Euthanasia, not eugenics

By Razib Khan | January 2, 2012 11:08 pm

A comment below clarified my thinking in one particular area: is widespread genetic screening going to result in a reconsidering of the idea of ‘engineering’ society? I realize now that in a comparative scenario this is ridiculous. The majority of healthcare expenditure is near the end of life, not the beginning. In 17 years the last of the Baby Boomers will turn 65. The looming costs are rather straightforward. And it’s not just an issue in the United States, the whole worlds is going gray.


How do we handle this sort of sociological challenge? One solution lies in increased economic productivity through innovation. This is great if you can get it. But another was option is obviously something like a milquetoast form of Logan’s Run.* Governor Dick Lamm was reputed to have said “we have a duty to die.” But not to be churlish, I observe that at 77 years of age now Lamm himself continues to be active and full of life (he made the comments when he was 50).

I’ve also been thinking about this issue because of a radio series on learning to live with “early onset” Alzheimer’s. Upon further reflection I realize that I don’t think I would want to “learn to live” with such a disease. Yes, such things are easy to say now. But perhaps it is best that we start to consider these issues as early as possible, both individually, and as a society. At the end of the day many of us would say that the point of living is to live a good life, not to just live.

* The option of allowing in large numbers of immigrants is a short term solution, the source nations for migration are themselves aging.

MORE ABOUT: Eugenics, Euthanasia
  • US

    Very much related to your last paragraph (before the *…) – Terry Pratchett (/and Tony Robinson) did a brilliant lecture on these things which is available here:

  • Chris T

    Allowing people with terminal illnesses to voluntarily end their lives would not only be humane, but also would help control health care costs.

  • colluvial

    Good post and important topic. While various ‘Death with Dignity’ legislation address the situation of imminently fatal diseases, it doesn’t address the longer term illnesses like Alzheimer’s. In the video linked to in US’s comment above, Terry Pratchett (who’s been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s) says, in response to those who would deprive him of the right to decide when to die, “If I knew that I could die at any time I wanted, then every day would be as precious as a million pounds. If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice.”

  • AG

    Sicence fiction movie `In time’ seems ideal solution.

  • Clark

    I’d prefer if we just invested more in curing some of the expensive diseases like dementia. While pouring more problem doesn’t always result in better tech (especially if it isn’t allocated well) I do think we would get more bang for the buck than a lot we do. I also think some rationing of end of life care is necessary but oddly the Republicans were most against that.

    I favor letting people make the choice of dying. But you have to first figure out how to do that while avoiding making it easy for people to stop caring for people who are a bother but who don’t themselves wish to die. There’s simply a huge opportunity for real abuse.

  • Ria

    There are a multitude of issues here. Dying with dignity is something that should be allowed to every man. I disagree that this includes forcing society to give an imprimatur to suicide or murder (for those too squeamish to kill themselves when they have decided that they no longer want to live). Hospice exists to give a comfortable death to those who are terminally ill and in the last few months of their lives. It’s a much better option than endless extension of life by hospitalization.

    I’m surprised, however, at how many people treat any change in circumstance due to disease or disability as though it were a fate worse than death (literally). This has several effects upon society as a whole: (1) it is effectively placing no worth upon all those who are born with any disability or who choose to live with such a disability, (2) no worth is placed upon the elderly who experience a natural decline in physical and mental capability that does not equate to the status of “disability” yet is a reduction from their youth, and (3) it also places no worth upon those who suffer injury due to war or mechanical injury (car accidents or other issues in modern life) that impact their mental or physical abilities. So…should all of these people be made to feel as though it is incumbent upon them to take their lives as well? Typically, their lives are challenging enough as they struggle to adapt in accomplishing everyday tasks that the standard world has made simple only for the able-bodied, without the clear Spartan attitude of a society that doesn’t desire their presence. I see no greater broad impact from legalizing euthanasia than that those who are already marginalized and depend upon aid from society as a whole (material, emotional, etc) will be pressured to commit suicide (or that their families will be easily able to “decide for them” in the case of the mentally ill or unstable). If the measure of a civilization is in how it treats it’s least capable members, one has to ask….how is that civilized?

  • Randall Parker

    People are going to have to work longer. Our entitlements programs should be restructured to encourage longer careers.

    One idea: Cap Medicare expenditures per person. But for people who work longer raise their cap per additional year worked beyond 65. People who work longer pay more in and take less out. Reward them accordingly.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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