Monday, October 5, 2009

Euthanizing Animals is Humane, Euthanizing Humans is Not?

I have a google alert on the term euthanasia which means that every time something is posted on the internet which mentions euthanasia, I get an email with a link to the story. More often than not, the alert leads me to a story about animal euthanasia, the killing of a pet or of stray animals at shelters because they are unloved, unwanted, or dying.

I've learned over the past half year that if the alert is directing me to an article about human euthanasia, the article is typically either about the international assisted suicide movement or by "pro-life" activists opposed to assisted suicide (called aid in dying or death with dignity by advocates).

Often opponents to death with dignity use the euthanasia term to hark images from the Holocaust or of animal shelters: systematic use of killing to eradicate the innocent. Yet the same argument is frequently used in other countries to decry the inhumane nature of preventing terminal patients from hastening their deaths.

From the Copenhagen Post Online today comes a story about Kaj Goldbech, a 53 year old terminal patient who traveled to Switzerland to end his life and whose death was the subject of a TV show in Denmark. The article credits the show for reopening the assisted suicide debate in Denmark.

Goldbech is quoted in the article as saying, "If I treated my animals like we treat humans and just let them suffer, I’d be found guilty of animal abuse and neglect and wouldn’t able to own animals anymore."

He calls the euthanasia of terminal animals humane, and the continuing illegality of euthanasia for humans (in Denmark) as lacking compassion. The same argument is made in the US for opposition to euthanasia or assisted suicide. We reserve hastening death for animals, humans are not animals and "every day is a gift from God," the argument goes.

One analogy - euthanasia is for animals - indicated by a loaded term - euthanasia - works two ways in the world's grappling with the issue of assisted suicide.

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