The Economic Argument for Euthanasia

By: Charlie Sprague | Jun 08, 2009 | 7616 Views Opinion |

America has serious health care problems, and as Paul Krugman makes clear in a recent column, serious cost control in the health care industry needs to be a top priority in reform. President Obama and Congressional Democrats seem poised to push for major health care reform in the upcoming months. One idea that politicians on neither the left nor the right will touch due to political sensibilities, however, could be the easiest way to save billions of dollars without affecting health care quality at all: legalizing euthanasia.

As every good CMCer with an understanding of economics should know, those with terminal illnesses are resource sinks for society. End of life care is incredibly expensive due to the frequency of hospitalizations, the increased need for specialists’ attention, etc. Those with terminal illnesses have even more expensive health care needs. Obviously, those in the final stages of a terminal illness are no longer in any position to contribute economically to society. Their continued existence may be personally meaningful to the those who love them, but from a economic perspective they are all cost and no benefit.

killyourselfThis idea is not new. The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium all allow some form of legal euthanasia. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which passed in 1994, allows those who have been diagnosed as being terminally ill to apply for assisted suicide. What is new is the massive number of baby boomers who are entering old age and straining America’s health care system with ever higher costs. Legalizing euthanasia at the federal level (or having the other state’s follow Oregon’s example) would allow millions of elderly Americans with terminal illnesses the option of ending their lives peacefully instead of suffering through the horrible pain and physical debilitations associated with prolonging life during a terminal condition. The supporters of Oregon’s campaign focused on this humanitarian argument. I would add that a proper conception of individual autonomy should also include the right to choose a painless death.

For the more utilitarian minded, however, consider this: a system of legalized euthanasia transfers medical resources from those who want to die to those who want to live. This Pareto improvement is especially clear philosophically when we consider that the government will undoubtedly play a larger role in America’s health care industry, which means that any money saved by allowing geezers to choose euthanasia frees up more health care dollars for the needy.

I know the arguments against legal euthanasia can seem convincing. Won’t we be embracing a culture of death? The short answer is no. The importance of the expressive function of the law is frequently overstated in euthanasia debates: I don’t think we have or are going to see profound cultural shifts in Oregon and select European countries because they have legal euthanasia. Alternatively, some argue that legal euthanasia will make those with terminal conditions feel pressured to end their lives early so as not to be a financial burden to their families? Sadly, this is already a reality and the only real solution would be a single-payer health care system that made families not financially responsible for their dying relatives. In the absence of a single-payer system, however, maybe the terminally ill really are justified in choosing euthanasia to spare their children bankruptcy. Regardless, I don’t see why the government is justified in making that choice for all terminally ill patients. To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that many of us don’t share your comprehensive moral doctrine and would prefer to make the choice for ourselves.

Think about it: legal euthanasia is the ultimate cost control measure for the health care industry.

About the Author

I love to debate, but I hate it when people take arguments about their politics personally. I love to travel for free. It's one of the best things I've gotten from my CMC education. Sunday is often the most frustrating day of my week (I'm a 49ers fan).

  1. Thought you were talking about June 9, 2009 at 12:08 am -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_Human_Extinction_Movement

    The VHEMT would be a much more interesting subject for the Forum to cover than silly “practical” debates about “morallity” and “economics” and “health care.” Psh.

  2. Thought you were talking about June 9, 2009 at 12:08 am -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_Human_Extinction_Movement

    The VHEMT would be a much more interesting subject for the Forum to cover than silly “practical” debates about “morallity” and “economics” and “health care.” Psh.

  3. Thought you were talking about June 8, 2009 at 5:08 pm -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_Human_Extinction_Movement

    The VHEMT would be a much more interesting subject for the Forum to cover than silly “practical” debates about “morallity” and “economics” and “health care.” Psh.

  4. Tom Clifford June 9, 2009 at 3:53 pm -

    “In the absence of a single-payer system, however, maybe the terminally ill really are justified in choosing euthanasia to spare their children bankruptcy.”

    The problem is that the terminally ill are not in a proper state of mind to make this decision. The terminally ill might feel as is they are a huge burden on their family, and that their family is really itching to get rid of them, even when their family actually wants to do all they can and are happy to give their resources.

    You might propose some sort of standards for applying legal euthanasia. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any specific procedures that adequately assert sound state of mind for making this decision. If you are terminally ill, you are almost never in a clear enough state of mind to make this decision.

  5. Tom Clifford June 9, 2009 at 3:53 pm -

    “In the absence of a single-payer system, however, maybe the terminally ill really are justified in choosing euthanasia to spare their children bankruptcy.”

    The problem is that the terminally ill are not in a proper state of mind to make this decision. The terminally ill might feel as is they are a huge burden on their family, and that their family is really itching to get rid of them, even when their family actually wants to do all they can and are happy to give their resources.

    You might propose some sort of standards for applying legal euthanasia. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any specific procedures that adequately assert sound state of mind for making this decision. If you are terminally ill, you are almost never in a clear enough state of mind to make this decision.

    • J3nnif3roz3 May 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm -

      people are meant to die. If they are to sick to say for themselves what they want… that just shows how much they are suffering they are in. If they’re teminal already then they are going to die. They should have the right to choose if it is time for them to go to stop the needless suffering.

  6. Tom Clifford June 9, 2009 at 8:53 am -

    “In the absence of a single-payer system, however, maybe the terminally ill really are justified in choosing euthanasia to spare their children bankruptcy.”

    The problem is that the terminally ill are not in a proper state of mind to make this decision. The terminally ill might feel as is they are a huge burden on their family, and that their family is really itching to get rid of them, even when their family actually wants to do all they can and are happy to give their resources.

    You might propose some sort of standards for applying legal euthanasia. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any specific procedures that adequately assert sound state of mind for making this decision. If you are terminally ill, you are almost never in a clear enough state of mind to make this decision.

  7. jodiyo June 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm -

    This has been argued before…

    Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide save money for the American healthcare system?

    (http://euthanasia.procon.org/viewanswers.asp?questionID=000203)

  8. jodiyo June 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm -

    This has been argued before…

    Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide save money for the American healthcare system?

    (http://euthanasia.procon.org/viewanswers.asp?questionID=000203)

  9. jodiyo June 10, 2009 at 6:29 am -

    This has been argued before…

    Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide save money for the American healthcare system?

    (http://euthanasia.procon.org/viewanswers.asp?questionID=000203)

  10. Charles C. Johnson June 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm -

    Wow. I cannot believe you are credibly arguing that euthanasia would save the govt. money.

    We’re a better country than that.

  11. Charles C. Johnson June 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm -

    Wow. I cannot believe you are credibly arguing that euthanasia would save the govt. money.

    We’re a better country than that.

  12. Charles C. Johnson June 10, 2009 at 11:39 am -

    Wow. I cannot believe you are credibly arguing that euthanasia would save the govt. money.

    We’re a better country than that.

  13. dave slatyer June 16, 2009 at 2:40 am -

    hi
    i think the economic argument for euthanasia is sound .
    to overcome tom clifford’s concern about the proper state of mind of a terminally ill
    person i intend to make it publically and legally known several years before i get to
    be 75 years old that i support active euthanasia for myself .

    i concede some doctors have good ethics but all to often people mainly go into medicine
    to get a good secure income .
    a medical industry that promotes keeping 90 year olds alive with palliative care sounds
    too much like dracula running the blood bank to me .

    To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .
    peter singer’s “rethinking life and death” would be a good primer to help them grow up a little .

    dave s

  14. dave slatyer June 16, 2009 at 2:40 am -

    hi
    i think the economic argument for euthanasia is sound .
    to overcome tom clifford’s concern about the proper state of mind of a terminally ill
    person i intend to make it publically and legally known several years before i get to
    be 75 years old that i support active euthanasia for myself .

    i concede some doctors have good ethics but all to often people mainly go into medicine
    to get a good secure income .
    a medical industry that promotes keeping 90 year olds alive with palliative care sounds
    too much like dracula running the blood bank to me .

    To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .
    peter singer’s “rethinking life and death” would be a good primer to help them grow up a little .

    dave s

  15. dave slatyer June 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm -

    hi
    i think the economic argument for euthanasia is sound .
    to overcome tom clifford’s concern about the proper state of mind of a terminally ill
    person i intend to make it publically and legally known several years before i get to
    be 75 years old that i support active euthanasia for myself .

    i concede some doctors have good ethics but all to often people mainly go into medicine
    to get a good secure income .
    a medical industry that promotes keeping 90 year olds alive with palliative care sounds
    too much like dracula running the blood bank to me .

    To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .
    peter singer’s “rethinking life and death” would be a good primer to help them grow up a little .

    dave s

  16. Terrie June 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm -

    So will you be one of the ones trying to guilt the old geezers into dying?

    I’m curious, what happens when the “source sinks” terminally ill old geezers don’t wish to comply with your government regulations?

    Will services just simpy be refused or will centers with ovens be available to get rid of those non-compliers or will they just go into a drug induced sleep one night and never wake-up?

    How dare those old geezers work hard, pay for health care, set aside money for retirement or illness, have family members who are willing to expend the cost and energy to take care of them?! They are just taking up space beause they are no longer productive and need to move along to the nearest grave.

    In your world so-called economics trumps compassion and ethics. And if the CMCers are going down that path for an argument for euthanasia, then they are walking down a very dangerous road already trod in recent memory with horrifying results.

  17. Terrie June 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm -

    So will you be one of the ones trying to guilt the old geezers into dying?

    I’m curious, what happens when the “source sinks” terminally ill old geezers don’t wish to comply with your government regulations?

    Will services just simpy be refused or will centers with ovens be available to get rid of those non-compliers or will they just go into a drug induced sleep one night and never wake-up?

    How dare those old geezers work hard, pay for health care, set aside money for retirement or illness, have family members who are willing to expend the cost and energy to take care of them?! They are just taking up space beause they are no longer productive and need to move along to the nearest grave.

    In your world so-called economics trumps compassion and ethics. And if the CMCers are going down that path for an argument for euthanasia, then they are walking down a very dangerous road already trod in recent memory with horrifying results.

  18. Terrie June 20, 2009 at 12:35 pm -

    So will you be one of the ones trying to guilt the old geezers into dying?

    I’m curious, what happens when the “source sinks” terminally ill old geezers don’t wish to comply with your government regulations?

    Will services just simpy be refused or will centers with ovens be available to get rid of those non-compliers or will they just go into a drug induced sleep one night and never wake-up?

    How dare those old geezers work hard, pay for health care, set aside money for retirement or illness, have family members who are willing to expend the cost and energy to take care of them?! They are just taking up space beause they are no longer productive and need to move along to the nearest grave.

    In your world so-called economics trumps compassion and ethics. And if the CMCers are going down that path for an argument for euthanasia, then they are walking down a very dangerous road already trod in recent memory with horrifying results.

  19. Charles C. Johnson June 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm -

    Thanks Terrie. CMCers certainly don’t support this position, but they do defend Mr. Sprague’s right to in Mark Twain fashion, open his mouth and remove all doubt as to what he is.

  20. Charles C. Johnson June 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm -

    Thanks Terrie. CMCers certainly don’t support this position, but they do defend Mr. Sprague’s right to in Mark Twain fashion, open his mouth and remove all doubt as to what he is.

  21. Charles C. Johnson June 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm -

    Thanks Terrie. CMCers certainly don’t support this position, but they do defend Mr. Sprague’s right to in Mark Twain fashion, open his mouth and remove all doubt as to what he is.

  22. Terminal illness June 21, 2009 at 8:25 pm -

    Charlie limited his argument to terminal illness, which is important as we already legally euthanize people with terminal illnesses for the following reasons.

    1. Many doctors don’t want to continue treating patients who have no chance of improving. As such, they’ll advise family members to take these sickies off of life support. Granted, doctors need the families permission, but apart from this one sidestep, euthanasia is legal in the case of patients with little chance of survival. For example, If someone is being treated for gliobastoma tumor (95% chance of death, 5% chance of some or total recovery but lots of pain along the way), often doctors advise the family to let the patient die. We can make an economic argument for why this saves society money, or we can make the moral argument of why someone should go through so much pain for a 5% chance of limited recovery but either one suffices.

    2. Healthcare quality is already regulated by cost. Sure, ERs do function as a form of socialist medicine in that they do not turn people down, but the quality of care is much worse.

    My opinion is that we should let patients decide their fates as long as they have any semblance of competency left. If the patient cannot give consent, then it is up to the doctors, and not the families ever, to make the decision as most families are full of selfish scum who want to advance their own monetary or moral interests or who cannot detach their own mores from what the patient would want.

  23. Terminal illness June 21, 2009 at 8:25 pm -

    Charlie limited his argument to terminal illness, which is important as we already legally euthanize people with terminal illnesses for the following reasons.

    1. Many doctors don’t want to continue treating patients who have no chance of improving. As such, they’ll advise family members to take these sickies off of life support. Granted, doctors need the families permission, but apart from this one sidestep, euthanasia is legal in the case of patients with little chance of survival. For example, If someone is being treated for gliobastoma tumor (95% chance of death, 5% chance of some or total recovery but lots of pain along the way), often doctors advise the family to let the patient die. We can make an economic argument for why this saves society money, or we can make the moral argument of why someone should go through so much pain for a 5% chance of limited recovery but either one suffices.

    2. Healthcare quality is already regulated by cost. Sure, ERs do function as a form of socialist medicine in that they do not turn people down, but the quality of care is much worse.

    My opinion is that we should let patients decide their fates as long as they have any semblance of competency left. If the patient cannot give consent, then it is up to the doctors, and not the families ever, to make the decision as most families are full of selfish scum who want to advance their own monetary or moral interests or who cannot detach their own mores from what the patient would want.

  24. Terminal illness June 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm -

    Charlie limited his argument to terminal illness, which is important as we already legally euthanize people with terminal illnesses for the following reasons.

    1. Many doctors don’t want to continue treating patients who have no chance of improving. As such, they’ll advise family members to take these sickies off of life support. Granted, doctors need the families permission, but apart from this one sidestep, euthanasia is legal in the case of patients with little chance of survival. For example, If someone is being treated for gliobastoma tumor (95% chance of death, 5% chance of some or total recovery but lots of pain along the way), often doctors advise the family to let the patient die. We can make an economic argument for why this saves society money, or we can make the moral argument of why someone should go through so much pain for a 5% chance of limited recovery but either one suffices.

    2. Healthcare quality is already regulated by cost. Sure, ERs do function as a form of socialist medicine in that they do not turn people down, but the quality of care is much worse.

    My opinion is that we should let patients decide their fates as long as they have any semblance of competency left. If the patient cannot give consent, then it is up to the doctors, and not the families ever, to make the decision as most families are full of selfish scum who want to advance their own monetary or moral interests or who cannot detach their own mores from what the patient would want.

  25. Gordon Hackman June 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm -

    “To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .”

    What an arrogant and ignorant thing to say. Unfortunately, such triumphalistic ignorance has become all too typical of a certain segment of the population, who really don’t know what they’re talking about and seems to have no interests in actually learning. And yet, it is religious folks who are constantly accused of being reactionary, narrow-minded, intolerant, etc.

  26. Gordon Hackman June 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm -

    “To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .”

    What an arrogant and ignorant thing to say. Unfortunately, such triumphalistic ignorance has become all too typical of a certain segment of the population, who really don’t know what they’re talking about and seems to have no interests in actually learning. And yet, it is religious folks who are constantly accused of being reactionary, narrow-minded, intolerant, etc.

    • atheist June 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm -

      If one has a religious issue against euthanasia, that is one thing, but for one group to impose their beliefs on all public policy is another, regardless of whether that group are believers or non believers. The left and the right are both full of these type of people and the day is coming when they will no longer have a voice. Until then, the intelligentsia and the zealots will battle it out and make us all worse off with their “moral” arguments. Where do these morals stem from? An invisible old man or a power hungry leader? Who cares. I think PETA may have it right thinking we are inherently no more special than any other animal but thats another topic altogether.

    • atheist June 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm -

      If one has a religious issue against euthanasia, that is one thing, but for one group to impose their beliefs on all public policy is another, regardless of whether that group are believers or non believers. The left and the right are both full of these type of people and the day is coming when they will no longer have a voice. Until then, the intelligentsia and the zealots will battle it out and make us all worse off with their “moral” arguments. Where do these morals stem from? An invisible old man or a power hungry leader? Who cares. I think PETA may have it right thinking we are inherently no more special than any other animal but thats another topic altogether.

  27. Gordon Hackman June 22, 2009 at 10:18 am -

    “To those with religious objections to euthanasia, all I can say is that they need to grow up ,
    delete their delusions and surrender their superstitious silliness .”

    What an arrogant and ignorant thing to say. Unfortunately, such triumphalistic ignorance has become all too typical of a certain segment of the population, who really don’t know what they’re talking about and seems to have no interests in actually learning. And yet, it is religious folks who are constantly accused of being reactionary, narrow-minded, intolerant, etc.

    • atheist June 22, 2009 at 11:06 am -

      If one has a religious issue against euthanasia, that is one thing, but for one group to impose their beliefs on all public policy is another, regardless of whether that group are believers or non believers. The left and the right are both full of these type of people and the day is coming when they will no longer have a voice. Until then, the intelligentsia and the zealots will battle it out and make us all worse off with their “moral” arguments. Where do these morals stem from? An invisible old man or a power hungry leader? Who cares. I think PETA may have it right thinking we are inherently no more special than any other animal but thats another topic altogether.

  28. nurulaida November 12, 2009 at 6:02 pm -

    Think back, how much is your life worth that you decide to perform euthanasia? is it really that worthless? where has your dignity gone to?
    on the other side tho, if a person is too sick to move or think in that sense, the people around him should be wise enough to decide what is really best for him/her. If euthanasia is the way, then so be it. If there is still hope and cure, let him have the chance to live atleast. But then again, this is really up to the individuals to think maturely.

  29. nurulaida November 12, 2009 at 6:02 pm -

    Think back, how much is your life worth that you decide to perform euthanasia? is it really that worthless? where has your dignity gone to?
    on the other side tho, if a person is too sick to move or think in that sense, the people around him should be wise enough to decide what is really best for him/her. If euthanasia is the way, then so be it. If there is still hope and cure, let him have the chance to live atleast. But then again, this is really up to the individuals to think maturely.

  30. nurulaida November 12, 2009 at 10:02 am -

    Think back, how much is your life worth that you decide to perform euthanasia? is it really that worthless? where has your dignity gone to?
    on the other side tho, if a person is too sick to move or think in that sense, the people around him should be wise enough to decide what is really best for him/her. If euthanasia is the way, then so be it. If there is still hope and cure, let him have the chance to live atleast. But then again, this is really up to the individuals to think maturely.

  31. Mark Everett December 18, 2009 at 7:13 am -

    You self-appointed moralists—-just listen….really listen to yourselves.

    How dare you!!….without actual knowledge of how bad the quality of life of any particular individual has become…..to moralize about anyone’s very personal right to make a tough decision….about their reflections on what continued existance places on the public dole…..especially in an unprecedented worldwide bad economy.

    It should be the absolute humanitarian right of ANYONE to say——” ENOUGH!!! I demand the right to a painless exit.”

    Why?—-to save MILLIONS for those who will continue to make useful societal contributions and shape the future for the incurable non-contributors voluntarily left behind.

    Why?—-to salvage the personal dignity and personal memories of a precious lived and loved life before it totally disintegrates into unspeakable pain and degradation.

    I happen to be one of those now……how about MY rights?!…….Who’s thinking about that??………..

  32. Mark Everett December 18, 2009 at 7:13 am -

    You self-appointed moralists—-just listen….really listen to yourselves.

    How dare you!!….without actual knowledge of how bad the quality of life of any particular individual has become…..to moralize about anyone’s very personal right to make a tough decision….about their reflections on what continued existance places on the public dole…..especially in an unprecedented worldwide bad economy.

    It should be the absolute humanitarian right of ANYONE to say——” ENOUGH!!! I demand the right to a painless exit.”

    Why?—-to save MILLIONS for those who will continue to make useful societal contributions and shape the future for the incurable non-contributors voluntarily left behind.

    Why?—-to salvage the personal dignity and personal memories of a precious lived and loved life before it totally disintegrates into unspeakable pain and degradation.

    I happen to be one of those now……how about MY rights?!…….Who’s thinking about that??………..

    • Esaling2 November 29, 2011 at 1:31 am -

      calm your tits bro

      • lol November 29, 2011 at 3:15 am -

        I like how this comment comes two years after the original article

      • lol November 29, 2011 at 3:15 am -

        I like how this comment comes two years after the original article

      • Harley February 27, 2012 at 6:41 am -

        seriously? you sound all of about 12. have a little maturity. god  its pathetic when trash like this ends up on a discussion board.

    • Jojo_bdp December 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm -

      Excellent, hit the nail on the head

  33. Mark Everett December 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm -

    You self-appointed moralists—-just listen….really listen to yourselves.

    How dare you!!….without actual knowledge of how bad the quality of life of any particular individual has become…..to moralize about anyone’s very personal right to make a tough decision….about their reflections on what continued existance places on the public dole…..especially in an unprecedented worldwide bad economy.

    It should be the absolute humanitarian right of ANYONE to say——” ENOUGH!!! I demand the right to a painless exit.”

    Why?—-to save MILLIONS for those who will continue to make useful societal contributions and shape the future for the incurable non-contributors voluntarily left behind.

    Why?—-to salvage the personal dignity and personal memories of a precious lived and loved life before it totally disintegrates into unspeakable pain and degradation.

    I happen to be one of those now……how about MY rights?!…….Who’s thinking about that??………..

  34. Aujoe17 October 27, 2010 at 10:56 am -

    really good and convincing argument :) that totally makes sense, all that money spent on those terminally ill people is such a waste, lots of other people need that money and yet it is spent on those, um, “useless geezers” = =

    • jrandom July 12, 2012 at 5:13 pm -

       “Lots of other people need that money”

      Like useless welfare queens, useless autards, useless mongoloids, useless liberal arts grads…

      Well, OK, there might still be a use for the libarts hipsters working at mcdicks for $7/hr since “philosophy” has been rebranded as “bioethics.” They can help bring about sound public policy decisions like this one.

      Sha’niqua and Rain Man are still useless turds, however.

  35. Cyndi Howard November 20, 2010 at 9:12 am -

    We should all have the right to die if we are suffering,especially if there is nothing more that a physician to do. Too much money is spent on unneccessary expensive drugs and procedures, with the end result of tax payers footing the bill .Economically speaking, there is large profit in end of life care. There is a fine line between prolonging life and prolonging death.

    • jrandom123 July 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm -

      There is also large profit in “cradle to grave” care — especially for the chronically mentally ill. Think of the $$$ that Pfizer would lose out on if cyanide were made available for a fin at Walgreen’s and nobody took Prozac anymore.

      I call dibs on chewy Gummy Bear Nembutal.