010


I daresay most people have counted down the days of a loved one's unbearable suffering while cancer gnaws their organs, brains, and bones. It is the stuff of nightmares

It is. I've watched it. And I don't see the problem with assisted suicide, and absolutely reserve the right to claim my individual autonomy to take that road should I feel it necessary (after a terminal diagnosis, in other words). And to receive help, if I'm unable to manage it myself. My mother's made it clear she feels the same. There have been a few instances in my family when those who were close to death were eased through the last hours or days with morphine; from my understanding it was very common, though never talked of, in the early decades of the 20th century when medical technology was less sophisticated than it is now.
posted by jokeefe at 5:41 PM on February 16, 2010


The more easily accessible the procedure is, the less regard we show for the consequence of the procedure, the demise of the fetus. I still think this argument has merit.

Except that it is not true. The presence or absence of legal abortion has been shown to have very little effect on the abortion rate. It does, however, significantly factor into how many women are mutilated by botched DIY and back-alley procedures; and, naturally, increased education and access to contraceptives is the surest way of reducing the abortion rate.

posted by five fresh fish at 5:53 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking of the Robert Latimer case here in Canada, were a man killed his disabled daughter (carbon monoxide poisoning) because her disability was so severe, and because he had no real help to deal with her disability.

Although I can understand and sympathize with Latimer's motivations, I still think he was wrong. The issue with assisted suicide is that it may become an easy option that we become accustomed too, and that we may devalue the lives of folks who are born with severe disabilities.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2010


KokuRyu, I say this without any intention of depriving you of the right to your opinion (and I recognize that you've formed it with sensitivity and care), but goddammit I wish I had words to communicate the pain a parent feels when their child is terminally ill, in severe pain and every doctor tells that parent nothing can be done to save their child or ameliorate her condition. We came home from the hospital with a prognosis of a few weeks' survival on January 17, and my daughter died on the morning of February 17. I have pretty good documentation of the distinction from the time she was awake, alert, eating, in little to know pain and engaged with the world, to when she was unconscious, on concentrated morphine and ativan, having irregular movement due to the brain pressure. She didn't know we were there. We watched her lose weight, unable to eat. I'll stop there, because I think most people don't even want to know what the parents of terminally ill children see and experience, and what the children endured. They want to write those circumstances off, or, to be more generous, they really can't comprehend it.

I don't know the Latimer family personally, but I am pretty confident saying that NOTHING they went through was easy. The only thing that is "easy", is judging the amount of pain they should be forced to watch their child endure. It's "easy" to say that people should never consider euthanasia. It's "easy" to say that a parent should always preserve life, even when there's no chance of survival and their own child is suffering and dying slow in front of their eyes.

Again, you are entitled to your opinion, and I agree that the preservation of life, the valuation of the life and respect of disabled adults and children are important goals. But the black and white that people sometimes use in these discussions often doesn't exist in reality.
posted by bunnycup at 6:18 PM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm thinking of the Robert Latimer case here in Canada, were a man killed his disabled daughter (carbon monoxide poisoning) because her disability was so severe, and because he had no real help to deal with her disability.

Although I can understand and sympathize with Latimer's motivations, I still think he was wrong. The issue with assisted suicide is that it may become an easy option that we become accustomed too, and that we may devalue the lives of folks who are born with severe disabilities.


I don't know what word to use to describe the Robert Latimer story. Sad just doesn't get it. I have a hard time understanding how his actions can be considered wrong. It's one thing to support the law, but if this isn't an example of Right vs. Right, what would be? The case has a shape similar to an ancient tragedy, it screams out for jury nullification.

"Supposing the life of X . . . were linked with our own so that the two deaths had to be simultaneous, should we still wish him to die? If with our whole body and soul we desire life and if nevertheless without lying, we can reply 'yes', then we have the right to kill."
- Simone Weil

-----

Except that it is not true. The presence or absence of legal abortion has been shown to have very little effect on the abortion rate. It does, however, significantly factor into how many women are mutilated by botched DIY and back-alley procedures; and, naturally, increased education and access to contraceptives is the surest way of reducing the abortion rate.

Interesting article.

Here's the other side of the debate:

Data on abortion decrease in Poland after the change in the abortion laws.

United States abortion rate graph.

Percentage breakdown of reasons for abortion. Note: If strict abortion laws were in place, is it likely that the motives of the set of women undergoing a risky, illegal procedure would be in the same ratio as the motives of the set of women undergoing a safe, legal, fairly accessible and affordable procedure? Highly improbable. I would expect that the group of women seeking out an illegal abortion would have a much higher percentage of women motivated by a life threatening pregnancy, or incest, or rape. Scroll to the bottom and look at 'Reasons for Abortion: Compiled Estimates', the percentages for rape, incest, physical life of mother, physical health of mother and fetal health make up less than 5% when totaled. Close to half of the womens' motives are either 'to avoid adjusting to life' or 'too young / immature / not ready for responsibility'. It's a given that some pregnant women will seek out an abortion no matter what the risk or cost, but to claim that the women motivated by these last two reasons will press on as resolutely as victims of incest, or women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy strains credulity, to put it mildly.
posted by BigSky at 9:38 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I trust my loved ones enough to put my life in their hands. Every day, in their hands and in mine, I've got nothing more to live for. If I can't trust them who would I trust.
posted by nola at 10:06 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why did Ray Gosling assist his lover, with whom he was having an affair, to achieve peace and *not* his partner, who he nursed thru cancer until the natural end?

Those of you being manipulated by the emotions stirred up by this piece are not thinking critically.

I fully support the idea of euthanasia, but Gosling's story has many holes in it, and he has a strong motive for the publicity. He's broke.

He did not 'get his job back' after the revelations about his own economic problems. He's still in parlous financial state.

He also has changed the details in his story. In one version, the doctor gave him the wink and left the room, Gosling implying that the physician knew and gave tacit approval. In the other version of the story, Gosling asks the doctor to leave so that he can be alone with his lover.

The whole thing is very fishy.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:53 PM on February 16, 2010


I too smell fish.
posted by pianomover at 11:17 PM on February 16, 2010


I IS STUPID. Sorry. I happens from time-to-time.

There there.

*smothers Civil_Disobedient with a pillow*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:02 AM on February 17, 2010


Henry C. Mabuse, is there some evidence to rule out the lover having asked for assistance with ending life with the partner, Bryn Allsopp, having expressed the wish to fight until the end? I truly don't know whether there is or isn't, but on its face that doesn't give me a great degree of suspicion. Of course I am open to being wrong if the details and information leads that way.
posted by bunnycup at 6:43 AM on February 17, 2010


I don't know if this has been reported elsewhere, but Globo News, the largest news organization in Brazil, is reporting that Gosling has been arrested. Link for those who read Portuguese
posted by msali at 6:59 AM on February 17, 2010


Just seen that news on the BBC too, msali.
The discussion had me thinking about the contrast in two high-profile recent assisted suicide cases with very different outcomes - Frances Inglis, who was convicted of murder; and Kay Gilderdale, who was cleared of an attempted murder charge.
There was some outrage at the long sentence given Ms Inglis, but as I understand it the jury were swayed by the fact that she killed her son only very shortly after the accident that disabled him and despite him responding or having great potential to respond to treatment. By contrast, Ms Gildersdale assisted the suicide of her daughter, who she had cared for selflessly for many years, as her progressive condition finally worsened. The sentence given to Ms Inglis does seem lengthy in terms of her ongoing potential threat to society, but no doubt the need to discourage hasty recourse to mercy killing was a factor.
Setting aside the specifics of the above two cases, as I only know what I've read in a few news reports and discussions, the current distinction between a genuine last resort and a too-quick resort to euthanasia does seem able to absolve compassionate acts whilst recognising the gravity of any act of killing.
posted by Abiezer at 7:37 AM on February 17, 2010


I don't think the Latimer case is a fair analogy. First, the daughter was not terminally ill. Second, the crown argued that she was not in severe pain/not suffering. They said that her fathers motivation was not ending her pain but ending the burden of caring for her.

The argument that the daughter was not suffering severely was made in large part by adults who shared the daughter's condition and parents whose kids had the condition. As I recall, there was no movement by these groups in support of Latimer (as you would typically see if the disease in question were Cancer or AIDS, for example).

Now whether or not the crown was right in these allegations, I don't know and we'll never know. But the point stands that he was not prosecuted with the argument "Even though you did this out of mercy, this is murder, and murder is wrong." he was was prosecuted with the argument "You didn't do this out of mercy, so this is no different than any other killing for self-interest."

In other words, I don't think the conviction here was necessarily a renouncement of euthanasia (and this would have been euthanasia, not assisted suicide), but could easily have been a pronouncement that the case wasn't really an example of euthanasia.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:14 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've spent the entirety of human existence fighting death as a terrible and awful thing

We who? Different cultures have different approaches to death.

We studied the Latiner case in my Canadian criminal law class. IIRC, one complicating factor is that he was not the primary caretaker, his wife was, and, at least the way it was presented in court, he acted without her knowledge or consent. Not totally confident in my memory, however.

We also learned that in general few of these cases make it to prosecution, and of those that do, very few end up with jail time. But, interestingly, women are een less likely than men to face any given level of criminal punishment.

Perhaps this is because women are more likely to be primary caretakers, and tend o benefit from more of a presumption of altruism than men do. I also theorize that it's something primal in us harking back to ancient pantheons where the god of giving and taking death was practically always female, but that's pure speculation.

There was also a case, either in the UK or Canada, where a woman in her right mind but physically completely compromised, sued for the right to have someone kill her based on equal rights law - a physically able person has the right and ability to kill herself and a disabled person, who lacks the physical ability, should not be denied that same right. Again, she lost, iirc, the court basically accepted her argument but decided that the interests of society to prevent some of the nightmare scenarios people have mentioned in this thread actually overrode that right.

Personally I support euthanasia AND I'm skeptical of the law's ability to handle it well.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did volunteer hospice work for a nursing home for a few years. For the most part it consisted of reading aloud, listening to stories, singing, or even something as simple as holding a hand and smiling.

The hand holding was one of the hardest parts for me. It's hard for most people to imagine what it's like to be completely devoid of the caress of another person who cares for you, and isn't paid to do so - most of the physical interaction for patients was to be changed or bathed, and both are usually terribly embarrassing experiences. It's even harder to imagine that you don't have any family to visit you - or worse, that just don't bother to show up - no one to hug you, to braid your hair. You are dependent on strangers who, on a basic level, are really just waiting for you to die so that your slot can be filled by another dying human. It is depressing, and while you may be old and on the verge of dying, you still want your dignity, and embarrassment still stings just as much now as it did then.

I really connected with a lot of the patients. I never had grandparents of my own, so each person I sat with became my grandparent. And I was genuinely happy to be there, to paint the fingernails of grandmothers, and listen to the stories of grandfathers. I responded to names that were not my own when a patient became confused and thought I was their granddaughter. I traded bad jokes with elderly women, taught a 90 year-old man how to knit, and accepted apologies for things that never happened to me. Along the way I lost many grandparents, but amidst the sadness was a very bright spot in that I helped some people, and it was very rewarding for me in a way that I cannot explain.

The first time someone asked me to kill them I was dumbfounded. Richard was having a good day and was sitting up in bed, a rarity in the time I knew him. His cancer had stopped responding to treatment and metastasized throughout his body - his final months, maybe even only weeks, were not going to be pleasant. He'd been bedridden for quite sometime, and was on some pretty serious pain killers, and while he'd have cloudy days fairly frequently, he was still sharp - extremely intelligent and very quick. We had bonded over To Kill a Mockingbird, Cary Grant movies, and the dark chocolate I'd sometimes sneak in. His partner of 60+ years, Martin, had passed away two years before - I can only hope to love and be loved half as much as what they shared together - and Richard really had no one else in his life, no family to speak of, and he'd outlived his friends. The tragedy in his life was that when Martin began dying, Richard wasn't allowed to be with him overnight due to hospital regulations on only allowing family members to visit, and had resulted in Richard's immense fear of dying alone.

One late afternoon we were playing rummy when suddenly he stopped, put his cards down, took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, "I trust you and I love you. I'm not alone, and Martin is waiting for me. I'm ready to go. Will you help me?"

In four years of volunteer work I reckon I'd been asked seriously around 3 times to end a life, and jokingly countless times. While I learned to recognize signs and anticipate it, and detach myself more from the situation, it was always a shock. But this first time I was 20 and being asked by a fragile old man I called Grandpa with no one else in his life to help him end it. I immediately burst into tears, which was a big no-no as you're supposed to stay cheerful (as much as you can, of course) but I really didn't know what else to do. I had been warned in training that patients might bring it up and you were supposed to immediately steer in an opposite direction or even pretend you hadn't heard or find a staff member, but Richard was smart and would see through that. And once I'd heard it I couldn't unhear it. Nothing prepares you for hearing a person that you love tell you they want to die. You both know it's coming, and that it's inevitable, but it's always tomorrow. Later. Not today. But the prospect of a long, drawn out death had moved him to find a way to hasten it, and so he did the only thing he could, and asked me. All I could do was cry. In a turn of the tables, he held my hand and he comforted me, then told me a funny story about a vacation to Spain he and Martin took when they were both still young men until he fell asleep.

He died on his own, alone in the night, four days later, his body shutting down as he succumbed to his various cancers. I was one of only three people at his funeral. The other two being his brother who turned his back on him when Richard came out, the other, the funeral director. He remembered me in his will as "my granddaughter, Erin" with donations in my name to the American Cancer Society and GLAAD. I make a donation in his memory every year to both organizations.

I didn't cry because he asked, I cried because I couldn't do what he needed. He would have done it himself if he could have moved from his bed, of that I am positive. The guilt I carried for even considering it for a moment has become guilt for being unable to do it - that he suffered for another four days in agony unnecessarily only to die by himself. I will always carry that guilt. If I had the option to go back in time and do it, while knowing full well that he would die in another four days... I can't say for sure that I wouldn't do it. When you're well it's easy to say that you want every single day you can get, but when you're ready to go, a single day can be a lifetime of suffering, and if he'd lived for months longer it absolutely would have been torturous for him. Death is not just a medical event. It is a deeply personal event.

I am overwhelmingly sad for Ray Gosling's loss, and the situation he finds himself in currently. And I fully understand why he did what he did.

And I hope that when I'm sick and ready to go, there's someone there to hold my hand, sing me a song, and allow me to me die when I'm ready.
posted by sephira at 3:13 PM on February 17, 2010 [17 favorites]


Just confirming his arrest.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:47 PM on February 17, 2010


That was Sue Rodriguez, sephira. This has a information about her, and the fight for right-to-die rights in general. Sue eventually committed suicide.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:40 PM on February 17, 2010


HuronBob, I don't know how it took me this long to get to read your comment, but it's really touching, and a great way to reflect on that experience. By virtue of my profession, I've been at the bedside of too many children as they die, and the experiences like yours -- when death is anticipated, and even welcomed as the next step in a process that's unfortunately unable to be arrested -- are the ones I hold onto the closest. I will always remember sitting with one family as we all listened for their daughter to stop breathing; I will always remember the way another family turned the occasion (in an ICU, no less) into a celebration of their child's life, even going so far as each of them holding her on their lap for a few minutes after she passed away and whispering their messages for her into her ear. (Seriously, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about that one.)
posted by delfuego at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


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