Thursday, April 28, 2011

Euthanasia and global warming

A friend passed around a link on Facebook to a poll in the Northern Territory about euthanasia laws. Now don't get me wrong, I find the idea of sanctioned killing of the old or suffering disturbing, saddening and in the end morally disagreeable, and would never want to see it legislated. There has been great advances in palliative care and it reflects far better on a society that people are cared for in their suffering. One might pull out the usual argument that we play God when we choose the timing of our own deaths.

However, we do drug up people in pain, and I imagine some people who are old and frail have little conscious experience because of this, to say nothing of the morally complex cases of people on life support. When does quality of life ebb so low that it isn't worth living? Does God desire us to suffer? Some would respond with comments about character, etc, but suffering in any form is an evil even if it can result in a good. In the end I'd rather see such laws opposed and more put into care for those who suffer.

So why bring global warming into this? Well it is usually going to be the old who are going to be euthanased. And it is the very old who suffer directly from global warming. In 2003, Europe suffered a huge heat wave during summer. It is estimated that some 35,000 people died as a result of the heat wave. The summer temperatures in Europe for example were some 5 standard deviations away from the mean values, i.e. it was an extreme event. Comparisons of temperatures between the late half of the 19th and early part of the 20th, and the second half of the 20th c. saw a change in the mean temperature of about 1 C. A recent study showed that this heat wave is four times more likely to occur in our warmed climate than in a pre-industrial atmosphere. Future scenarios for Europe show up to 4 C warming by the end of the century with 100% change in temperature variability, making a rare event common.

Most of those who died in the heat wave were the elderly, who are often already dehydrated, have heart issues, problems thermo-regulating, etc. Euthanasia is the decision to die, right or wrong. Global warming is already killing the elderly in extreme events in the civilised West. We know global warming is real - so why campaign on euthanasia but not on global warming? Same goes with abortion. Complex issue, sad, terminating young lives. With water already being a problem in the developing world, dirty water causing many deaths by diarrhea, how much more so will the poor children die in the warming climate? Why campaign against abortion in the west yet let children die elsewhere?

Christian ethics should not just be about standard life/death issues.


  1. Something largely unrelated, but which bugs me every so often... Why are there no overseas aid/development organisations that run "pensioner support" programs, while there are hundreds if not thousands running "child sponsorship" programs?

    In the developed world, the introduction of an aged pension made a huge difference to the quality of life in the last years of poor workers. (A fascinating read here is Miles Fairburn's Nearly Out of Heart and Hope, about the life of an itinerant New Zealand worker who died in 1925 at 79.)

  2. Wow thanks for that - it is true. I suppose primarily because of the number of premature deaths in developing nations, and the fact that often the welfare program is large families to support their parents. But yes, elderly need a focus too.