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An essay on euthanasia the good death

Messenger Today, a primary goal of both movements aimed at care of the dying — palliative care and euthanasia — is to eliminate suffering. These are underpinned by the idea that a good death is a painless death.

The means of achieving a good death was set out in the enormously popular ars moriendi art of dying guides that offered prayers, attitudes and actions intended to guide the dying towards salvation.

The pain that could accompany dying was seen as punishment for sin and ultimately redemptive: It was also a test of the compassion and charity of friends, relatives and even strangers. The Christian injunction to minister to suffering meant visiting and caring for the dying were seen as communal duties.

For a Christian euthanasia can never be a good death. Discuss

Children as well as adults were expected to offer physical and moral support to those who were gravely ill. James Gillray, Bleeding a Vein, circa 1804. Author provided Doctors did not typically attend the deathbed. They did not have an obvious role in the central spiritual business of dying, but nor were they particularly associated with the mitigation of suffering.

Indeed, in the pre-anaesthetic era, doctors were more likely to be associated with the infliction of pain. In the 19th century, pain began to be seen as a discrete and aberrant physiological phenomenon.

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Both dying and suffering were increasingly medicalised. Doctors gradually took over from the clergy and family as carers of the dying. It began to refer to this new medical duty to assist the terminally ill — but not to hasten death. In 1870, Samuel Williams, a Birmingham businessman and amateur philosopher, proposed a more definitive form of this new medical treatment for the terminally ill.

A modern paradox

In an essay called Euthanasia, published by the local Speculative Club, he wrote: That in all cases of hopeless and painful illness, it should be the recognised duty of the medical attendant, whenever so desired by the patient, to administer chloroform or such other anaesthetic as may by-and-by supersede chloroform — so as to destroy the consciousness at once, and put the sufferer to a quick and painless death.

Williams sparked a debate that has waxed and waned but never gone away. But how had this come to look like a good way to die? It is not expected of a man that he should either endure it or inflict much of it, and to listen to the recital of cases of it makes our flesh creep morally as well as physically.

  • Doctors gradually took over from the clergy and family as carers of the dying;
  • They did not have an obvious role in the central spiritual business of dying, but nor were they particularly associated with the mitigation of suffering;
  • Author provided Doctors did not typically attend the deathbed;
  • In 1870, Samuel Williams, a Birmingham businessman and amateur philosopher, proposed a more definitive form of this new medical treatment for the terminally ill;
  • That in all cases of hopeless and painful illness, it should be the recognised duty of the medical attendant, whenever so desired by the patient, to administer chloroform or such other anaesthetic as may by-and-by supersede chloroform — so as to destroy the consciousness at once, and put the sufferer to a quick and painless death;
  • It began to refer to this new medical duty to assist the terminally ill — but not to hasten death.

Historian Stephanie Snow observes that as anaesthetics and other methods of pain relief became available in the 19th century, people began to see pain — the experience but also the sight of it — as more damaging and demoralising.

A new generation of comfortably off Victorians who considered anaesthesia commonplace could no longer stomach physical suffering.

Now pain was something that could not just be eliminated but struck as cruel, unusual and degrading: Dying and suffering became things from which people, particularly children, should be shielded.

A modern paradox Medical methods aimed at eliminating the pain of the dying process developed as the fear of death — a fear that for centuries dwelt on the post-mortem horrors of hell — began to centre on the horror that could precede it. Paradoxically, this fear arose and gained momentum as most people in Western cultures became increasingly insulated from such suffering.

  • Paradoxically, this fear arose and gained momentum as most people in Western cultures became increasingly insulated from such suffering;
  • It was also a test of the compassion and charity of friends, relatives and even strangers;
  • James Gillray, Bleeding a Vein, circa 1804;
  • It is not expected of a man that he should either endure it or inflict much of it, and to listen to the recital of cases of it makes our flesh creep morally as well as physically.

Our ancestors would be amazed.