July 3, 2022

Who is most vulnerable?

A fascinating article in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy argues that rich white men are also vulnerable to euthanasia.

who is more susceptible to euthanasia or assisted suicide?    

In the on-going debate over euthanasia, there are seldom any new arguments. A favourite of those in favour of legalisation argue that the wishes of people who are competent and able to make a rational choice deserve to have their autonomy respected. A favourite of those against contend that the vulnerable – the poor, the disabled and the elderly – will be victimised.

One strand of evidence favours euthanasia supporters. In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, most of the people who take advantage of it, according to the figures for 2013 are white (94%), male (62%) and well-educated (53% with a college degree). There are no estimates of income, but well-educated white males tend to be wealthier than average and, significantly, not vulnerable.

However, a fascinating article in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy turns this argument on its head. Erik Krag, of Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, suggests that it may be members of the dominant social group – white men — who are actually most vulnerable to the temptation to request euthanasia.

Men have been socialised to believe that life is not worth living if they are not dominant, independent and fully in control. When illness or indigence strike, some men will believe that their lives are completely useless, especially if they are not connected to others in a loving family structure or committed to a belief in transcendent values.

“… what happens when, through illness, injury, or simply old age, the rich, well-educated white male’s fragile source of value is broken irretrievably and he loses the ability to conform to the masculine ideals that he has been socialized to attain?”

So, paradoxically, the fact that wealthy white men are the principal “beneficiaries” of physical-assisted suicide shows that they are even more “vulnerable” than many physically disabled people. Dr Krag writes:

“… we should be no less wary of the effects of society’s influence on those who ‘would rather be dead’ than lose their privileged status. When the rich, well-educated, white male loses his privileged status, he finds himself cast suddenly into the role of the one whose life he had deemed not worth living. He is socially humiliated by his failure to measure up and unable to use the tools that he has worked so hard to develop.

“With the loss of his privileged status, the weight of society’s disdain for him hits him all at once; his sense that society sees him as worthless is magnified all the more by the self-aversion that the last remnants of his former identity cause him to feel. He has lost his source of value, and the isolating competitiveness of his upbringing has left him ill-equipped to find value in defiance, persons, or a transcendent reality.

“Certainly, if ever a person was vulnerable to feelings of depression and self-disregard, this is he. We should thus not be surprised that it is well-educated white men who seek and obtain PAS/VAE most often.”

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assisted suicide
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