Human Exceptionalism

Let’s Find a Way to Kill Alzheimer’s Patients!

Don’t anyone tell me that the mercy killing imperative and cost containment aren’t mixed–driven by a pernicious “quality of life” ethic that denigrates and demeans the moral value of the most weak and vulnerable among us.

The Hastings Center Report–the world’s most influential bioethics journal–has a piece pushing euthanasia for Alzheimer’s patients. As I have reported here, Dutch doctors now are allowed to kill Alzheimer’s patients, a matter cheered on by Erik Parens, a senior researcher at the Hastings Center. From, “Alzheimer’s Disease and Personhood:”

As in the United States, the Dutch conversation about assisted suicide emerged primarily in the context of cancer. At least in that context, before acceding to a request for assistance in dying, caregivers must be sure that the person has made a voluntary and carefully considered request, and that her suffering is unbearable and without prospect of improvement. The Dutch have recently been trying to use those criteria in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. Given the wave of Alzheimer’s cases poised to crash onto wealthy countries, along with emerging technology to detect the disease process before symptoms appear, we should be grateful to the Dutch for that attempt.

The guidelines have always been a farce, broken often without significant legal or professional consequence–including infanticide, non voluntary euthanasia, and the killing of the mentally ill and grieving. And note the bottom line: Alzheimer’s patients should be allowed to be euthanized.

But how to get there ethically? Parens finds it odd that we try to apply concepts of consent to kill people no longer capable of consenting, and indeed, who may not be actually suffering. But, Parens concludes, we still have to find a way to justify their killings!

My guess is that it won’t work terribly well to use the cancer criteria in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. My further guess is that, to make headway, we will have to draw on both the “difference” and the “disease” views. How to do that is hardly clear, but that we need to try is.

Those two final sentences tell us what so much about the nature of the bioethics movement. The point isn’t to apply principles to determine the propriety or impropriety of a proposed policy. Rather, the outcome is predetermined and the goal is to find the best way to justify doing what we already want to do.  Or to put it another way, to find the best philosophical means to support the predetermined ends. Reminds me of the Warren Commission Report

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