Why Euthanasia is Wrong - From a Secular Viewpoint

Brian Clowes
July 15, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Human Life International

You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind - and to do so without a single murmur from the august New England Journal of Medicine. And do you know what you're going to end up doing? You, a graduate of Harvard and a reader of the New York Times and a member of the Ford Foundation's Program for the Third World? Do you know what is going to happen to you? You're going to end up killing Jews. -- Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome.1


It is one thing to speak of the sanctity of life and of human life being created in the image and likeness of God - but what does the anti‑euthanasia activist say when he is confronted by a pro‑euthanasia person who does not believe in God - or who believes in a permissive, feel‑good "god" who allows him to do anything he wants?

Anti‑euthanasia activists must be able to speak in terms of the negative consequences that assisted suicide and euthanasia have on society at large, and they must be able to explain these ideas in very specific and relevant terms.

When people speak of the philosophical aspects of euthanasia, they will inevitably return again and again to the central focus of the issue. They will invariably be forced to consider the two ultimate questions regarding euthanasia.

These are:

  1. Why is euthanasia right (or wrong)?
  2. Should we not be able to determine the ultimate disposition of our own bodies?

The remainder of this article discusses the reasons that the act of euthanasia is illogical and wrong from a purely secular viewpoint, as listed below.

Reason #1: Euthanasia is Forever

It is curious that most pro‑euthanasia activists are opposed to capital punishment, primarily because mistakes can be made (and have been made) when administering the death penalty. In other words, once a person has been executed, not even the most conclusive proof of his innocence can bring him back to life.

We may use precisely the same reasoning to oppose euthanasia. There are literally hundreds of cases on record where doctors have judged people to be "irreversibly comatose," and then they have awakened to lead perfectly normal lives. In fact, it is safe to say that there are many more people who have awakened from "irreversible" comas than there are innocent people who have been executed in this country.

It is very revealing that pro-euthanasia activists always promise to erect "safeguards" to protect those who desire to die, and then immediately discard or ignore them.

The "Right to Die" is not a right - it is the taking away of all possible rights .

Dead men don't choose.

A few cases where euthanasia was considered but rendered moot when the patient in question recovered are outlined below.

Teisa Franklin

This little 21‑month old girl ingested a huge quantity of anti‑depressant drugs on February 4, 1988, and lapsed into a deep coma. After a rather cursory examination, doctors at Mercy Hospital pronounced her clinically brain dead and stated that she would be a good candidate for organ donation. However, only 18 hours after slipping into the coma, she began to recover, and, only one week after the near‑fatal incident, she was released from the hospital. Erin Shanahan, Mercy Hospital's perplexed head pediatric nurse, said, "We never would have guessed it would turn out like this."2 This case demonstrates precisely why the euthanasia of comatose persons is such a dangerous practice.

Scott and Jeff Mueller

These twin boys were born in 1981 sharing a leg and large intestine. They were fully developed from the waist up. The attending physician, Petra Warren, decided that they were not worthy of life and attached a "DO NOT FEED" sign to their bassinet. Several nurses disobeyed this order and fed the babies sugar water, which saved their lives.3 Scott and Jeff were successfully separated at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital the following year. Scott died of heart problems in 1984, but Jeff is thriving and lives a normal lifestyle. Predictably, the doctor who wanted the twins to die suffered no consequences for her potentially murderous decision.

Jacqueline Cole

Mrs. Cole awoke on May 15, 1986, 47 days after lapsing into a deep coma induced by a stroke, when a friend came to pay his last respects. Doctors had said her chances of recovery were "one in a million." Her husband, a Presbyterian minister, had gone to court just six days before to have her disconnected from her life support systems. Fortunately for her, Baltimore Circuit Judge John Brynes refused his request. The minister said that he had "no regrets" for trying to allow his wife to die.4

Michelle Odette

Marie Odette Henderson was 26 weeks pregnant and suffered a stroke on June 4, 1986. Three days later, doctors declared her brain dead. Despite the fact that she was carrying a viable baby, Miss Henderson's parents decided to allow her and her baby to die by disconnecting her from her life support systems. Henderson's fiancé, Derrick Poole, decided to fight for his baby's life. He obtained a court order barring Marie's disconnection until after the baby was delivered. Dr. Donald Dyson eventually delivered a healthy baby girl at 33 weeks gestation. Michelle Odette's weight was 4 pounds, 5 ounces. Marie Henderson was then disconnected from her life support systems and died three hours later. However, she lives on in her child.

Carrie Coons

Carrie A. Coons, 86, of Rensselear, New York, was declared to be in an "absolutely irreversible vegetative state" by her doctors after she suffered a stroke and cerebral hemorrhage in November of 1988. For nearly five months, she neither spoke nor showed any signs of alertness. Her 88‑year old sister and various doctors and lawyers petitioned the state Supreme Court to allow the removal of her feeding tube. Her doctor, Michael Wolff, a nationally recognized expert in geriatric medicine, declared that she was in a "hopeless" state with "absolutely no chance of recovery."5

Coons was the first New York citizen whose petition to die was granted by the state Supreme Court. However, just two days after the Court granted the petition, she woke up and began to eat and speak. Judge Joseph Harris dismissed the right‑to‑die writ when he heard that Coons had recovered. Neurologist Ronald Cranford of Minneapolis, a White House Commission advisor on right‑to‑die issues, stated, "It's a dramatic case. It shows you that you're basically never dealing with certainties here."6

Once again, this case demonstrates why both direct and passive euthanasia should be absolutely banned.

Harold Cybulski

The doctors were all ready. 79‑year old grandfather Harold Cybulski of Barry's Bay, Ontario, had been pronounced "brain dead and comatose," and the experts who pronounced him so stood by to disconnect his life support systems just as soon as his family had said their last goodbyes. When his two‑year old grandson ran into the room and yelled "Grandpa!," Cybulski sat up and picked the little boy up! Six months later, he was leading a completely normal life, and driving the new car he had been looking forward to buying before he became comatose. Cybulski's doctors had "no explanation" for his instant recovery.6

Barbie Blodgett and Her Baby

On June 30, 1988, near Yakima, Washington, a drunk driver crashed into the car that 24‑year old Barbie Blodgett was riding in. Three months pregnant at the time, she slipped into a persistent coma, and experts believed that she would never regain consciousness, because her cerebrum (the large part of the brain which controls consciousness and voluntary functions), was simply not functioning at all. She was unable to speak or eat and was fed through a stomach tube. Other experts predicted grimly that the baby she was carrying would die and/or would worsen her condition to the point of death.

However, her pro‑life family maintained hope and continued to pray. And on December 9, 1988, 8‑pound Simon Alan Blodgett was born perfectly healthy. Dr. Thomas Benedetti, director of perinatal medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, stated that this was the fourth instance known of a comatose woman giving birth. The day after the baby was born, Barbara Blodgett recognized her son, Simon, and began to regain consciousness. A month later, she could communicate and feed her newborn. A year later, she was still partially paralyzed and had to communicate via a computer keyboard. But she said that she "hoped to walk and talk before Simon does."7

Living Organ Donors

There have been a number of cases in which surgeons have been preparing to remove the organs from "profoundly comatose" persons, only to have them wake up on the operating table.

In every one of these cases - and in hundreds of other cases that are reported or unreported every year - doctors condemn to a painful death people they are "absolutely certain" will never recover. But no amount of anecdotal evidence answers the question of how many people actually recover from a deep comatose state.

Medical researchers have performed a number of extensive studies to determine how many people in so‑called "irreversible comas" actually recover.

One study of 84 people with a "firm diagnosis" of PVS showed that 41% had regained consciousness within six months, 52% by one year, and 58% within three years.9 A second study of 26 children in comas lasting more than 12 weeks found that three‑fourths eventually regained consciousness. Another study found that one‑third of the 370 patients in a "PVS" for up to one year recovered enough to return to work.10

Totaling the numbers from these three studies, we see that 192 of 480 PVS patients - or 40% - eventually recovered.

It is obvious that, when predicting the futures of patients who are deemed to be in so‑called "persistent vegetative states," there is no such thing as a "sure thing." It is also obvious that the main motives of many health professionals are the saving of medical resources and cost control, not the saving or betterment of human life.

As we have noted, it is a curious fact that most pro‑euthanasia activists oppose capital punishment, primarily because judges and juries make mistakes during trials that can result in an unjust sentence of death. Those who support euthanasia are therefore willing to spend an average of $1.15 million to keep a hardened killer behind bars for the rest of his natural life - and hundreds of thousands more on multiple legal appeals to make absolutely certain that every person executed by the State is truly guilty as charged.11 But they do not seem willing to spend a much smaller amount to keep an innocent comatose or ill person alive in the very real hope that he will recover or at least live for an extended period of time.

We must wonder about the level of outrage pro‑euthanasia activists would undoubtedly show if it could be proven that forty percent of those executed were innocent - which is the same percentage of "irreversibly comatose" people who eventually recover.

Pro‑life activists may use precisely the same reasoning to oppose euthanasia. As we have seen, medical people have judged hundreds of people "irreversibly comatose," only to find that these people awaken and lead normal or nearly normal lives.

Capital punishment is forever.

And so is euthanasia.

So, in order to be consistent, those who oppose capital punishment must also oppose euthanasia.

The primary reason that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia should be banned is that death is forever, and a diagnosis of coma is never a "sure thing." In fact, as we have seen, studies show that about 40% of all people who are diagnosed as living in a so-called "persistent vegetative state" recover and lead lives that are completely normal or close to normal, with a certain degree of assistance.

Reason #2: Euthanasia Sets a Bad Example

One of our most important roles as adults in society is to set a good example for younger and less experienced people. After all, what we teach young people will largely determine how they run the world after they inherit it - and what kind of world our grandchildren will inherit.

What we teach young people will also determine how they treat us when we are elderly and infirm.

Suicide rates are continually growing . We read about suicide pacts and teen murder/suicides almost on a weekly basis. Experts in the demographics of suicide ("suicidologists") already call this situation "epidemic."

What kind of an example does Janet Adkins give to teenagers when she kills herself just because her piano playing is beginning to deteriorate? Or because she may experience some unknown degree of pain eight to ten years down the road - pain that probably could easily be alleviated?

If our society accepts euthanasia, how will we tell a despondent teenager he has no right to kill himself if the cheerleader he adores spurns him? How about the young girl whose pet dies? Or who loses self‑respect through premarital sex? Or the boy who doesn't make the baseball team? Or who flunks out of college?

Young people in general don't respond well to such an obvious double standard. They don't accept the command "Do as I say , not as I do ." If euthanasia becomes legal and accepted by society, we must expect our "epidemic" of teen suicide to become a "pandemic," with perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 additional cases per year. How will we react to this many cases of teen suicide annually without appearing to be grossly hypocritical?

Some pro‑euthanasia activists say that an elderly and sick person choosing to die is totally different from a distraught teenager who wants to "end it all." They say that euthanasia at the end of life is a brave and rational willingness to "face the inevitable," while teenagers contemplating suicide are unwilling to face their problems. But what is the difference between teenagers and elderly people who just don't want to live any more? To deny the "right to die" to one group of people while granting it to another is discrimination under the law. Already, the Netherlands has euthanized children as young as six years old, in addition to infants, under the Groningen Protocol.

Certainly there is a difference between an elderly person in pain who is thinking about assisted suicide and a despondent teenaged girl with a bottle of sleeping pills in her hand. But young people contemplating suicide in isolation are not thinking clearly at all, especially if their problems are transitory or relatively easy to solve. Such distinctions are lost on them.

Reason #3: The Euthanasia Mentality is Myopic and Lazy

Pro‑euthanasia activists are extremely clever and skillful at manipulating public opinion through emotional appeals such as the "hard cases" and through appeals to self‑interest.

They use the same tools employed by the pro‑contraception activists of the 1920s and 1930s (read any issue of Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Review to see how heavily she emphasized the "hard cases"). They are also copying the tactics of the pro‑abortion activists whose entire strategy for legalizing abortion was built on an almost exclusive emphasis on the " hard cases " of rape, incest, and life‑threatening pregnancies. The euthanasiasts believe everyone should possess the right to do away with themselves, and they also believe society must not be concerned about such self‑destructive acts.

This philosophy is not only irresponsible, it is extremely dangerous. Everyone in a society develops, throughout his life, a complex web of relationships. Every person significantly affects many other members of society, often without realizing it.

A society‑system is roughly analogous to a human body. Its major cities represent organs; the capital is the brain (in the United States, this "brain" often appears to be mentally handicapped); the interstate highways are the arteries, and local roads are the capillaries, carrying nutrients to every cell. We, as individuals, might represent blood cells conveying nutrients to every other cell and organ in the body.

In this setting, euthanasia could be considered a type of leukemia, where individual blood cells start destroying themselves randomly and at an ever‑increasing rate.

No human body can live with an acute case of leukemia, and no society can endure if its people destroy themselves at a high enough rate.

All of a healthy body's cells work together to promote the common good of the body. Similarly, individuals work together to advance the common good of society. Each of us plays a vital part in this complex corpus. Just as our bodies could not survive if individual cells took it upon themselves to randomly "self‑destruct," our society cannot tolerate the accelerated destruction of its individual members without serious damage.

Reason #4: Euthanasia is the Ultimate Despair

What deeper expression of despair is there than to kill oneself?

Virtually everyone has, at one time or another, experienced despair so deep that they may even have considered how easy it would be to just "let go" and die. This kind of depression is no joke, and it does no good to simply tell the person to just "Snap out of it!" Quick and easy solutions don't work - only focused attention and caring and love does.

Deep despair can easily lead to one of the nearly 50,000 suicides the United States now suffers annually .

Perhaps the saddest sight in life is a person totally without hope. This is because, as long as there is a means to overcome one's troubles, hope remains. When a person has lost all hope, he has lost all faith that he has any control over his situation.

Our society's emphasis on "choice" and "control" has aggravated this problem terribly. The Culture of Death, the government, and the media tell us that we cannot have control if we cannot have a wide range of choices or avenues of action. So, we have become conditioned to think that, if we lose options, we have lost control of our lives. And, if we lose control of our lives, we think that those lives are not worth living. We perceive ourselves as less than "fully human" if we cannot have total control all of the time.

This is nonsense. As long as we are living, we can seek to improve our situation. We can actually generate choices ourselves if we have learned to possess initiative and imagination. What's more, there are always people, churches, groups and agencies available to help, whatever our problems may be.

To kill oneself, of course, is to really lose control of the situation.

After all, once again - dead people don't choose !

Reason #5: Euthanasia is Entropic

"Entropy" is the measure of the degree of disorder of systems. And all systems - from the smallest to the largest, and from the simplest to the most complex - tend to accumulate entropy, unless positive steps are taken to prevent this process. This immutable principle applies equally to living and nonliving systems.

Every type of human or mechanical system requires effort in order to maintain it in an ordered state. Every type of system, if it is neglected, will begin to decay and disintegrate. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule (if you think there are, try to think of one):

Entropy, while a fact of life everywhere, is considered "bad" in virtually all cases. When highly organized systems (i.e., cars, computers, bodies, minds and societies) increase their degree of entropy drastically, they will rust, break down, or die.

The culture of death's mode of thinking is basically entropic by nature. It favors contraception, pornography, homosexual acts, sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia. This strange mindset strives to destroy the natural and efficient function of the human reproductive system, and ultimately, considers man to be just another animal. Curiously, it fails to recognize that non‑instinct driven euthanasia is unknown in the animal world.

Finally, it is a universal axiom that anything manmade that is "good" is difficult to initiate, maintain, improve or enlarge, while it is difficult to prevent what is "bad" from spontaneously initiating, continuing, or expanding - weeds, cancer, crime and rust are a few examples.

In other words, "bad" manmade or man‑influenced things tend to grow by themselves; "good" things must be continuously nurtured.

By commutative reasoning, we may infer that whatever is man‑influenced and grows by itself is "bad." This is particularly true of social issues.

Abortion is a good example of this reasoning. In a period of just five years, it expanded relentlessly, almost effortlessly, from a few exceptions in a few states to a universal "right" available through all nine months of pregnancy all over the country. By contrast, a "good" social expansion is the civil rights movement, which required decades of struggle on many fronts, the martyrdom of dozens, and is still not complete.

Another "good" example of civil rights activism is our own pro‑life (anti‑abortion) movement, which must struggle relentlessly against the full weight of the media and the state and federal governments. Every small advance must be vigilantly guarded, or it will be reabsorbed quickly and effortlessly.

We can see that euthanasia is expanding relentlessly and almost effortlessly, just as abortion did twenty years ago. We began our euthanasia "program" with a few extreme cases - allowing those in extreme agony, days or hours from dying, to pass away peacefully and passively - and now, we annually have thousands of handicapped newborns dying of neglect and many more thousands of elderly secretly "put away" by our doctors and nursing homes. The ultimate goal of the pro-euthanasia movement is the same as that of the pro-abortion movement — euthanasia on demand, for any reason, and for all age groups including children, without parental knowledge or consent, of course.

The Increasing Confusion

Another good way of telling whether something is "good" or "bad" is by measuring the amount of confusion it causes (confusion being defined in this case as hindrance(s) to communication and/or understanding). If something is deliberately made incomprehensible to average people, it is usually not in their best interest. If a social proposal is confusing and undecipherable, it is usually something that the Culture of Death is trying to "slip by" us. In fact, they know that they must make things complicated and incomprehensible in order to make their advances. This tactic might called "mystagoguery," which is the exact opposite of trying to advance understanding.

As always, anyone who sees the euthanasia issue in "black and white" terms is condemned as "simplistic" by the Hemlock Society (Compassion & Choices) and other anti‑life organizations. It is in the best interests of these groups to make the issue appear to be as complicated and as vague as possible, because then the vast majority of the public will feel intimidated and unqualified to comment or even hold an opinion on it.

This mighty weapon of "mystagoguery" worked very well for the pro‑abortionists, particularly regarding the issue of "when life begins." Now the anti‑lifers are trying to confuse us as to when human life ends .

The thicket of conflicting pro‑euthanasia laws and judgments, promulgated in a moral and ethical vacuum, are inevitably leading to situations of unparalleled savagery and confusion.

For example, in 1987, 13‑year old Bunny Brown was shot by Daniel Joseph Yates and subsequently lay in a coma in a hospital. Four months after the brutal attack, she was regaining strength and was able to breathe by herself. However, her parents, sick of the emotional stress connected to her injury, obtained a court order that authorized the hospital to starve Bunny to death.

Then would‑be killer Yates reentered the scene. Somehow, he eluded the police and obtained another gun. He entered the hospital and shot Bunny in the head, ending her life for good.

At trial, Yates' lawyers argued that he should not stand trial for murder, since the hospital and Bunny's parents were already killing her by starvation. Strangely, Yates' lawyers had previously argued against allowing Bunny to starve to death, because if the girl died by any cause, it would reflect unfavorably upon their client.

A legal writer for the Bremerton [Washington] Star recommended that the jury should be instructed that Yates be found guilty only if prosecutors prove that Bunny Brown would have died within three years and a day of the original assault had she continued to receive food and water.

Final Thoughts

What a tangled web we weave! Nowhere is this truer than in the issue of euthanasia. As we have seen, the pro-euthanasia movement encourages drastic and desperate ways of dealing with difficult situations, leading to increasing chaos and confusion. Even irreligious people have good reason to oppose it.