Human Exceptionalism

Euthanasia and the danger of Putting Loved Ones Out of Our Misery

Anyone who knows up close what it is like to have a loved one die of Alzheimer’s  can’t help but sympathize with the pain of a husband watching his wife fade away from the dread brain disease. I’ve been there. My uncle died Alzheimer’s.

But legalizing euthanasia for people with dementia would open the door to mercy killing precisely because it is so hard on families.  Indeed, the story of a husband who wants his wife mercy killed illustrates the point precisely.  From the story:

Jack Barnes, 81, has been married to his 80-year-old wife Faye for 59 years. He said they have had a long, fulfilling life together and now his wife wants to “die with dignity,” but North Carolina law does not permit euthanasia. N“It doesn’t make sense to keep her alive,” he said. “She’s basically dead.”

No, she’s not. She is profoundly disabled, and I think that gives her a greater claim on all of us for  love and care, which honors her dignity and her equality.  And indeed, those services are available for people in Faye’s condition–as they were for my uncle.

But things should never get that far, said Carol Long, director of adult daycare at Onslow County Senior Center. Long not only works with the elderly, she cared for her mother who was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease for 15 years before her death in 1999. “No way would I ever consider euthanasia,” she said. “Alzheimer patients don’t know they have the disease. They are comfortable with their situation. Who is suffering the most is family and caregivers who cannot see past the need for 24 hour care.”

Indeed.  My aunt suffered for her husband.  My mother suffered for her brother. My cousin suffered for her father. I suffered every time I visited and held him in my arms–my wonderful uncle.  And therein, in the guise of compassion, lurks pronounced danger to the medically defenseless:

Barnes said he doesn’t feel the laws in North Carolina will change in time to help him or his wife, but maybe the next generation could be spared the pain he has endured watching his wife die in increments.

Barnes is undoubtedly a loving husband at a loss over his terrible loss.  That leads to despair and the desire to do the wrong thing for the right reason.

But there would be others who would have different motives–easily masked by “compassion,” such as the killer George Delury.  Besides, the moment we declare some of us are killable, they will have ceased to be “us,” but become “them.”  That should unacceptable in even the most difficult circumstances.