Wanting to Die: Euthanasia Discourses and the Fear of Old Age and Dependency

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Bernhard WEICHT, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Over the last decades questions of euthanasia and assisted dying are frequently discussed in various contexts. Ageing societies, increasing individualism and widespread secularization are often seen as driving forces for the rising interest in this controversial topic. In these debates legal questions usually intersect with moral and ethical considerations. In the Netherlands, for example, an initiative lobbies for the removal of terminal illness and unbearable suffering as criteria for the possibility of euthanasia. In other European countries euthanasia is discussed in relation to later stages of dementia, when people are not considered to be able to make life ending choices anymore.

While many of the analyses focus on legal and moral questions of choice, independence and autonomy, sociological and social gerontological perspectives are often lacking. What needs to be asked in particular is in how far these discourses on assisted dying draw on particular conceptions of old age, dependency and the end of life. In discussions people often express their unwillingness to live a life of being a burden and of being dependent on others. This sentiment might lead to a wish to die healthily without needing care, but it also enables or facilitates a discourse in which euthanasia is imagined and talked about.

This paper draws on a Critical Discourse Analysis, carried out with 3 case studies in different European countries. In particular the analysis uses public discourses in different national newspapers to identify the associations, connotations and constructions underlying the concept of assisted dying. The paper will discuss the question whether or not the idea of euthanasia can be linked to particular constructions of the 4th age: In how far do ideas of suffering, loneliness and lost independence feature in the contemplations about euthanasia? And likewise, which consequences for the meaning of old age arise from these debates?