Holland: the new killing fields

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Thu Dec 7 17:47:54 MST 2000

I agree with Mac & Gary on this.  I think that Marta's concern
is that capitalist medicine especially in the US which lacks
even the pretence of a national health program will
pressure (in subtle and perhaps not so subtle ways) costly
patients (especially those from devalued social groups like
the poor, racial minorities, the disabled etc.) to accept the
termination of their lives regardless of whether this is
something they really want or not.

It seems to me that there are two sets of issues here,
the issues of freedom of choice in terms of having some
control over the circumstances under which one's life will end,
and there are the issues concerning the material & social
conditions under which such autonomy is to be exercised.
In the US & Europe many secular humanist or freethought
groups have championed the "right to die" in the name of personal
autonomy & freedom of choice.  And that makes sense as far as it
goes but these people seldom go on to proceed to examining the
circumstances under which this autonomy is to be exercised,
especially the question of whether people will have access
to the resources necessary for this sort of freedom to be made
concrete.  Marta as I understand her is concerned that if people
are granted the "right to die" that their choices (especially for
patients from the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder) will be
shaped covertly or even overtly by the profit -needs of
the corporations that have to dominate medical care in the US.  In
other words that this sort of autonomy will be lacking  in substance.
And given the realities of capitalist medicine, American style, she
has every right to be concerned.

On the other hand, the same can probably be said for most
of the freedoms that we enjoy under bougeois polities.  Marx
long ago drew a distinction between what he called political
emancipation and what he referred to as human emancipation
(see *On the Jewish Question*).  And in doing so Marx exposed
the inadequacies of liberal notions of freedom and the
"rights of man."  However, in critiquing these liberal concepts,
Marx by no means denied the value of these rights nor the
importance of popular struggles on their behalf.  Marx after
all, was among other things a staunch fighter for freedom
of the press and of freedom of speech.

I'd therefore suggest that the notion of the "right to die" is one
that we cannot easily dismiss, providing that we recognize
that such a right cannot be made meaningful unless people
are provided access to the resources (i.e. decent medical
care, effective palliative care, hospice care etc.) under which
people can make truly free choices concerning how they
wish to deal with the end of their existence.  In other
words, the winning of the "right to die" is likely to prove
to be a horrible victory without radical changes in the
political economy of the medical care system.

Jim F.

On Fri, 08 Dec 2000 07:36:50 +1000 Gary MacLennan
<g.maclennan at qut.edu.au> writes:
> I agree with Mac here totally.  My mother at the end had a life
> without
> dignity.  She chose to live on and clung as hard as she could. The
> doctors
> could not believe how long she lasted in her final coma. That was
> her
> choice. I respected that and so did the rest of the family though
> many of
> us prayed for her to let go and die.
> However had she herself wanted to die then she should have had that
> option.
> I also have a dear sweet friend who is over 85.  She is terrified of
> a life
> of dependence on others.  She too should not be forced to stay on
> this
> earth any longer than she wants to.
> regards
> Gary

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