Dying with dignity: Should humans have the same rights as pets?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/03/15/dying-with-dignity-should-humans-have-the-same-rights-as-pets.html


Is that really the best acronym they could come up with? A gendered term for a professional housekeeper?


It’s certainly a topic of significant controversy here still, especially as the courts push the government to expand the laws to people who suffer from mental health illnesses. The problems that come with this are real and it is very difficult to have a civil and thoughtful conversation about it.


There is another argument against such laws in the US, probably not applicable in Canada, and that is the sorry state of our healthcare system and the fact that we force many permanently disabled people to live in poverty. Some of the people who want to end their lives might not want to if we gave them a higher quality of life, which we could easily do in many cases.

ETA: This is the reason most disability advocacy groups in the US oppose Medical Aid in Dying and assisted suicide laws.


This is an argument against these laws that is valid even here in Canada. There are always people who fall through the cracks for whatever reason and there are always things not covered by “universal coverage”, especially on the mental health side of things.


Sir Pterry has entered the chat.

CW: he talks about the right to die, specifically, as it applies to him (among others).



I believe that medically assisted death should be an option for terminally ill people but the comparison to pets is problematic. Pets don’t have a legal “right” to die and do not have the agency to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process. Pet owners have the right to put down their pets when they decide it’s in their pets’ interests to do so.

Likening a human family member to a pet’s owner is a kind of icky analogy.


I have on my computer a copy of a piece that my sister wrote during the last months of her life, containing her thoughts on the subject of assisted dying (something she very much desired, but which was denied to her by the laws of the United Kingdom). It’s too long to quote in full, but I think her bullet points countering the arguments against allowing assisted dying are worth quoting:

  • It is NOT just about the end, the final dying. The existence of robust but supportive laws would help so utterly, enormously much, emotionally and psychologically, from the moment of diagnosis, or as and when one is ready to countenance the possibility.

  • The existence of such a law would in due course remove the stigma around choosing to die instead of to suffer. Personal experience has shown me this is happening quietly with Dignitas. Think not just of those dying but of those left behind. De-stigmatise. Protect them.

  • It is not a slippery slope – it is not for the disabled, elderly or those suffering dementia. It is for the terminally ill who have utterly no hope of living.

  • …and it is NOT, NOT obligatory. This is about choice, for goodness’ sake.

  • Nor is it about sanctity of life, as envisaged by the bishops (and how many terminally ill people do they actually represent, in terms of faith?) Given that they’ve tastefully managed to edit any mention of the Devil from the Service of Holy Baptism, perhaps they could likewise tastefully leave sanctity of life to personal belief.

  • …and it is not about ‘quality of life’ – a cynical and measureless phrase belonging only to NHS grandees …

  • The alleged wonders of late stage palliative care (as evinced in the House of Lords) can be a cover-up by those who should not be responsible for facing other people’s reality of dying.

I am still angry that my sister was not allowed to leave her life when it became unbearable to her, but had to drag out her existence until her body finally failed. It seems to me a profound failure in society that we continue to torment the terminally ill on pretexts that are often little more than covers for superstition or sentimentality.

We would do – and I have done – as much for a well-loved pet when it became clear that keeping the animal alive longer would be nothing other than cruelty. Why can’t we allow human beings to make the same choice for themselves?



I’ve always been a bit nervous about that position:

I can see the concern that the (already extremely difficult to impossible) task of shaking money loose to ease the plight of the disabled might become even more difficult if the public realizes that at least some of the most miserable ones will just take you up on your euthanasia offer if you make it clear that other help is not forthcoming.

However, unless you’ve got a plan(and a relatively reliable one with a reasonably short timeline) to solve the disinterest-in-the-plight-of-the-disabled problem all you are actually doing is making it mandatory for the people you can’t help to continue suffering, like it or not, in the service of your long term strategic interests.

As ends go it’s fairly noble; but it still seems like an exercise in using the people you are supposed to advocate for as a means to that end; rather than treating them as ends in themselves.


Um… lots of disability rights advocates are themselves disabled (and some are the families and caretakers of those who can’t speak for themselves). But they can and DO speak for themselves and advocate for their own needs (and those of family members).

Not everything is a grift, not even lobbying groups who advocate for people rather than corporations.


I get what you’re saying, I think. There are some people with terminal conditions with no hope of getting better who wouldn’t be helped by an improved healthcare and welfare system, so this, in a way, is punishing them by forcing them to wait for something that isn’t going to help them anyway. There aren’t any easy answers here. Before I took a class in health law ethics last year, I was firmly in the camp of people should be allowed to determine the time and manner of their death. Now, I’m not sure where I stand. It’s a complex issue. There are reasonable arguments on both sides that, unlike with abortion, are not dependent on religion or faith.


I’ve been posting here about the pushback we get in Canada, but get no traction. A lot of disability advocacy groups here push back against MAiD and Twitter had a lot of stories posted by supposedly disabled people saying that social workers had pushed them towards MAiD. And this was before bill C-7, which expands MAiD to cover mental disability as well. I have no idea where to stand on this, tbh.


They should change it to MADE - Medical Assisted Death Extravaganza!

No, but seriously, I understand not wanting it to be too easy of a way out, a permanent solution to short term problems. At the same time there are certain conditions I personally would rather be able to chose to go out on own terms vs the diseases. Such as ALS or dementia so severe I can’t feed myself.

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While many of the arguments against medically assisted suicide are valid, IMO they still don’t stand up against “my body, my choice.”


That they do; and I’m wholly supportive of that; but in the context of what “disability advocacy groups” do we are talking about people who are also advocating for a class (that they may well be a member of; but of which there are plenty of other members). That’s the point where I get a bit nervous; since that’s where you go from representing your own interests to representing the aggregate interests of many people who aren’t you; and where you almost certainly start advocating for things that at least some of your class members would be against when advocating for themselves.

The claim is not that it’s a grift; just that the ethics of making living for the cause mandatory are a bit disconcerting.


Sure but the really thorny questions often come down to “at what point can we confidently say the person in question is actually making the choice for themselves?”

For example, say a person writes a living will saying they’d rather be euthanized than live with severe dementia. But when that person actually gets to the point of severe dementia they seem content and in no hurry to die. Which version of that person do we respect the wishes of, the version who made their desire clear when they were still of sound mind and body or the version we actually have in front of us? Life is complicated!


I think it’s incredibly important, though, for groups to work together for shared, common goals. Otherwise, the powerful interests WILL run roughshod over all of us. And yes, we can certainly be concerned with some of a particular group overpowering the voices of less powerful within their own group, but that doesn’t mean that speaking as a group is not worth doing.

I don’t know that that is what is actually happening though?

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I don’t think it’s the same thing.

Should people be able to decide when to end their own suffering? Yes.

Should people be able to decide to end the suffering of a loved one like we do with pets? Nope.

There’s a huge difference in ending our pets suffering vs a person who can speak for themselves.


I just wanted to add that we have a Medical Aid in Dying law in New Jersey. I looked up the numbers late last year, but I don’t remember them exactly. But I want to say around 100 or so people a year, or maybe fewer, have made use of it. It’s not a huge number. There are numerous hoops to jump through to be approved. When you are, you get a prescription for several medications you have to self administer. More people have filled the prescription than have used it. For some people, this is also just about feeling like you have some control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation.