Why Would An Atheist Oppose Euthanasia?

Meet Marc. He's an atheist. He's worked as a registered nurse in palliative care. He's a bleeding heart lefty who's volunteered on Greens election campaigns. And he's also my Dear Husband (DH) and father of BabyG.

And, unlike perhaps 90% of atheists, he's opposed to euthanasia. Why on Earth would someone who has worked with the dying, who has no religious beliefs holding sway, be opposed to voluntary euthanasia on request? I don't agree with his views, but sat down for a chat, hoping to understand.

"To begin with, voluntary euthanasia would fundamentally change the way medicine is practiced in society. Western medicine operates on the Law Of Primary Intent: that there are two primary intentions to the actions medical practitioners carry out; to treat disease and to increase comfort. Sometimes in trying to treat disease you decrease someone's comfort, such as through heart surgery or chemotherapy, which treat the disease but cause the patient discomfort. It's a balancing act, but this is what we do. In palliative care, we can no longer treat the disease, so our focus is purely on easing the patient's discomfort. If you are carrying out actions as a medical practitioner where the intent is not to treat disease or increase comfort, but to end life, that adds a new element to treatment, to the practice of medicine as it has always been known"

"I'm extremely uncomfortable with the idea of society introducing legally mandated killing in any form. It unleashes consequences we can't imagine. Look at societies in the past where euthanasia was allowed. Is that the kind of ethos we want? Also, who would have the final right to decide who can access euthanasia programs? It would be doctors. Look at rates of medical negligence today. Can we imagine things wouldn't go wrong with a euthanasia program? Who would write the legislation? How would it be administered? What safeguards would there be?"

Whilst I intended to let Marc speak for himself, I decided to invoke Godwin's law at this point. Okay, I said, euthanasia opponents frequently cite Nazi Germany as an example of what happens when euthanasia is allowed. What about modern examples such as Oregon and the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia has been legalised and society has remained intact?

"True, but those are relatively small scale programs. The fact that they have had small take up numbers points to where we should be taking this - that the focus on euthanasia is diverting attention from developing better methods of palliative care, better treatments, better pain relief for the dying - for both physical and mental pain. Depression in the terminally ill is I believe under-acknowledged and inadequately researched. If we were able to provide these better methods of treating mental and physical suffering in the dying, then I believe any perceived 'need' for euthanasia would be taken care of".

That's all well and good for a 78 year old cancer patient with perhaps six months to live, but I raised the example of a previously active 48 year old injured in a motorcycle accident who is now only able to move by blinking eyelids, fed by tube, breathing on a respirator, and facing possibly twenty years of this before an eventual death from infection. If this person, with the support of their family, wishes to access voluntary euthanasia, what gives you the right to oppose it? How does it affect you?

"Well it does affect me, as a person, as a medical professional, and as a member of society. For a start, as I said there are two primary intents in medical practice. I did not enter the medical profession to help people die. Even if it is others who volunteer to carry out euthanasia, I did not become a nurse to be a part of something that helps people to die. I also don't want to be part of a society that legalises a machinery of death. I don't want to see where that may take us."

"Whenever you give people incredible power, things will go wrong. You give the police guns and tasers, sometimes innocent people die. It's the same in medical settings. People are dying unnecessarily right now in medical settings because of mistakes by medical professionals. Do we want to enable the explicit right to decide life and death?"

If you've any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments and he'll do his best to answer. Thanks. 


  1. he's much more eloquent than my 'it just kind of feels wrong'.

  2. A lot of 'I' and FUD in there. I'm not even saying he's wrong, but he's failed to raise much of an argument beyond a long-winded 'it just kind of feels wrong'.


Post a Comment