Issues in Population and Bioethics



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The Debate about Cloning

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

 

There are two types of cloning. One involves harvesting stem cells from embryos ("therapeutic cloning"). These are the biological equivalent of a template. They can develop into any kind of mature functional cell and thus help cure many degenerative and auto-immune diseases.



The other kind of cloning is much derided in popular culture - and elsewhere - as the harbinger of a Brave, New World. A nucleus from any cell of a donor is embedded in an egg whose own nucleus has been removed. The egg is then implanted in a woman's womb and a cloned baby is born nine months later. Biologically, the cloned infant is a replica of the donor.

Cloning is often confused with other advances in bio-medicine and bio-engineering - such as genetic selection. It cannot - in itself - be used to produce "perfect humans" or select sex or other traits. Hence, some of the arguments against cloning are either specious or fuelled by ignorance.

It is true, though, that cloning, used in conjunction with other bio-technologies, raises serious bio-ethical questions.

Scare scenarios of humans cultivated in sinister labs as sources of spare body parts, "designer babies", "master races", or "genetic sex slaves" - formerly the preserve of B sci-fi movies - have invaded mainstream discourse.

Still, cloning touches upon Mankind's most basic fears and hopes. It invokes the most intractable ethical and moral dilemmas. As an inevitable result, the debate is often more passionate than informed.

Right to Life Arguments

According to cloning's detractors, the nucleus removed from the egg could otherwise have developed into a human being. Thus, removing the nucleus amounts to murder.

It is a fundamental principle of most moral theories that all human beings have a right to life. The existence of a right implies obligations or duties of third parties towards the right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people. The fact that one possesses a certain right - prescribes to others certain obligatory behaviours and proscribes certain acts or omissions. This Janus-like nature of rights and duties as two sides of the same ethical coin - creates great confusion. People often and easily confuse rights and their attendant duties or obligations with the morally decent, or even with the morally permissible. What one MUST do as a result of another's right - should never be confused with one SHOULD or OUGHT to do morally (in the absence of a right).

But is the egg - alive?

This question is NOT equivalent to the ancient quandary of "when does life begin". Life crystallizes, at the earliest, when an egg and a sperm unite (i.e., at the moment of fertilization). Life is not a potential - it is a process triggered by an event. An unfertilized egg is neither a process - nor an event. It does not even possess the potential to become alive unless and until it merges with a sperm. Should such merger not occur - it will never develop life.

The potential to become X is not the ontological equivalent of actually being X, nor does it spawn moral and ethical rights and obligations pertaining to X. The transition from potential to being is not trivial, nor is it automatic, or inevitable, or independent of context. Atoms of various elements have the potential to become an egg (or, for that matter, a human  being) - yet no one would claim that they ARE an egg (or a human being), or that they should be treated as one (i.e., with the same rights and obligations).

Moreover, it is the donor nucleus embedded in the egg that endows it with life - the life of the cloned baby. Yet, the nucleus is usually extracted from a muscle or the skin. Should we treat a muscle or a skin cell with the same reverence the critics of cloning wish to accord an unfertilized egg?



Is this the main concern?

The main concern is that cloning - even the therapeutic kind - will produce piles of embryos. Many of them - close to 95% with current biotechnology - will die. Others can be surreptitiously and illegally implanted in the wombs of "surrogate mothers".

It is patently immoral, goes the precautionary argument, to kill so many embryos. Cloning is such a novel technique that its success rate is still unacceptably low. There are alternative ways to harvest stem cells - less costly in terms of human life. If we accept that life begins at the moment of fertilization, this argument is valid. But it also implies that - once cloning becomes safer and scientists more adept - cloning itself should be permitted.

This is anathema to those who fear a slippery slope. They abhor the very notion of "unnatural" conception. To them, cloning is a narcissistic act and an ignorant and dangerous interference in nature's sagacious ways. They would ban procreative cloning, regardless of how safe it is. Therapeutic cloning - with its mounds of discarded fetuses - will allow rogue scientists to cross the boundary between permissible (curative cloning) and illegal (baby cloning).



Why should Baby Cloning be Illegal?

Cloning's opponents object to procreative cloning because it can be abused to design babies, skew natural selection, unbalance nature, produce masters and slaves and so on. The "argument from abuse" has been raised with every scientific advance - from in vitro fertilization to space travel.

Every technology can be potentially abused. Television can be either a wonderful educational tool - or an addictive and mind numbing pastime. Nuclear fission is a process that yields both nuclear weapons and atomic energy. To claim, as many do, that cloning touches upon the "heart" of our existence, the "kernel" of our being, the very "essence" of our nature - and thus threatens life itself - would be incorrect.

There is no "privileged" form of technological abuse and no hierarchy of potentially abusive technologies. Nuclear fission tackles natural processes as fundamental as life. Nuclear weapons threaten life no less than cloning. The potential for abuse is not a sufficient reason to arrest scientific research and progress - though it is a necessary condition.

Some fear that cloning will further the government's enmeshment in the healthcare system and in scientific research. Power corrupts and it is not inconceivable that governments will ultimately abuse and misuse cloning and other biotechnologies. Nazi Germany had a state-sponsored and state-mandated eugenics program in the 1930's.

Yet, this is another variant of the argument from abuse. That a technology can be abused by governments does not imply that it should be avoided or remain undeveloped. This is because all technologies - without a single exception - can and are abused routinely - by governments and others. This is human nature.

Fukuyama raised the possibility of a multi-tiered humanity in which "natural" and "genetically modified" people enjoy different rights and privileges. But why is this inevitable? Surely this can easily by tackled by proper, prophylactic, legislation?

All humans, regardless of their pre-natal history, should be treated equally. Are children currently conceived in vitro treated any differently to children conceived in utero? They are not. There is no reason that cloned or genetically-modified children should belong to distinct legal classes.



Unbalancing Nature

It is very anthropocentric to argue that the proliferation of genetically enhanced or genetically selected children will somehow unbalance nature and destabilize the precarious equilibrium it maintains. After all, humans have been modifying, enhancing, and eliminating hundreds of thousands of species for well over 10,000 years now. Genetic modification and bio-engineering are as natural as agriculture. Human beings are a part of nature and its manifestation. By definition, everything they do is natural.

Why would the genetic alteration or enhancement of one more species - homo sapiens - be of any consequence? In what way are humans "more important" to nature, or "more crucial" to its proper functioning? In our short history on this planet, we have genetically modified and enhanced wheat and rice, dogs and cows, tulips and orchids, oranges and potatoes. Why would interfering with the genetic legacy of the human species be any different?

Effects on Society

Cloning - like the Internet, the television, the car, electricity, the telegraph, and the wheel before it - is bound to have great social consequences. It may foster "embryo industries". It may lead to the exploitation of women - either willingly ("egg prostitution") or unwillingly ("womb slavery"). Charles Krauthammer, a columnist and psychiatrist, quoted in "The Economist", says:

"(Cloning) means the routinisation, the commercialisation, the commodification of the human embryo".

Exploiting anyone unwillingly is a crime, whether it involves cloning or white slavery. But why would egg donations and surrogate motherhood be considered problems? If we accept that life begins at the moment of fertilization and that a woman owns her body and everything within it - why should she not be allowed to sell her eggs or to host another's baby and how would these voluntary acts be morally repugnant? In any case, human eggs are already being bought and sold and the supply far exceeds the demand.

Moreover, full-fledged humans are routinely "routinised, commercialized, and commodified" by governments, corporations, religions, and other social institutions. Consider war, for instance - or commercial advertising. How is the "routinisation, commercialization, and commodification" of embryos more reprehensible that the "routinisation, commercialization, and commodification" of fully formed human beings?

Curing and Saving Life

Cell therapy based on stem cells often leads to tissue rejection and necessitates costly and potentially dangerous immunosuppressive therapy. But when the stem cells are harvested from the patient himself and cloned, these problems are averted. Therapeutic cloning has vast untapped - though at this stage still remote - potential to improve the lives of hundreds of millions.

As far as "designer babies" go, pre-natal cloning and genetic engineering can be used to prevent disease or cure it, to suppress unwanted traits, and to enhance desired ones. It is the moral right of a parent to make sure that his progeny suffers less, enjoys life more, and attains the maximal level of welfare throughout his or her life.

That such technologies can be abused by over-zealous, or mentally unhealthy parents in collaboration with avaricious or unscrupulous doctors - should not prevent the vast majority of stable, caring, and sane parents from gaining access to them.

Ethical Relativism and Absolute Taboos

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

 

I. Taboos



II. Incest

III. Suicide

IV. Race

V. Moral Relativism

 

I. Taboos

Taboos regulate our sexual conduct, race relations, political institutions, and economic mechanisms - virtually every realm of our life. According to the 2002 edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica", they are "the prohibition of an action or the use of an object based on ritualistic distinctions of them either as being sacred and consecrated or as being dangerous, unclean, and accursed."

Jews are instructed to ritually cleanse themselves after having been in contact with a Torah scroll - or a corpse. This association of the sacred with the accursed and the holy with the depraved is the key to the guilt and sense of danger which accompany the violation of a taboo.

In Polynesia, where the term originated, "taboos could include prohibitions on fishing or picking fruit at certain seasons; food taboos that restrict the diet of pregnant women; prohibitions on talking to or touching chiefs or members of other high social classes; taboos on walking or traveling in certain areas, such as forests; and various taboos that function during important life events such as birth, marriage, and death."

Political correctness is a particularly pernicious kind of taboo enforcement. It entails an all-pervasive self-censorship coupled with social sanctions. Consider the treatment of the right to life, incest, suicide, and race.

II. Incest

In contemporary thought, incest is invariably associated with child abuse and its horrific, long-lasting, and often irreversible consequences. But incest is far from being the clear-cut or monolithic issue that millennia of taboo imply. Incest with minors is a private - and particularly egregious - case of pedophilia or statutory rape. It should be dealt with forcefully. But incest covers much more besides these criminal acts.

Incest is the ethical and legal prohibition to have sex with a related person or to marry him or her - even if the people involved are consenting and fully informed adults. Contrary to popular mythology, banning incest has little to do with the fear of genetic diseases. Even genetically unrelated parties (a stepfather and a stepdaughter) can commit incest.

Incest is also forbidden between fictive kin or classificatory kin (that belong to the same matriline or patriline). In certain societies (certain Native American tribes, or the Chinese) it is sufficient to carry the same family name (i.e., to belong to the same clan) to render a relationship incestuous. Clearly, eugenic considerations have little to do with incest.

Moreover, the use of contraceptives means that incest does not need to result in pregnancy and the transmission of genetic material. Inbreeding (endogamous) or straightforward incest is the norm in many life forms, even among primates (e.g., chimpanzees). It was also quite common until recently in certain human societies - the Hindus, for instance, or many Native American tribes, and royal families everywhere.

Nor is the taboo universal. In some societies, incest is mandatory or prohibited, according to one's social class (Bali). In others, the Royal House started a tradition of incestuous marriages, later emulated by the lower classes (Ancient Egypt). The list is long and it serves to demonstrate the diversity of attitudes towards this most universal practice.

The more primitive and aggressive the society, the more strict and elaborate the set of incest prohibitions and the fiercer the penalties for their violation. The reason may be economic. Incest interferes with rigid algorithms of inheritance in conditions of extreme scarcity (for instance, of land and water) and consequently leads to survival-threatening internecine disputes.

Freud said that incest provokes horror because it touches upon our forbidden, ambivalent sexual cravings and aggression towards members of our close family. Westermark held that "familiarity breeds repulsion" and that the incest taboo - rather than counter inbred instincts - simply reflects emotional reality. Both ignored the fact that the incest taboo is learned - not inherent.

We can easily imagine a society where incest is extolled, taught, and practiced - and out-breeding is regarded with horror and revulsion. The incestuous marriages among members of the royal households of Europe were intended to preserve the familial property and expand the clan's territory. They were normative, not aberrant. Marrying an outsider was considered abhorrent.

III. Suicide

Self-sacrifice, avoidable martyrdom, engaging in life risking activities, refusal to prolong one's life through medical treatment, euthanasia, overdosing, and self-destruction that is the result of coercion - are all closely related to suicide. They all involve a deliberately self-inflicted death.

But while suicide is chiefly intended to terminate a life – the other acts are aimed at perpetuating, strengthening, and defending values or other people. Many are appalled by the choice implied in suicide - of death over life. They feel that it demeans life - i.e., abnegates its meaning.

Life's meaning - the outcome of active selection by the individual - is either external (i.e., God's plan) or internal (i.e., the outcome of an arbitrary frame of reference).

Our life is rendered meaningful only by integrating into an eternal thing, process, design, or being. Suicide makes life trivial because the act is not natural - not part of the eternal framework, the undying process, the timeless cycle of birth and death. Suicide is a break with eternity. 

Sidgwick said that only conscious (i.e., intelligent) beings can appreciate values and meanings. So, life is significant to conscious, intelligent, though finite, beings - because it is a part of some eternal goal, plan, process, thing, design, or being. Suicide flies in the face of Sidgwick's dictum. It is a statement by an intelligent and conscious being about the meaninglessness of life. 

If suicide is a statement, than society, in this case, is against the freedom of expression. In the case of suicide, free speech dissonantly clashes with the sanctity of a meaningful life. To rid itself of the anxiety brought on by this conflict, society cast suicide as a depraved or even criminal act and its perpetrators are much castigated. 

The suicide violates not only the social contract - but, many will add, covenants with God or nature. Thomas Aquinas said that - since organisms strive to survive - suicide is an unnatural act. Moreover, it adversely affects the community and violates the property rights of God, the imputed owner of one's spirit. Christianity regards the immortal soul as a gift and, in Jewish writings, it is a deposit. Suicide amounts to the abuse or misuse of God's possessions, temporarily lodged in a corporeal mansion.

This paternalism was propagated, centuries later, by Blackstone, the codifier of British Law. Suicide - being self-murder - is a grave felony, which the state has a right to prevent and to punish for.

In certain countries this still is the case. In Israel, for instance, a soldier is considered to be "military property" and an attempted suicide is severely punished as "a corruption of a army chattel".

Paternalism, a malignant mutation of benevolence, is about objectifying people and treating them as possessions. Even fully-informed and consenting adults are not granted full, unmitigated autonomy, freedom, and privacy. This tends to breed "victimless crimes". The "culprits" - gamblers, homosexuals, communists, suicides, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes – are "protected from themselves" by an intrusive nanny state.

The possession of a right creates a corresponding obligation not to act to frustrate its exercise. Suicide is often the choice of a mentally and legally competent adult. Life is such a basic and deep set phenomenon that even the incompetents - the mentally retarded or mentally insane or minors - can fully gauge its significance and make "informed" decisions, in my view.

The paternalists claim counterfactually that no competent adult "in his right mind" will ever decide to commit suicide. They cite the cases of suicides who survived and felt very happy that they have - as a compelling reason to intervene. But we all make irreversible decisions for which, sometimes, we are sorry. It gives no one the right to interfere.

Paternalism is a slippery slope. Should the state be allowed to prevent the birth of a genetically defective child or forbid his parents to marry in the first place?

Should unhealthy adults be forced to abstain from smoking, or steer clear from alcohol? Should they be coerced to exercise?

Suicide is subject to a double moral standard. People are permitted - nay, encouraged - to sacrifice their life only in certain, socially sanctioned, ways. To die on the battlefield or in defense of one's religion is commendable. This hypocrisy reveals how power structures - the state, institutional religion, political parties, national movements - aim to monopolize the lives of citizens and adherents to do with as they see fit. Suicide threatens this monopoly. Hence the taboo.

IV. Race

Social Darwinism, sociobiology, and, nowadays, evolutionary psychology are all derided and disparaged because they try to prove that nature - more specifically, our genes - determine our traits, our accomplishments, our behavior patterns, our social status, and, in many ways, our destiny. Our upbringing and our environment change little. They simply select from ingrained libraries embedded in our brain.

Moreover, the discussion of race and race relations is tainted by a history of recurrent ethnocide and genocide and thwarted by the dogma of egalitarianism. The (legitimate) question "are all races equal" thus becomes a private case of the (no less legitimate) "are all men equal". To ask "can races co-exist peacefully" is thus to embark on the slippery slope to slavery and Auschwitz. These historical echoes and the overweening imposition of political correctness prevent any meaningful - let alone scientific - discourse.

The irony is that "race" - or at least race as determined by skin color - is a distinctly unscientific concept, concerned more with appearances (i.e., the color of one's skin, the shape of one's head or hair), common history, and social politics - than with heredity. Most human classificatory traits are not concordant. Different taxonomic criteria conjure up different "races". IQ is a similarly contentious construct, although it is stable and does predict academic achievement effectively.

Thus, racist-sounding claims are as unfounded as claims about racial equality. Still, while the former are treated as an abomination - the latter are accorded academic respectability and scientific scrutiny.

Consider these two hypotheses:

I. That the IQ (or any other measurable trait) of a given race or ethnic group is hereditarily determined (i.e., that skin color and IQ - or another measurable trait - are concordant) and is strongly correlated with certain types of behavior, life accomplishments, and social status.

II. That the IQ (or any other quantifiable trait) of a given race or "ethnic group" is the outcome of social and economic circumstances and even if strongly correlated with behavior patterns, academic or other achievements, and social status - which is disputable - is amenable to "social engineering".

Both theories are falsifiable and both deserve serious, unbiased, study. That we choose to ignore the first and substantiate the second demonstrates the pernicious and corrupting effect of political correctness.

Claims of the type "trait A and trait B are concordant" should be investigated by scientists, regardless of how politically incorrect they are. Not so claims of the type "people with trait A are ..." or "people with trait A do ...". These should be decried as racist tripe.

Thus the statement "The traits of being an Ashkenazi Jew (A) and suffering from Tay-Sachs induced idiocy (B) are concordant" is true 1 of every 2500 times.

The statements "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) are (narcissists)", or "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) do this: they drink the blood of innocent Christian children during the Passover rites" - are vile racist and paranoid statements.

People are not created equal. Human diversity - a taboo topic - is a cause for celebration. It is important to study and ascertain what are the respective contributions of nature and nurture to the way people - individuals and groups - grow, develop, and mature. In the pursuit of this invaluable and essential knowledge, taboos are dangerously counter-productive.

V. Moral Relativism

Protagoras, the Greek Sophist, was the first to notice that ethical codes are culture-dependent and vary in different societies, economies, and geographies. The pragmatist believe that what is right is merely what society thinks is right at any given moment. Good and evil are not immutable. No moral principle - and taboos are moral principles - is universally and eternally true and valid. Morality applies within cultures but not across them.

But ethical or cultural relativism and the various schools of pragmatism ignore the fact that certain ethical percepts - probably grounded in human nature - do appear to be universal and ancient, if not eternal. Fairness, veracity, keeping promises, moral hierarchy - permeate all the cultures we have come to know. Nor can certain moral tenets be explained away as mere expressions of emotions or behavioral prescriptions - devoid of cognitive content, logic, and a relatedness to certain facts.

Still, it is easy to prove that most taboos are, indeed, relative. Incest, suicide, feticide, infanticide, parricide, ethnocide, genocide, genital mutilation, social castes, and adultery are normative in certain cultures - and strictly proscribed in others. Taboos are pragmatic moral principles. They derive their validity from their efficacy. They are observed because they work, because they yield solutions and provide results. They disappear or are transformed when no longer useful.

Incest is likely to be tolerated in a world with limited possibilities for procreation. Suicide is bound to be encouraged in a society suffering from extreme scarcity of resources and over-population. Ethnocentrism, racism and xenophobia will inevitably rear their ugly heads again in anomic circumstances. None of these taboos is unassailable.

None of them reflects some objective truth, independent of culture and circumstances. They are convenient conventions, workable principles, and regulatory mechanisms - nothing more. That scholars are frantically trying to convince us otherwise - or to exclude such a discussion altogether - is a sign of the growing disintegration of our weakening society.

Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice



By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

"I believe that when man evolves a civilization higher than the mechanized but still primitive one he has now, the eating of human flesh will be sanctioned. For then man will have thrown off all of his superstitions and irrational taboos."

(Diego Rivera)

"One calls 'barbarism' whatever he is not accustomed to."

(Montaigne, On Cannibalism)

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."

(New Testament, John 6:53-55)

Cannibalism (more precisely, anthropophagy) is an age-old tradition that, judging by a constant stream of flabbergasted news reports, is far from extinct. Much-debated indications exist that our Neanderthal, Proto-Neolithic, and Neolithic (Stone Age) predecessors were cannibals. Similarly contested claims were made with regards to the 12th century advanced Anasazi culture in the southwestern United States and the Minoans in Crete (today's Greece).

The Britannica Encyclopedia (2005 edition) recounts how the "Binderwurs of central India ate their sick and aged in the belief that the act was pleasing to their goddess, Kali." Cannibalism may also have been common among followers of the Shaktism cults in India.

Other sources attribute cannibalism to the 16th century Imbangala in today's Angola and Congo, the Fang in Cameroon, the Mangbetu in Central Africa, the Ache in Paraguay, the Tonkawa in today's Texas, the Calusa in current day Florida, the Caddo and Iroquois confederacies of Indians in North America, the Cree in Canada, the Witoto, natives of Colombia and Peru, the Carib in the Lesser Antilles (whose distorted name - Canib - gave rise to the word "cannibalism"), to Maori tribes in today's New Zealand, and to various peoples in Sumatra (like the Batak).

The Wikipedia numbers among the practitioners of cannibalism the ancient Chinese, the Korowai tribe of southeastern Papua, the Fore tribe in New Guinea (and many other tribes in Melanesia), the Aztecs, the people of Yucatan, the Purchas from Popayan, Colombia, the denizens of the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, and the natives of the captaincy of Sergipe in Brazil.

From Congo and Central Africa to Germany and from Mexico to New Zealand, cannibalism is enjoying a morbid revival of interest, if not of practice. A veritable torrent of sensational tomes and movies adds to our ambivalent fascination with man-eaters.

Cannibalism is not a monolithic affair. It can be divided thus:

I. Non-consensual consumption of human flesh post-mortem

For example, when the corpses of prisoners of war are devoured by their captors. This used to be a common exercise among island tribes (e.g., in Fiji, the Andaman and Cook islands) and is still the case in godforsaken battle zones such as Congo (formerly Zaire), or among the defeated Japanese soldiers in World War II.

Similarly, human organs and fetuses as well as mummies are still being gobbled up - mainly in Africa and Asia - for remedial and medicinal purposes and in order to enhance one's libido and vigor.

On numerous occasions the organs of dead companions, colleagues, family, or neighbors were reluctantly ingested by isolated survivors of horrid accidents (the Uruguay rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes, the boat people fleeing Asia), denizens of besieged cities (e.g., during the siege of Leningrad), members of exploratory expeditions gone astray (the Donner Party in Sierra Nevada, California and John Franklin's Polar expedition), famine-stricken populations (Ukraine in the 1930s, China in the 1960s), and the like.

Finally, in various pre-nation-state and tribal societies, members of the family were encouraged to eat specific parts of their dead relatives as a sign of respect or in order to partake of the deceased's wisdom, courage, or other positive traits (endocannibalism).



II. Non-consensual consumption of human flesh from a live source

For example, when prisoners of war are butchered for the express purpose of being eaten by their victorious enemies.

A notorious and rare representative of this category of cannibalism is the punitive ritual of being eaten alive. The kings of the tribes of the Cook Islands were thought to embody the gods. They punished dissent by dissecting their screaming and conscious adversaries and consuming their flesh piecemeal, eyeballs first.

The Sawney Bean family in Scotland, during the reign of King James I, survived for decades on the remains (and personal belongings) of victims of their murderous sprees.

Real-life serial killers, like Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert Fish, Sascha Spesiwtsew, Fritz Haarmann, Issei Sagawa, and Ed Gein, lured, abducted, and massacred countless people and then consumed their flesh and preserved the inedible parts as trophies. These lurid deeds inspired a slew of books and films, most notably The Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal (Lecter) the Cannibal as its protagonist.

III. Consensual consumption of human flesh from live and dead human bodies

Armin Meiwes, the "Master Butcher (Der Metzgermeister)", arranged over the Internet to meet Bernd Jurgen Brandes on March 2001. Meiwes amputated the penis of his guest and they both ate it. He then proceeded to kill Brandes (with the latter's consent recorded on video), and snack on what remained of him. Sexual cannibalism is a paraphilia and an extreme - and thankfully, rare - form of fetishism.

The Aztecs willingly volunteered to serve as human sacrifices (and to be tucked into afterwards). They firmly believed that they were offerings, chosen by the gods themselves, thus being rendered immortal.

Dutiful sons and daughters in China made their amputated organs and sliced tissues (mainly the liver) available to their sick parents (practices known as Ko Ku and Ko Kan). Such donation were considered remedial. Princess Miao Chuang who surrendered her severed hands to her ailing father was henceforth deified.

Non-consensual cannibalism is murder, pure and simple. The attendant act of cannibalism, though aesthetically and ethically reprehensible, cannot aggravate this supreme assault on all that we hold sacred.

But consensual cannibalism is a lot trickier. Modern medicine, for instance, has blurred the already thin line between right and wrong.

What is the ethical difference between consensual, post-mortem, organ harvesting and consensual, post-mortem cannibalism?

Why is stem cell harvesting (from aborted fetuses) morally superior to consensual post-mortem cannibalism?

When members of a plane-wrecked rugby team, stranded on an inaccessible, snow-piled, mountain range resort to eating each other in order to survive, we turn a blind eye to their repeated acts of cannibalism - but we condemn the very same deed in the harshest terms if it takes place between two consenting, and even eager adults in Germany. Surely, we don't treat murder, pedophilia, and incest the same way!

As the Auxiliary Bishop of Montevideo said after the crash:



"... Eating someone who has died in order to survive is incorporating their substance, and it is quite possible to compare this with a graft. Flesh survives when assimilated by someone in extreme need, just as it does when an eye or heart of a dead man is grafted onto a living man..."

(Read, P.P. 1974. Alive. Avon, New York)

Complex ethical issues are involved in the apparently straightforward practice of consensual cannibalism.

Consensual, in vivo, cannibalism (a-la Messrs. Meiwes and Brandes) resembles suicide. The cannibal is merely the instrument of voluntary self-destruction. Why would we treat it different to the way we treat any other form of suicide pact?

Consensual cannibalism is not the equivalent of drug abuse because it has no social costs. Unlike junkies, the cannibal and his meal are unlikely to harm others. What gives society the right to intervene, therefore?

If we own our bodies and, thus, have the right to smoke, drink, have an abortion, commit suicide, and will our organs to science after we die - why don't we possess the inalienable right to will our delectable tissues to a discerning cannibal post-mortem (or to victims of famine in Africa)?

When does our right to dispose of our organs in any way we see fit crystallize? Is it when we die? Or after we are dead? If so, what is the meaning and legal validity of a living will? And why can't we make a living will and bequeath our cadaverous selves to the nearest cannibal?

Do dead people have rights and can they claim and invoke them while they are still alive? Is the live person the same as his dead body, does he "own" it, does the state have any rights in it? Does the corpse stll retain its previous occupant's "personhood"? Are cadavers still human, in any sense of the word?

We find all three culinary variants abhorrent. Yet, this instinctive repulsion is a curious matter. The onerous demands of survival should have encouraged cannibalism rather than make it a taboo. Human flesh is protein-rich. Most societies, past and present (with the exception of the industrialized West), need to make efficient use of rare protein-intensive resources.

If cannibalism enhances the chances of survival - why is it universally prohibited? For many a reason.

I. The Sanctity of Life

Historically, cannibalism preceded, followed, or precipitated an act of murder or extreme deprivation (such as torture). It habitually clashed with the principle of the sanctity of life. Once allowed, even under the strictest guidelines, cannibalism tended to debase and devalue human life and foster homicide, propelling its practitioners down a slippery ethical slope towards bloodlust and orgiastic massacres.



II. The Afterlife

Moreover, in life, the human body and form are considered by most religions (and philosophers) to be the abode of the soul, the divine spark that animates us all. The post-mortem integrity of this shrine is widely thought to guarantee a faster, unhindered access to the afterlife, to immortality, and eventual reincarnation (or karmic cycle in eastern religions).

For this reason, to this very day, orthodox Jews refuse to subject their relatives to a post-mortem autopsy and organ harvesting. Fijians and Cook Islanders used to consume their enemies' carcasses in order to prevent their souls from joining hostile ancestors in heaven.

III. Chastening Reminders

Cannibalism is a chilling reminder of our humble origins in the animal kingdom. To the cannibal, we are no better and no more than cattle or sheep. Cannibalism confronts us with the irreversibility of our death and its finality. Surely, we cannot survive our demise with our cadaver mutilated and gutted and our skeletal bones scattered, gnawed, and chewed on?



IV. Medical Reasons

Infrequently, cannibalism results in prion diseases of the nervous system, such as kuru. The same paternalism that gave rise to the banning of drug abuse, the outlawing of suicide, and the Prohibition of alcoholic drinks in the 1920s - seeks to shelter us from the pernicious medical outcomes of cannibalism and to protect others who might become our victims.



V. The Fear of Being Objectified

Being treated as an object (being objectified) is the most torturous form of abuse. People go to great lengths to seek empathy and to be perceived by others as three dimensional entities with emotions, needs, priorities, wishes, and preferences.

The cannibal reduces others by treating them as so much meat. Many cannibal serial killers transformed the organs of their victims into trophies. The Cook Islanders sought to humiliate their enemies by eating, digesting, and then defecating them - having absorbed their mana (prowess, life force) in the process.

VI. The Argument from Nature

Cannibalism is often castigated as "unnatural". Animals, goes the myth, don't prey on their own kind.

Alas, like so many other romantic lores, this is untrue. Most species - including our closest relatives, the chimpanzees - do cannibalize. Cannibalism in nature is widespread and serves diverse purposes such as population control (chickens, salamanders, toads), food and protein security in conditions of scarcity (hippopotamuses, scorpions, certain types of dinosaurs), threat avoidance (rabbits, mice, rats, and hamsters), and the propagation of genetic material through exclusive mating (Red-back spider and many mantids).

Moreover, humans are a part of nature. Our deeds and misdeeds are natural by definition. Seeking to tame nature is a natural act. Seeking to establish hierarchies and subdue or relinquish our enemies are natural propensities. By avoiding cannibalism we seek to transcend nature. Refraining from cannibalism is the unnatural act.



VIII. The Argument from Progress

It is a circular syllogism involving a tautology and goes like this:

Cannibalism is barbaric. Cannibals are, therefore, barbarians. Progress entails the abolition of this practice.

The premises - both explicit and implicit - are axiomatic and, therefore, shaky. What makes cannibalism barbarian? And why is progress a desirable outcome? There is a prescriptive fallacy involved, as well:

Because we do not eat the bodies of dead people - we ought not to eat them.

VIII. Arguments from Religious Ethics

The major monotheistic religions are curiously mute when it comes to cannibalism. Human sacrifice is denounced numerous times in the Old Testament - but man-eating goes virtually unmentioned. The Eucharist in Christianity - when the believers consume the actual body and blood of Jesus - is an act of undisguised cannibalism:



"That the consequence of Transubstantiation, as a conversion of the total substance, is the transition of the entire substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, is the express doctrine of the Church ...."

(Catholic Encyclopedia)

"CANON lI.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

CANON VIII.-lf any one saith, that Christ, given in the Eucharist, is eaten spiritually only, and not also sacramentally and really; let him be anathema."

(The Council of Trent, The Thirteenth Session - The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 75-91.)

Still, most systems of morality and ethics impute to Man a privileged position in the scheme of things (having been created in the "image of God"). Men and women are supposed to transcend their animal roots and inhibit their baser instincts (an idea incorporated into Freud's tripartite model of the human psyche). The anthropocentric chauvinistic view is that it is permissible to kill all other animals in order to consume their flesh. Man, in this respect, is sui generis.

Yet, it is impossible to rigorously derive a prohibition to eat human flesh from any known moral system. As Richard Routley-Silvan observes in his essay "In Defence of Cannibalism", that something is innately repugnant does not make it morally prohibited. Moreover, that we find cannibalism nauseating is probably the outcome of upbringing and conditioning rather than anything innate.

Euthanasia and the Right to Die



By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

I. Definitions of Types of Euthanasia

Euthanasia is often erroneously described as "mercy killing". Most forms of euthanasia are, indeed, motivated by (some say: misplaced) mercy. Not so others. In Greek, "eu" means both "well" and "easy" and "Thanatos" is death.

Euthanasia is the intentional premature termination of another person's life either by direct intervention (active euthanasia) or by withholding life-prolonging measures and resources (passive euthanasia), either at the express or implied request of that person (voluntary euthanasia), or in the absence of such approval (non-voluntary euthanasia). Involuntary euthanasia - where the individual wishes to go on living - is an euphemism for murder.

To my mind, passive euthanasia is immoral. The abrupt withdrawal of medical treatment, feeding, and hydration results in a slow and (potentially) torturous death. It took Terri Schiavo 13 days to die, when her tubes were withdrawn in the last two weeks of March 2005. It is morally wrong to subject even animals to such gratuitous suffering. Moreover, passive euthanasia allows us to evade personal responsibility for the patient's death. In active euthanasia, the relationship between the act (of administering a lethal medication, for instance) and its consequences is direct and unambiguous.

As the philosopher John Finnis notes, to qualify as euthanasia, the termination of life has to be the main and intended aim of the act or omission that lead to it. If the loss of life is incidental (a side effect), the agent is still morally responsible but to describe his actions and omissions as euthanasia would be misleading. Volntariness (accepting the foreseen but unintended consequences of one's actions and omissions) should be distinguished from intention.

Still, this sophistry obscures the main issue:

If the sanctity of life is a supreme and overriding value ("basic good"), it ought to surely preclude and proscribe all acts and omissions which may shorten it, even when the shortening of life is a mere deleterious side effect.

But this is not the case. The sanctity and value of life compete with a host of other equally potent moral demands. Even the most devout pro-life ethicist accepts that certain medical decisions - for instance, to administer strong analgesics - inevitably truncate the patient's life. Yet, this is considered moral because the resulting euthanasia is not the main intention of the pain-relieving doctor.

Moreover, the apparent dilemma between the two values (reduce suffering or preserve life) is non-existent.

There are four possible situations. Imagine a patient writhing with insufferable pain.

1. The patient's life is not at risk if she is not medicated with painkillers (she risks dying if she is medicated)

2. The patient's life is not at risk either way, medicated or not

3.  The patient's life is at risk either way, medicated or not

4.  The patient's life is at risk if she is not medicated with painkillers

In all four cases, the decisions our doctor has to make are ethically clear cut. He should administer pain-alleviating drugs, except when the patient risks dying (in 1 above). The (possible) shortening of  the patient's life (which is guesswork, at best) is immaterial.

II. Who is or Should Be Subject to Euthanasia? The Problem of Dualism vs. Reductionism

With the exception of radical animal rights activists, most philosophers and laymen consider people - human beings - to be entitled to "special treatment", to be in possession of unique rights (and commensurate obligations), and to be capable of feats unparalleled in other species.

Thus, opponents of euthanasia universally oppose the killing of "persons". As the (pro-euthanasia) philosopher John Harris puts it:

" ... concern for their welfare, respect for their wishes, respect for the intrinsic value of their lives and respect for their interests."

Ronald Dworkin emphasizes the investments - made by nature, the person involved, and others - which euthanasia wastes. But he also draws attention to the person's "critical interests" - the interests whose satisfaction makes life better to live. The manner of one's own death may be such a critical interest. Hence, one should have the right to choose how one dies because the "right kind" of death (e.g., painless, quick, dignified) reflects on one's entire life, affirms and improves it.

But who is a person? What makes us human? Many things, most of which are irrelevant to our discussion.

Broadly speaking, though, there are two schools of thought:

(i) That we are rendered human by the very event of our conception (egg meets sperm), or, at the latest, our birth; or

(ii) That we are considered human only when we act and think as conscious humans do.

The proponents of the first case (i) claim that merely possessing a human body (or the potential to come to possess such a body) is enough to qualify us as "persons". There is no distinction between mind and abode - thought, feelings, and actions are merely manifestations of one underlying unity. The fact that some of these manifestations have yet to materialize (in the case of an embryo) or are mere potentials (in the case of a comatose patient) does not detract from our essential, incontrovertible, and indivisible humanity. We may be immature or damaged persons - but we are persons all the same (and always will be persons).

Though considered "religious" and "spiritual", this notion is actually a form of reductionism. The mind, "soul", and "spirit" are mere expressions of one unity, grounded in our "hardware" - in our bodies.

Those who argue the second case (ii) postulate that it is possible to have a human body which does not host a person. People in Persistent Vegetative States, for instance - or fetuses, for that matter - are human but also non-persons. This is because they do not yet - or are unable to - exercise their faculties. Personhood is complexity. When the latter ceases, so does the former. Personhood is acquired and is an extensive parameter, a total, defining state of being. One is either awake or asleep, either dead or alive, either in a state of personhood or not

The latter approach involves fine distinctions between potential, capacity, and skill. A human body (or fertilized egg) have the potential to think, write poetry, feel pain, and value life. At the right phase of somatic development, this potential becomes capacity and, once it is competently exercised - it is a skill.

Embryos and comatose people may have the potential to do and think - but, in the absence of capacities and skills, they are not full-fledged persons. Indeed, in all important respects, they are already dead.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this definition of a person also excludes newborn infants, the severely retarded, the hopelessly quadriplegic, and the catatonic. "Who is a person" becomes a matter of culturally-bound and medically-informed judgment which may be influenced by both ignorance and fashion and, thus, be arbitrary and immoral.

Imagine a computer infected by a computer virus which cannot be quarantined, deleted, or fixed. The virus disables the host and renders it "dead". Is it still a computer? If someone broke into my house and stole it, can I file an insurance claim? If a colleague destroys it, can I sue her for the damages? The answer is yes. A computer is a computer for as long as it exists physically and a cure is bound to be found even against the most trenchant virus.

The definition of personhood must rely on objective, determinate and determinable criteria. The anti-euthanasia camp relies on bodily existence as one such criterion. The pro-euthanasia faction has yet to reciprocate.



III. Euthanasia and Suicide

Self-sacrifice, avoidable martyrdom, engaging in life risking activities, refusal to prolong one's life through medical treatment, euthanasia, overdosing, and self-destruction that is the result of coercion - are all closely related to suicide. They all involve a deliberately self-inflicted death.

But while suicide is chiefly intended to terminate a life – the other acts are aimed at perpetuating, strengthening, and defending values or other people. Many - not only religious people - are appalled by the choice implied in suicide - of death over life. They feel that it demeans life and abnegates its meaning.

Life's meaning - the outcome of active selection by the individual - is either external (such as "God's plan") or internal, the outcome of an arbitrary frame of reference, such as having a career goal. Our life is rendered meaningful only by integrating into an eternal thing, process, design, or being. Suicide makes life trivial because the act is not natural - not part of the eternal framework, the undying process, the timeless cycle of birth and death. Suicide is a break with eternity.

Henry Sidgwick said that only conscious (i.e., intelligent) beings can appreciate values and meanings. So, life is significant to conscious, intelligent, though finite, beings - because it is a part of some eternal goal, plan, process, thing, design, or being. Suicide flies in the face of Sidgwick's dictum. It is a statement by an intelligent and conscious being about the meaninglessness of life.

If suicide is a statement, than society, in this case, is against the freedom of expression. In the case of suicide, free speech dissonantly clashes with the sanctity of a meaningful life. To rid itself of the anxiety brought on by this conflict, society cast suicide as a depraved or even criminal act and its perpetrators are much castigated.

The suicide violates not only the social contract but, many will add, covenants with God or nature. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the "Summa Theologiae" that - since organisms strive to survive - suicide is an unnatural act. Moreover, it adversely affects the community and violates the property rights of God, the imputed owner of one's spirit. Christianity regards the immortal soul as a gift and, in Jewish writings, it is a deposit. Suicide amounts to the abuse or misuse of God's possessions, temporarily lodged in a corporeal mansion.

This paternalism was propagated, centuries later, by Sir William Blackstone, the codifier of British Law. Suicide - being self-murder - is a grave felony, which the state has a right to prevent and to punish for. In certain countries this still is the case. In Israel, for instance, a soldier is considered to be "military property" and an attempted suicide is severely punished as "the corruption of an army chattel".

Paternalism, a malignant mutation of benevolence, is about objectifying people and treating them as possessions. Even fully-informed and consenting adults are not granted full, unmitigated autonomy, freedom, and privacy. This tends to breed "victimless crimes". The "culprits" - gamblers, homosexuals, communists, suicides, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes – are "protected from themselves" by an intrusive nanny state.

The possession of a right by a person imposes on others a corresponding obligation not to act to frustrate its exercise. Suicide is often the choice of a mentally and legally competent adult. Life is such a basic and deep set phenomenon that even the incompetents - the mentally retarded or mentally insane or minors - can fully gauge its significance and make "informed" decisions, in my view.

The paternalists claim counterfactually that no competent adult "in his right mind" will ever decide to commit suicide. They cite the cases of suicides who survived and felt very happy that they have - as a compelling reason to intervene. But we all make irreversible decisions for which, sometimes, we are sorry. It gives no one the right to interfere.

Paternalism is a slippery slope. Should the state be allowed to prevent the birth of a genetically defective child or forbid his parents to marry in the first place? Should unhealthy adults be forced to abstain from smoking, or steer clear from alcohol? Should they be coerced to exercise?

Suicide is subject to a double moral standard. People are permitted - nay, encouraged - to sacrifice their life only in certain, socially sanctioned, ways. To die on the battlefield or in defense of one's religion is commendable. This hypocrisy reveals how power structures - the state, institutional religion, political parties, national movements - aim to monopolize the lives of citizens and adherents to do with as they see fit. Suicide threatens this monopoly. Hence the taboo.

Does one have a right to take one's life?

The answer is: it depends. Certain cultures and societies encourage suicide. Both Japanese kamikaze and Jewish martyrs were extolled for their suicidal actions. Certain professions are knowingly life-threatening - soldiers, firemen, policemen. Certain industries - like the manufacture of armaments, cigarettes, and alcohol - boost overall mortality rates.

In general, suicide is commended when it serves social ends, enhances the cohesion of the group, upholds its values, multiplies its wealth, or defends it from external and internal threats. Social structures and human collectives - empires, countries, firms, bands, institutions - often commit suicide. This is considered to be a healthy process.

More about suicide, the meaning of life, and related considerations - HERE.

Back to our central dilemma:

Is it morally justified to commit suicide in order to avoid certain, forthcoming, unavoidable, and unrelenting torture, pain, or coma?

Is it morally justified to ask others to help you to commit suicide (for instance, if you are incapacitated)?

Imagine a society that venerates life-with-dignity by making euthanasia mandatory - would it then and there be morally justified to refuse to commit suicide or to help in it?

IV. Euthanasia and Murder

Imagine killing someone before we have ascertained her preferences as to the manner of her death and whether she wants to die at all. This constitutes murder even if, after the fact, we can prove conclusively that the victim wanted to die.

Is murder, therefore, merely the act of taking life, regardless of circumstances - or is it the nature of the interpersonal interaction that counts? If the latter, the victim's will counts - if the former, it is irrelevant.

V. Euthanasia, the Value of Life, and the Right to Life

Few philosophers, legislators, and laymen support non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia. These types of "mercy" killing are associated with the most heinous crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime on both its own people and other nations. They are and were also an integral part of every program of active eugenics.

The arguments against killing someone who hasn't expressed a wish to die (let alone someone who has expressed a desire to go on living) revolve around the right to life. People are assumed to value their life, cherish it, and protect it. Euthanasia - especially the non-voluntary forms - amounts to depriving someone (as well as their nearest and dearest) of something they value.

The right to life - at least as far as human beings are concerned - is a rarely questioned fundamental moral principle. In Western cultures, it is assumed to be inalienable and indivisible (i.e., monolithic). Yet, it is neither. Even if we accept the axiomatic - and therefore arbitrary - source of this right, we are still faced with intractable dilemmas. All said, the right to life may be nothing more than a cultural construct, dependent on social mores, historical contexts, and exegetic systems.

Rights - whether moral or legal - impose obligations or duties on third parties towards the right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people and thus can prescribe to them certain obligatory behaviors and proscribe certain acts or omissions. Rights and duties are two sides of the same Janus-like ethical coin.

This duality confuses people. They often erroneously identify rights with their attendant duties or obligations, with the morally decent, or even with the morally permissible. One's rights inform other people how they MUST behave towards one - not how they SHOULD or OUGHT to act morally. Moral behavior is not dependent on the existence of a right. Obligations are.

To complicate matters further, many apparently simple and straightforward rights are amalgams of more basic moral or legal principles. To treat such rights as unities is to mistreat them.

Take the right to life. It is a compendium of no less than eight distinct rights: the right to be brought to life, the right to be born, the right to have one's life maintained, the right not to be killed, the right to have one's life saved,  the right to save one's life (wrongly reduced to the right to self-defence), the right to terminate one's life, and the right to have one's life terminated.

None of these rights is self-evident, or unambiguous, or universal, or immutable, or automatically applicable. It is safe to say, therefore, that these rights are not primary as hitherto believed - but derivative.

Go HERE to learn more about the Right to Life.

Of the eight strands comprising the right to life, we are concerned with a mere two.

The Right to Have One's Life Maintained

This leads to a more general quandary. To what extent can one use other people's bodies, their property, their time, their resources and to deprive them of pleasure, comfort, material possessions, income, or any other thing - in order to maintain one's life?

Even if it were possible in reality, it is indefensible to maintain that I have a right to sustain, improve, or prolong my life at another's expense. I cannot demand - though I can morally expect - even a trivial and minimal sacrifice from another in order to prolong my life. I have no right to do so.

Of course, the existence of an implicit, let alone explicit, contract between myself and another party would change the picture. The right to demand sacrifices commensurate with the provisions of the contract would then crystallize and create corresponding duties and obligations.

No embryo has a right to sustain its life, maintain, or prolong it at its mother's expense. This is true regardless of how insignificant the sacrifice required of her is.

Yet, by knowingly and intentionally conceiving the embryo, the mother can be said to have signed a contract with it. The contract causes the right of the embryo to demand such sacrifices from his mother to crystallize. It also creates corresponding duties and obligations of the mother towards her embryo.

We often find ourselves in a situation where we do not have a given right against other individuals - but we do possess this very same right against society. Society owes us what no constituent-individual does.

Thus, we all have a right to sustain our lives, maintain, prolong, or even improve them at society's expense - no matter how major and significant the resources required. Public hospitals, state pension schemes, and police forces may be needed in order to fulfill society's obligations to prolong, maintain, and improve our lives - but fulfill them it must.

Still, each one of us can sign a contract with society - implicitly or explicitly - and abrogate this right. One can volunteer to join the army. Such an act constitutes a contract in which the individual assumes the duty or obligation to give up his or her life.

The Right not to be Killed

It is commonly agreed that every person has the right not to be killed unjustly. Admittedly, what is just and what is unjust is determined by an ethical calculus or a social contract - both constantly in flux.

Still, even if we assume an Archimedean immutable point of moral reference - does A's right not to be killed mean that third parties are to refrain from enforcing the rights of other people against A? What if the only way to right wrongs committed by A against others - was to kill A? The moral obligation to right wrongs is about restoring the rights of the wronged.

If the continued existence of A is predicated on the repeated and continuous violation of the rights of others - and these other people object to it - then A must be killed if that is the only way to right the wrong and re-assert the rights of A's victims.



The Right to have One's Life Saved

There is no such right because there is no moral obligation or duty to save a life. That people believe otherwise demonstrates the muddle between the morally commendable, desirable, and decent ("ought", "should") and the morally obligatory, the result of other people's rights ("must"). In some countries, the obligation to save a life is codified in the law of the land. But legal rights and obligations do not always correspond to moral rights and obligations, or give rise to them.



VI. Euthanasia and Personal Autonomy

The right to have one's life terminated at will (euthanasia), is subject to social, ethical, and legal strictures. In some countries - such as the Netherlands - it is legal (and socially acceptable) to have one's life terminated with the help of third parties given a sufficient deterioration in the quality of life and given the imminence of death.  One has to be of sound mind and will one's death  knowingly, intentionally, repeatedly, and forcefully.

Should we have a right to die (given hopeless medical circumstances)? When our wish to end it all conflicts with society's (admittedly, paternalistic) judgment of what is right and what is good for us and for others - what should prevail?

One the one hand, as Patrick Henry put it, "give me liberty or give me death". A life without personal autonomy and without the freedom to make unpopular and non-conformist decisions is, arguably, not worth living at all!

As Dworkin states:

"Making someone die in a way that others approve, but he believes a horrifying contradiction of his life, is a devastating, odious form of tyranny".

Still, even the victim's express wishes may prove to be transient and circumstantial (due to depression, misinformation, or clouded judgment). Can we regard them as immutable and invariable? Moreover, what if the circumstances prove everyone - the victim included - wrong? What if a cure to the victim's disease is found ten minutes after the euthanasia?



VII. Euthanasia and Society

It is commonly accepted that where two equally potent values clash, society steps in as an arbiter. The right to material welfare (food, shelter, basic possessions) often conflicts with the right to own private property and to benefit from it. Society strikes a fine balance by, on the one hand, taking from the rich and giving to the poor (through redistributive taxation) and, on the other hand, prohibiting and punishing theft and looting.

Euthanasia involves a few such finely-balanced values: the sanctity of life vs. personal autonomy, the welfare of the many vs. the welfare of the individual, the relief of pain vs. the prolongation and preservation of life.

Why can't society step in as arbiter in these cases as well?

Moreover, what if a person is rendered incapable of expressing his preferences with regards to the manner and timing of his death - should society step in (through the agency of his family or through the courts or legislature) and make the decision for him?

In a variety of legal situations, parents, court-appointed guardians, custodians, and conservators act for, on behalf of, and in lieu of underage children, the physically and mentally challenged and the disabled. Why not here?

We must distinguish between four situations:

1. The patient foresaw the circumstances and provided an advance directive, asking explicitly for his life to be terminated when certain conditions are met.

2. The patient did not provide an advanced directive but expressed his preference clearly before he was incapacitated. The risk here is that self-interested family members may lie.

3. The patient did not provide an advance directive and did not express his preference aloud - but the decision to terminate his life is commensurate with both his character and with other decisions he made.

4. There is no indication, however indirect, that the patient wishes or would have wished to die had he been capable of expression but the patient is no longer a "person" and, therefore, has no interests to respect, observe, and protect. Moreover, the patient is a burden to himself, to his nearest and dearest, and to society at large. Euthanasia is the right, just, and most efficient thing to do.

Society can legalize euthanasia in the first case and, subject to rigorous fact checking, in the second and third cases. To prevent economically-motivated murder disguised as euthanasia, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia (as set in the forth case above) should be banned outright.



VIII. Slippery Slope Arguments

Issues in the Calculus of Rights - The Hierarchy of Rights

The right to life supersedes - in Western moral and legal systems - all other rights. It overrules the right to one's body, to comfort, to the avoidance of pain, or to ownership of property. Given such lack of equivocation, the amount of dilemmas and controversies surrounding the right to life is, therefore, surprising.

When there is a clash between equally potent rights - for instance, the conflicting rights to life of two people - we can decide among them randomly (by flipping a coin, or casting dice). Alternatively, we can add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic.

Thus, if the continued life of an embryo or a fetus threatens the mother's life - that is, assuming, controversially, that both of them have an equal right to life - we can decide to kill the fetus. By adding to the mother's right to life her right to her own body we outweigh the fetus' right to life.



The Difference between Killing and Letting Die

Counterintuitively, there is a moral gulf between killing (taking a life) and letting die (not saving a life). The right not to be killed is undisputed. There is no right to have one's own life saved. Where there is a right - and only where there is one - there is an obligation. Thus, while there is an obligation not to kill - there is no obligation to save a life.

Anti-euthanasia ethicists fear that allowing one kind of euthanasia - even under the strictest and explicit conditions - will open the floodgates. The value of life will be depreciated and made subordinate to considerations of economic efficacy and personal convenience. Murders, disguised as acts of euthanasia, will proliferate and none of us will be safe once we reach old age or become disabled.

Years of legally-sanctioned euthanasia in the Netherlands, parts of Australia, and a state or two in the United States tend to fly in the face of such fears. Doctors did not regard these shifts in public opinion and legislative climate as a blanket license to kill their charges. Family members proved to be far less bloodthirsty and avaricious than feared.

As long as non-voluntary and involuntary types of euthanasia are treated as felonies, it seems safe to allow patients to exercise their personal autonomy and grant them the right to die. Legalizing the institution of "advance directive" will go a long way towards regulating the field - as would a new code of medical ethics that will recognize and embrace reality: doctors, patients, and family members collude in their millions to commit numerous acts and omissions of euthanasia every day. It is their way of restoring dignity to the shattered lives and bodies of loved ones.

T H E A U T H O R



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