Rank sophistry in bioethics about euthanasia and the sanctity of life ethic

By Wesley J. Smith

Utilitarian bioethicists continually deploy sophistry to push the culture of death. Case in point. An Australian bioethicist named Thomas David Riisfeld, argues in the (as usual) subversive, Journal of Medical Ethics that euthanasia is not much different than palliative sedation [PS], and that if one accepts PS as ethical, it means eschewing the sanctity of human life.

Baloney. Palliative sedation–not to be confused with “terminal sedation that induces an artificial coma and denies the patient sustenance so he dehydrates to death–does not intend to cause death, nor does it usually (although any medical treatment can have unintended side effects). Indeed, sometimes PS can extend life because the patient is not in the throes of agony.

Riisfeld argues that one cannot state categorically that palliative never shortens life. Brilliant insight! Neither can one claim that getting a tooth filled never ends life. Any medical treatment can have lethal unintended impact.

Indeed, he proclaims himself “agnostic” on whether PS ends life. THEN, IT ISN’T EUTHANASIA since Euthanasia both kills and intends to kill! Good grief, it isn’t that hard.

His other major point–besides attacking the ethical principle of double effect, not worth deconstructing–is that because PS may sometimes shorten life, it means that accepting it as ethical requires discarding the sanctity of life ethic. The big-brained professor writes:

“In order to maintain that the ATAOs [Appropriately Titrated Administration of Opioids] and palliative sedation satisfy the proportionality criterion and can therefore be justified by the DDE [Doctrine of Double Effect], the Doctrine of the Sanctity of Human Life has to be surrendered. Either human life is of the utmost ethical significance, in which case the proportionality criterion of the DDE cannot be satisfied, or human life is not of the utmost ethical significance (and can be outweighed by other considerations such as pain relief), in which case the proportionality criterion can be maintained but the Doctrine of the Sanctity of Human Life has to be abandoned.”

That’s just silly and creates the flimsiest of straw men. IF IT WERE TRUE, ANY MEDICAL PROCEDURE NOT ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED TO SAVE LIFE WOULD RUN COUNTER TO THE SANCTITY OF LIFE ETHIC! Say, your hip is badly arthritic. Life is miserable and you decide to accept hip replacement surgery. You don’t need the surgery to save your life and you could experience an unintended side effect of infection or embolism that kills you. (I knew one poor fellow who died from such complications of a hip replacement.)

Does that mean anyone who accepts the risks inherent in a hip replacement to obtain the benefit of being able to walk without pain has abandoned the sanctity of life? Utter nonsense. The hip surgery does not intend to kill. It usually doesn’t. Euthanasia does.

Sanctity of life does not mean one can never takes risks or must only do that which intends to maintain life. The only people who turn it into such rigid vitalism are those who oppose the ethic in the first place. The hip surgery does not intend to kill. It usually doesn’t. Euthanasia does.

These kinds of articles proliferate the professional bioethics literature. They would not be worth the time of day, but bioethicists have power in society, so attention must be paid to the crapola they often spew. And it also demonstrates that when it comes to ethics and morality, we listen to the so-called experts in bioethics at morality’s peril.

Editor’s note. This appeared on the Facebook page of The Center on Human Exceptionalism.