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Extreme old age and the morality of end-of-life

Ella S.

Well-Known Member
Personally, I think it's terrible that suicide has become demonized as immoral, because it stigmatizes people who are already suffering enough.

In most cases, however, suicide is not the best option. It only seems like the best option because the person considering it is in extreme distress and they feel powerless to overcome the state they are in. For people struggling with mental illness, grief, or chronic illness, it can feel like there is no hope even when there is. This approach to suicide is born out of what the Stoics call passion, which they warned against in an ethical sense; many of these people would rather live happy lives than kill themselves, but they only resign to killing themselves because they (incorrectly) believe that a happy life is unattainable for them. Sometimes they can be so deep in their hopelessness that they cannot be reasoned out of it.

I don't think that we should condemn people who are in such a pitiable state, but in a philosophical context the Stoics would consider suicide in that situation wrong. However, they did not view suicide itself as always wrong. They only saw it as wrong when someone chooses it over better alternatives when they are not in their right mind. They supported committing suicide when it was rational. We do this, too, to some degree in our current society since we praise some forms of suicide like martyrdom and self-sacrifice as not only rational but virtuous.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating for illegal activity and I am only concerned with the philosophical question that's been proposed. This said, Stoic perspectives on suicide have often been used by pro-euthanasia movements who argue that suicide can sometimes be not only a rational choice but a virtuous choice for those with severe conditions that are almost certainly not going to improve.

There is disagreement even among Stoics whether Stoicism actually supports euthanasia and, if it does, there is also disagreement on where the line is on when it is justified under Stoicism.

Personally, I think it would be rational for society to allow people to opt into euthanasia for various conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's prior to having them, so long as that person is also in a lucid state when the time comes to undergo the process. In this way, I think suicide is philosophically justified in old age in some cases.

I also think that, if we are allowing people to die by refusing treatment for cancer and leukemia, we should also be allowed to ease the process of dying, too. We do this to some degree, but I can understand the arguments for euthanasia in these cases as well. Cancer is also a common cause of death in the elderly, so I think that's relevant.

Old age doesn't just lead to cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer's, though. I think, generally speaking, one has to evaluate this on a case-by-case basis. The major question, in my opinion, is whether one's condition can improve to the point where suicide is no longer the best option. In the case of something like chronic pain, improvement might not be a reduction of pain itself but instead refer to better coping mechanisms for living with the pain. Obviously, old age is rarely reversible, but that doesn't mean one is condemned to misery just by virtue of aging.
 

Sand Dancer

Crazy Cat Lady
I think that is what happened to my husband last year. They say he died of cancer but I think he died of starvation. No cancer spreads that fast, especially not the kind he had. My husband did not want to live so he just stopped eating, and the hospital staff did not make him eat. The psychiatrist declared him decisional so I could not override his decision even with power of attorney and get him to accept a feeding tube.

One of the doctors who was tending him in the hospital tried to save his life but my husband refused the feeding tube. That doctor also looked back at all the medical records and he said he thinks there was medical negligence, so I should ask Kaiser for an internal investigation and also file a lawsuit. I am in the process of asking for an internal investigation to find out what actually caused his death and how the cancer could have spread that fast. Luckliy, I insisted on an autopsy, which is no longer routine in cases of cancer, but that doctor was happy to sign off on it. I have contacted a few law firms and they said I had a case, although they were too busy to take the case, but they recommended I keep looking for an attorney.
My mom stopped eating 4 days before I came down and she waited to die until after I got there. That's good they didn't make him eat but supposedly you have to put that in your advance directives or they have to do what they can to keep you alive. They try to save lives, even to the detriment of the patient. Gosh, what a tough thing to go through. Take care.
 
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