What Do Opponents of Assisted Suicide Really Value?

This post originally appeared on The Latest. See also here for a longer discussion of the same topic.

One way to frame the question of whether assisted suicide should be allowed is as a dilemma between individual liberty and dignity on one hand and the value of human life on the other. It can be said that individuals should be allowed to make the decision to end their lives when there is no hope of recovery and perhaps little left for them to expect except pain.

Yet, one could also say that every human life should be valued, no less so if the person is old or sick, and thus it is wrong to end a life.

The terms used on both sides of the dilemma seem more or less universal; it may be a more ‘liberal’ position to advocate the possibility of assisted suicide (within limits, of course) and a more ‘conservative’ one to oppose it, but conservatives recognize the value of liberty and liberals recognize the value of life.

However, I think that this apparent universality is an illusion, and those words really hide behind them the kind of difference in moral thinking that is typical between liberal and conservative mindsets.

This difference was clearly brought out in a study conducted in Finland that in my experience seems to exemplify attitudes found elsewhere as well. As mentioned in the news article about Hawaii I am commenting on, a practical risk of allowing assisted suicide is said to be the risk of people being pressured to use it against their real wishes.

However, in a survey asking laymen about their opinions about assisted suicide, not one of those opposed to it gave any such practical reason. Instead, all of the opponents had a religious perspective and talked about things like the value of human life and only God being allowed to end a life. (Source, in Finnish: “Uskonto ja kuoleminen” by Leila Jylhäkannas, in Uskonnon paikka, eds. Outi Fingerroos, Minna Opas and Teemu Taira.)

This brings up the view that a human life is valuable even if it has no obvious value – or even has a negative value – to the person whose life it is. While just about everyone can agree that a person’s life is of great moral importance, not everyone agrees with this more specific view.

A person’s life, it might be said, is obviously valuable if the person is valuable, because everything good the person can ever experience, anything they can ever accomplish in this life, is dependent on their having that life.

If this is your conception of the value of life, it is natural to accept assisted suicide in the case that the life in question can only contain pain. If, on the other hand, life is to be valued regardless, we are talking about a fundamentally different conception of what’s right.

Such hidden differences can make ethical discussion difficult. The best we can do is to evaluate each argument carefully and make sure it is not hiding something else behind it.


Writing for The Latest

The Latest logoI’ll now be writing weekly opinion pieces for The Latest. I’ll post them here as well, including the three first ones from when I was on a “trial period”, but I recommend checking out the website itself too.

Site: https://thelatest.com/

My profile: https://thelatest.com/profile/1593

The fly in the window

A few days ago, for the first time this summer, there was a fly inside our apartment. I opened the smaller window to let some fresh air in, and the fly came in immediately. However, it was not happy to be inside; just as soon as it was, it flew to the larger, closed window, and started trying to furiously buzz through it. This went on for several minutes, with the small window open next to it all the while, until I forced the fly out. Naturally, it resisted.

How often when we are trying to solve a problem, or unintentionally causing one, are we like a fly trying to go through a window? My informed guess is that often, or even most of the time. The fly may be trying hard, but it can’t succeed because it’s got the wrong idea of what it’s doing. At best, its random flailing might lead it to accidentally move from where it is and fly through an open window instead of the closest one, but that would be sheer luck, and it might take indefinitely long. We are in the same position when we try to reach our goals but follow false and unhelpful ideas of how to get there. Continue reading

On multiplexity and the Zarathustrans

In my last post talking about simplex–complex–multiplex, there was one angle missing from what Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart say about them. I’ll write about it in a post of its own but also add it there afterwards.

In both their book The Collapse of Chaos and the previously mentioned Figments of Reality, Cohen and Stewart sometimes illustrate their points with stories about the fictional aliens called the Zarathustrans. In Collapse, human space travellers encounter Zarathustrans on their own planet, whereas in Figments, Zarathustrans observe the Earth. They look vaguely like flightless birds, but this resemblance is superficial, and they’re both very alien and very human at the same time. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that they have evolved not to be entirely independent individuals but to live in groups of eight Zarathustrans (plus one symbiote of a different kind). This means not only that they are obsessed with the number eight and see numerological significance based on it everywhere, but also that they naturally think in a multiplexual way and find simplex thinking hard. Continue reading

All the things you shouldn’t post on Facebook

So, these are the kinds of things that you apparently can’t post on Facebook:

  • About how you’re having fun or things are going great, because that’s just fake and bragging.
  • Complaining about how badly things are going for you, because that’s just annoying.
  • Ordinary things like what you had for dinner, or when you went to the gym, or what your child or pet did etc., because who cares?
  • Serious or political topics, because it’s supposed to be about socialising and telling your friends what you’ve been doing.
  • Dumb jokes and memes because those are too shallow.
  • Links to in-depth articles, because who has the patience to read that?
  • Any kind of photograph you took, because it will go under either “fake”, “bragging” or “uninteresting”, probably all three. Even if it was an interesting situation, you shouldn’t have been taking photographs because that officially means you weren’t really enjoying it.
  • Any given opinion, because someone will disagree, so they’ll find it annoying.
  • Your own blog posts because people won’t read them.
  • Complaints about the kinds of things people post on Facebook.