assisted dying

Helen brought up the question of anthroposophy and assisted dying on another thread on karma and reincarnation. It’s quite fascinating, as it has to do with death and dying and also with suicide, which is terribly interesting in an anthroposophical perspective. Some interesting viewpoints were heard in the other thread (see the comments after Helen’s). I then googled and I found this document from the Medical Section at the Goetheanum. It’s written by anthroposophical MD and leader of the section, Michaela Glöckler. It’s absolutely worth reading.

… confusion inevitably arose from the attempt to establish a uniform opinion covering as many anthroposophical institutions as possible or, indeed, of “anthroposophists”. The positive outcome of the debate was, however, that very fundamental questions in this respect with regard to the way that anthroposophy and anthroposophists see themselves acquired a sharper outline: what, for example, would be the value of the anthroposophical perspective if it could only join fundamentalist opinions without difficulty? What would happen if specifically its aura of greatest possible understanding and active tolerance in dealing with the subject were its particular hallmark? Does an anthroposophical opinion represent “anthroposophy”, one or several institutions, or the view of individual people working in a wide variety of fields? Anthroposophy sees itself as a path of knowledge , “to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe“ (13). Hence there is the potential for all shades of opinion among anthroposophists from fundamentalist views and sectarian tendencies to undifferentiated conformity with whatever happens to be the mainstream – but there cannot be a single anthroposophical opinion.

Well. I have not read it to the end yet, but please add your thoughts and other reading suggestions — if you have — in the thread.

17 thoughts on “assisted dying

  1. I think we touched upon this in the other (karmic consequences) thread so I’m glad you split it off. What constitutes an “anthroposophist” opinion? For example, if the doctrine of our karmically choosing our fates often leads to a risk of a cop out to intervene etc – is that then justifiable from an anthro perspective? What if somebody would hint at it in a book? Is ye olde Steiner books (by which translation/interpretation) the final word on what is “true” anthroposophy? Rather than trying to answer these questions, I would ask who is interested in defining anthroposophy in absolute terms? I would say 1) fundamentalist true believers and 2) categoric critics that are more interested in critiquing anthro as such rather than what’s wrong with it. An anthroposophist really is neither and would probably rather consider the truth, goodness and beauty of a proposition, than whether it was truly Anthroposofic (TM) or not.

  2. Thought there must be something on it somewhere, thanks for this Alicia, and since you were good enough to find it, I made the effort to read it!
    I confess to having had trouble ploughing through, not helped by it having been translated (from German, I guess). Some of the key points are a little lost in translation.
    As expected there is an assumption, barely questioned, that assisted dying is to be prevented at all costs.
    There is a point Michaela makes on page 7 however, where while wondering about intervention by a third party she acknowledges that ‘[anthroposophic ethical individualism] demands that the other person be guided from and through himself to insights which are his own.’
    But she then proceeds to explain that ‘God’ made humans able to be able to ‘search for truth’.
    Nuff said. Thats that, then.

  3. It is surprising to me after what I have read on this blog about anthroposophy being loftily above God and earthly religions, to find such prominent references to God as the creator in a document written by the head of the medical section at the Goetheanum.
    Unless she brought God into it as a back-up in case anyone had doubts about the anthroposophic position without the creator?

  4. While I am on this, there are plenty of references here and in other contexts within anthroposophy to ‘loving’, ’empathy’, inter-human warmth’ and ‘intimate interest in the person for whom one wishes to find the good’.
    Am I the only one who finds all this a bit creepy?

  5. What exactly are we talking about when we say ‘assisted dying’ though? Do you mean helping someone who wants to commit suicide, or do you mean taking a person off life support?

  6. According to dignityindying.org
    ‘An assisted death is where a doctor prescribes a life-ending dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult at their request, and the patient then chooses to administer the medication themselves.

    Assisted dying is different to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia is a term often used to describe life ending medication being administered by a third party. Assisted suicide refers to providing assistance to die to someone who is not dying. ‘

  7. I recall Steiner once spoke of suicide, and drew up a number of cases where circumstances changed and there wouldn’t have been a need for dying anyway. Umm, I guess a good example of this would be when Romeo killed himself because he thought Juliet was dead. So yeah, I guess Steiner’s prescripted course of action would be enduring, and hoping miraculously to be cured. But there’s a lot of room for interpretation here, for instance someone could just kill the terminally ill person and take the karmic consequences on themselves, exempting the ill person from any karmic consequences. xD

    I’ll try to figure out what lecture it was, if anyone’s interested.

  8. Mjondras –
    ‘someone could just kill the terminally ill person and take the karmic consequences on themselves, exempting the ill person from any karmic consequences.’
    In that case could it be argued that there is no right and wrong to this and that anthoposophists should make up their minds for themselves? Michaela’s stance is rather high-handed.

  9. The case I’m argueing there is that if you’re going to take karma into the consideration, and you want to spare the dying man from karmic consequences, you kill him, instead of allowing any form of assisted dying. But however you look at it both cases have severe karmic consequences from an anthroposophical perspective, the only difference is who takes the punishment. Which in the big picture isn’t really important either, since it’s vikarma anyway.

    If we look at this from the viewpoint of ethical individualism, there is no wrong and right (not even Steiner =O ), because the ethical individualist creates his/her own morales. But, according to this approach, you can’t make a free choice based on your emotional or instinctual life, you have to make a moral law of your own that’s also capable of satisfying your emotional/instinctual life. If I wanted to kill myself because I was in excruciating pain and dying for instance, I couldn’t do so according to ethical individualism, because it’s an irrational demand. So the question then becomes what purpose pain plays in the greater perspective. And the same would be the case for the onlooker, he couldn’t have killed me out of pity for my pain, he too would have to see purpose in pain, in order for his pity to be reconciled. – That’s at least how I’ve come to understand ethical individualism. I’m gonna reread that book shortly anyway, I’ll keep this in mind as I do.

  10. Stefan: ‘An anthroposophist really is neither and would probably rather consider the truth, goodness and beauty of a proposition, than whether it was truly Anthroposofic (TM) or not.’

    Actually, some — quite a large number of — anthroposophists are true believers. Who don’t do what you suggest here. Although I agree that perspective is much preferable.

    ‘Is ye olde Steiner books … the final word on what is “true” anthroposophy?’

    ‘Final’ or forever ‘true’, perhaps not. But, yes, they give one answer.

    Helen: ‘As expected there is an assumption, barely questioned, that assisted dying is to be prevented at all costs.’

    I had that feeling too, but it is all somewhat paradoxical, given some things she also says. It seems like one of these instances where freedom and individualism can only lead to one answer… really, if you follow this and that to the very end. But nobody wants to say so outright because that would indicate something unfree. I don’t know.

    ‘Am I the only one who finds all this a bit creepy?’

    Yes, I often found stuff like that creepy.

    The God thing — very complicated. With Glöckler, I want to ask her what she means when she writes ‘God’. I often want to ask anthroposophists that question, by the way.

    Thanks for providing the link to a definition. That’s what Glöckler discusses, not, e g, taking people off life-support.

    Mjondras: ‘…for instance someone could just kill the terminally ill person and take the karmic consequences on themselves, exempting the ill person from any karmic consequences.’

    Nothing is without karmic consequences! It could very well be said that the ill person sought out this life that would end in this particular way, for karmic reasons or so that certain karmic results would ensue. And just envision the karmic bond between those two in the upcoming incarnations! No, you see, this will be in the ill person’s karma, and the human mind — the human incarnated on earth — just can’t overlook this situation.

    It’s worth remembering that when Steiner formulated his views on ethical individualism, he was not yet dabbling with karma, reincarnation and the anthroposophical conception of man. There’s a thread that runs through from early Steiner to late Steiner, but, well, it’s not uncomplicated. For example, when he talks about freedom. In the anthroposophical framework it sometimes looks entirely different…

  11. Personally I found that the esoteric Steiner makes no sense what so ever without the philosophical Steiner. When I read the esoteric Steiner I thought he was completely wacko until I read his writings on Goethe and freedom.

  12. re light bulbs
    No I don’t have an answer but I like your two.
    This is also a good point by Michaela G –
    ‘How do we reconcile our categorical rejection of choosing ourselves when to terminate our life with our meanwhile daily practice of deciding the time when life should start, which is hardly questioned anymore?’
    also on page 7 and also to do with ethical individualism she says.

  13. “Actually, some — quite a large number of — anthroposophists are true believers. Who don’t do what you suggest here. Although I agree that perspective is much preferable.”

    So it’s completely circular then, like the “no true scotsman” problem:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

    To me though, all true believers are the same. I don’t care if they are labeled “Christians” or “Anthroposofists” or “Freudians” or “Postmodernists”. Because they aren’t – they all have the one thing in common that they completely misunderstand the ideology they tout. Unless, of course, there is an ideology that actively suggests that you extract your brain and replace it with meaningless repition of the ideology.

    And no TRUE anthroposofist would do that ;)

  14. What I do like a lot with Glöckler and her article is that she reasons about ideas and arguments and consequences.

    Mjondras: ‘Personally I found that the esoteric Steiner makes no sense what so ever without the philosophical Steiner. When I read the esoteric Steiner I thought he was completely wacko until I read his writings on Goethe and freedom.’

    That is interesting, because people seem to differ on this — some seeing the later Steiner as virtually another Steiner than the early Steiner. Theosophy being this huge break, as it were. Others see more of a continuation. Bad description, I know.

    Stefan: yes, it’s the no true scotsman problem. I don’t agree with you at all. Some true believers are christians, some are anthroposophists, and so on. It depends on what beliefs they choose to hold true. Almost every group has that problem, but it would be very silly — not to say utterly impractical in any discussion — not to call the true believing anthroposophists anthroposophists, even when we allow for a diversity in degree of true believing, ranging from the ‘fundamentalist’ to the ‘free-thinking’ anthroposophist. (That it’s still true that there are important similarities between anthro true believers and true believers of other spiritual/religious groups (or cults) is another thing.)

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