King Juan Carlos of Spain

So far, so good. One can admire a man who recognizes without bitterness, with resignation and indeed with good humor, that his time has come, that he should not make desperate, fruitless, and undignified attempts to live a little longer at all costs. My father, for example, refused an operation that might have prolonged his life by three to six months on the grounds that it would have been three to six months of discomfort and utter dependence on others. 

Then comes the sinister bit in the story: 

“€œWhen the doctor arrives with his injection, I will leave this world with the feeling of having lived well,”€ he added.

In other words, Mr. Pauwels will not die, nor will he kill himself: He will be killed, and by a doctor at that.

I recognize all the arguments in favor of euthanasia; there are undoubtedly deaths (though fewer than might be supposed) that entail horrible and pointless suffering. But this case seems to bear out fears of a slippery slope that opponents of euthanasia have long used: for Mr. Pauwels did not seem, at least from the no doubt incomplete account in the newspaper, to be suffering in the way that euthanasia is supposed to shorten, reduced as his life expectancy no doubt was. He was jolly, he was physically capable of drinking a glass of champagne, and he invited his relatives and friends to come to his farewell party. In essence, at least as reported, he had claimed his “€œright”€ to die as he pleased.

Such a right can, of course, only be exercised if someone has the corresponding duty to ensure that it is complied with, in this case the doctor. And if doctors have the duty to kill people such as Mr. Pauwels, then before long doctors who refuse to do so”€”or at least fail to put their patients in touch with someone (a specialist in fatal injections, perhaps) who will do so”€”will face sanctions. 

Furthermore, the principle of nondiscrimination will mean that before long everyone will be able claim the right to demand of his doctor that he put him down, for there is no reason at all that only the aged and mortally ill should have this inestimable benefit. Why should the dying have all the best deaths?

The newspaper remarked neither on the cruelty of the media’s mockery of the King nor the implications of Mr. Pauwel’s supposedly happy murder, which seems to me rather disturbing. But then I”€™m getting on a bit….



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