Monday, May 11, 2009

Does "pro-choice" include right-to-die?  

6 comments
In Britain, a euthanasia activist and doctor is holding a series of "suicide workshops," which teach people various ways to kill oneself. The initial talks are open to all, but anyone who wants to attend more "in-depth" workshops must be over 50 or seriously ill. From AlterNet:

One of the people who attended yesterday's event was Charles Beech, 76, from Ringwood in Hampshire.

He said: "I often observe elderly people suffering long, lingering deaths. Let's get it organised, let's be fair to everyone. Why should it be so important for people to suffer an awful life? It is so wrong. In pain, agony and despair, it should be stopped."

While reading this article, I started to examine euthanasia through a feminist lens. Is the right to die a true feminist issue? A fundamental feminist belief, in my opinion, is control over one's own body. We believe, as pro-choice activists, that a woman should be able to decide, on her own, when she should give birth. But does being pro-choice include the belief that a person should decide when to die?

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of discussion on euthanasia within the feminist community. In fact, the entire right-to-die movement seems to be fairly small. My guess is that people don't enjoy talking about this issue - honestly, who wants to sit around and discuss how and when people should die? Rather morbid. But it is something we should be talking about. Personally, I see this as related to the feminist movement and to the pro-choice movement. I am a feminist, I am a pro-choice activist, and I believe that an ill or elderly person has the right to die with dignity. Death is scary for everyone, but perhaps some of the terror that comes with death can be eased when we have the ability to exercise some control. No doubt death will never be easy, but certainly passing away peacefully is easier on someone than dying slowly and painfully.

If you're interested in learning more about the ideology behind the right-to-die movement, or perhaps even joining the movement yourself, you can visit Exit International.

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6 comments: to “ Does "pro-choice" include right-to-die?


  • May 12, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

    I have thought about this issue before. I agree with you completely, and feel that if someone wishes to die, then that is their right. I think the real reason it isn't discussed is because it's seen as such a taboo topic. I think people have a harder time openly admitting to being in support of euthanasia. I know that when I have told people that I support it, I have seen eyes grow much wider than when I tell them that I am pro-choice. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it is illegal, or that suicide is a sensitive issue, or maybe just the fact that a lot of people can't imagine making that decision themselves. I don't know- but I would like to hear more feminist perspectives on this issue.


  • May 12, 2009 at 10:39 AM  

    I'm not incredibly versed in feminism, but I am not comfortable with drawing parallels between being pro-choice and supporting the right-to-die. Maybe I just need more explanation.

    1. Is this REALLY a feminist issue? You are saying that women are treated differently in their quest for their right-to-die? And if so, I don't see elements of that in your post.

    2. Isn't a major part of being pro-choice the argument that early pregnancy is not a LIFE, but rather a bundle of cells?

    3. Aren't women pro-choice because, among other things, they want ownership of their bodies, and the right to determine their own futures by changing their physical condition? I think that choosing death to escape a disease is not at all like choosing abortion to escape an undesirable future. If they were interchangeable issues, it would be like choosing death to escape pregnancy, or "aborting" one's disease to determine their future.

    4. Control over one's body... is just not the same as control over one's life--or, state of being alive.

    5. You claim a major part of the right-to-die is the comfort of having control, which is caused by being terrified. So... women are only pro-choice because they want control because they are terrified? Maybe in some cases, but not all. Are these people, who must be over 50 OR seriously ill, trying to gain control by dying? How do you know what happens when you are DEAD? They are escaping the pain (which I can understand) but I'm not sure I see that as control.

    I think I am just a little lost and discomfited by your comparison of pro-choice to right-to-die... any more thoughts?


  • May 12, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

    Thank you for your comments, Heather, I appreciate you wanting to know more.

    1. A situation does not have to involve women being treated "differently" in order for it to be a feminist issue. Racism is a feminist issue. Homophobia is a feminist issue. Animal abuse is a feminist issue. All involve men (and one involves animals). Though what constitutes a "feminist issue" is debatable, I don't think the presence of "women being treated differently" is a crucial component.

    2. I'm not quite sure what argument you're trying to make here. Yes, many pro-choicers do argue that life does not begin at conception, but how does that play out in the right-to-die movement?

    3. I certainly am not implying that these issues are interchangeable. I think they are compatible, which is not the same thing as "interchangeable." You said it when you explained why women are pro-choice: they want the "right to determine their own futures." While you can argue that there might not be any "future" involved with death, it is still some form of future - if I am dying of cancer, I can choose to suffer for several more months, or I can choose to die tomorrow. That is my future.

    4. Certainly control over one's body and control over one's life can be compared. When a woman is making a decision to have a child or not have a child, she is not merely focusing on what it will do to her body, she is focusing on what it will do to her life. Giving birth is cause for a major life change.

    5. I think you misunderstood. My point was that most people are terrified of death, and to have a bit of control over when, where, and what circumstances one's death will occur can provide a bit of comfort. I'm not talking about what happens after someone dies, but rather the actual death itself. Control also plays a part in being pro-choice, of course. A major pro-choice argument is that it is a basic right for someone to have control over their own body. A person should decide if and when to give birth, what medicines to take, what foods to ingest, what vaccines to get, etc etc. Choice choice choice. Why not choose when to die?


  • May 12, 2009 at 4:58 PM  

    Of course it's a feminist issue, and here's why.

    Feminism is partially about the ways in which people of different genders are treated differently and the intersections of that with race, class, etc.

    Now, if you wanted to kill yourself, and you were rich, white, and male, killing yourself would be easy to do with any of a number of implements -- or just ask your friendly doc to prescribe some painkillers and OD on them. You wouldn't have to worry that people would call you selfish for your choice to avoid a painful demise, or that your family wouldn't be provided for because your life insurance won't pay out for a suicide, or that if your attempt fails you will be indebted for a long time to the healthcare system.

    People who are poor have to worry about failed attempts being incredibly costly and painful, and have less access to the methods to reliably die. Women, too, are criticized more for the choice to die -- ESPECIALLY if they're mothers or wives. There's a distinct element of "you should just suffer for your family" there, which is one valid choice but certainly not the only valid choice.

    Much like with abortion rights, wealthy people have the right to die peacefully whether it's outlawed or not. It's people who are poorer and less powerful that encounter bigger issues.


  • May 12, 2009 at 6:47 PM  

    VERY well said, Jeanette.


  • May 12, 2009 at 9:22 PM  

    I think if someone is suffering and it's not a fleeting/curable illness or injury and not due to depression, and are going to suffer the way they are until they die anyway, then yes they should get to choose when they die. I also think if someone tries to kill themselves for the above other reasons, there shouldn't be punishment if they fail as there often is from the government, but instead help. I also think if someone kills themselves for any reason family shouldn't be punished by refusing to pay life insurance or anything else just due to the cause of death.