British Court Denies Victims of Locked-In Syndrome the Right to Die

Everything about this story is terrible, but only part of the terrible lies with the existence of something as nightmarish as locked-in syndrome, meaning complete paralysis except for the ability to blink (total locked-in syndrome means the eyes are paralyzed as well). The other awful part is the fact that two British men who have been suffering from this syndrome for years, since they suffered strokes, have to have their fates decided by courts. And the courts have said that the right to die is not for them to rule on at all.

Now the men —Tony Nicklinson and a man known only as "Martin" — the former of whom was joined by his wife and daughters who support his decision to die, either have to choose to live the rest of their natural lives unable to move their muscles, or they have to starve themselves to death, or put together the money and effort to go abroad to commit legal suicide in the Netherlands or Switzerland. They do not, it seems, have the right to die at home as they wish.

According to The Daily Mail:

Nicklinson sought assurance that it would not be unlawful for a doctor to assist him to die, or a declaration that the current law on murder or assisted suicide was incompatible with his right for respect for his private life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

Lawyers for Martin sought a court order to force the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to clarify whether health professionals willing to assist him to kill himself via Dignitas would be "more likely than not" to face prosecution in England, and further assurances that professionals would not risk disciplinary proceedings.

Lord Justice Toulson, the decider along with two other judges, wrote that the implications for letting the men die, as well as assuring them that any helpers would be free from punishment, were too vast for the court to decide, it has to be up to Parliament. 

It's true that on occasion there are seemingly miraculous recoveries from strokes and even from locked-in syndrome, and fascinating technologies have been invented to facilitate communication for these unfortunate souls. Nickilson is even on twitter, many of his followers have messaged him to urge him to reconsider his desire to die. But Nicklinson, who would definitely know best, said (through his computer) in response to the verdict:

'I believe that the legal team acting on my behalf are prepared to go all the way on this but unfortunately for me it means yet another period of physical discomfort, misery and mental anguish while we find out who controls my life, me or the state.'

Unfortunately, he has learned that that it's the state who gets veto power over life and death after all.

Assisted suicide is illegal throughout the U.K.. The Suicide Act of 1961 says that someone assisting in Euthanasia can get up to 14 years in prison.

In the U.S. physician aided suicide is only legal in Oregon, Montana, and Washington. The most famous U.S. advocate of aided suicide and euthanasia was of course the late, oft-prosecuted Dr. Jack Kevorkian. For legal assisted suicide in the U.S., however, the patient must get multiple doctors' approval and be terminally ill. Victims of locked-in syndrome can potentially live for decades. It's exceedingly offensive for government to have a say in this at all. We're all hypocrites —I know I would try to tackle someone trying to jump off a bridge, even if I believe in the abstract righ to suicide, and I cannot imagine the horror of having to support a loved one's desire to end their life — but the idea of a cool panel of judges or M.P.s deciding this sort of thing is fundamentally repellent. That is the opposite of truly owning your own body.

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  • ||

    What a horrible story. I had no idea you were such a sadist, Lucy.

  • Hugh Akston||

    She keeps allowing you to post in her threads.

  • ||

    Exactly. She allows me to comment to cause you pain, Hugh. See? Sadist.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Damn you Steigerwaaaaaaaaaaald!

  • Marshall Gill||

    If Steigerwaaaaallllddd!!! does not become the new Khaaaaannnnn you guys suck....more than you do already. This has the potential to be the greatest meme of all time.

    And Epi, your comments cause everyone pain.

  • A Serious Man||

    It should be SteigerVAAAAALLLLLD, with a 'v' prounciation on the 'wald'.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Should I attach the Kelly Thomas beating death video at the end, and maybe a photo of a teeny dog killed by police?

  • ||

    If you want to keep us in line through fear and pain...so, yes.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    She needs a battlestation.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    FYI: the rebels were totally not on Dantoine. Liars.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Maybe you should try to keep us in line with the carrots of alt-text and an edit button.

  • Joe R.||

    If that's the way you feel, I might as well vote for Obama.

  • ||

    Is it your wish for everybody reading this article to get depressed to the point of drinking themselves silly and blowing their brains out?

    Because this shit's making me nauseous.

  • Brutus||

    Shouldn't they just check in to the nearest NHS facility and let things take their course?

  • ||

    Yeah. They'll just die of dehydration.

  • ||

    And he wouldn't even be able to scream for water as he slowly dies of thirst. And if he could, it wouldn't help, because they'd ignore him anyway.

    This just fucking enrages me to no end. What a fucking abomination.

  • Brutus||

    Say what you want about the NHS, but they have that right-to-die thing down pat.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I don't know why, but there is no issue that fires up my righteous libertarian Hulk-rage more than the right to suicide. Maybe it's a function of my travels from uptight Randian moralist to Humean/Epicurean existentialist. Taking the fundamental moral question of human life: "should I live for another day?" out of the hands of the person asking it is arrogant beyond belief.

    Your body is a prison, and only God or the State can release you from it.

  • Paul.||

    They can't really take your right to suicide away from you, but they can sure make it hard to do it relatively peacefully.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The fact that you can't buy a suicide drug at Walgreen's just proves that this is an inferior country.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Your body is a prison, and only God or the State can release you from it.

    Hugh, I agree. Unless I have a right to kill myself, I really do not own my own life.

    State sanctioned "suicide" scares the shit out of me, on the other hand. The History Channel had a show about Third Reich propaganda films that literally used the term "right to die". It was a preemption of the State coming to the "benefit" of those considered unfit to live. We all know where that ended. Once a "right" is established the State immediately moves to supply this "right" to those who "can't decide for themselves". Once you socialize medicine and a "right" to die, you are only a step away from carousel.

    I favor leaving it illegal, I think. While it is hard for those who are like the people in the article, the downside seems worse. I would rather face a jury, even one of today's idiot juries, than a bureaucratic death panel.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Did anyone really use that angle with T4? So many of the victims seem to have been children...

  • Marshall Gill||

    Did anyone really use that angle with T4?

    Lucy, I am 46 years old. I did not understand this.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Upon reading a bit (it's been a while) I noticed that the extermination program began after the parents of a severely disabled child wrote to Hitler and asked for permission to have him euthanize, which I never knew. But it was obviously just an excuse to get the program of killing going. And killing a child will always be different then letting an adult end their own lives.

  • ||

    Yeah. Note particularly the state-sanctioned medical bureaucracy approving infanticide, among other things.

  • Marshall Gill||

    My question is practical rather than ideological. I absolutely believe in a person's right to kill themselves. I just can't imagine a scenario where a State sanctioned "right" does not turn into State mandated involuntary euthanasia, which must certainly fall under the NAP.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Thanks, I didn't know about this.

    The article states that there were 70,000+ victims and 5000 were children. Polish insane asylums were first.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Polish insane asylums were first among adults.

    Why oh why can't I have a preview that works!!!

  • Ted S.||

    Use your brain.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Use your brain.

    Talk about your false assumptions.

  • ||

    Isn't Lucy about 24 years old?

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Maybe he thought it was some hip slang the kids were using.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Hehe, I did! I had never heard of it so I kept trying to guess some meaning. Not googling was pretty weak, though.

  • ||

    "This precedent was used to establish a programme of killing children with severe disabilities from which the 'guardian' consent element soon disappeared. From August, the Interior Ministry required doctors and midwives to report all cases of newborns with severe disabilities. Those to be killed were "all children under three years of age in whom any of the following 'serious hereditary diseases' were 'suspected': idiocy and Down syndrome (especially when associated with blindness and deafness); microcephaly; hydrocephaly; malformations of all kinds, especially of limbs, head, and spinal column; and paralysis, including spastic conditions".[38] The reports were assessed by a panel of medical experts, of whom three were required to give their approval before a child could be killed.[39]"

    ._.

  • Paul.||

    The only thing that's ever concerned me about state-sanctioned (legal?) suicide is the idea that someone who become a "burden" to the family is talked into suicide, especially when there are inheritances at stake.

    We used to have a similar problem in this country with people having family members "committed" to mental institutions because clearly, their suggestion to leave all the wealth to their loser cousin was INSANE!

    Whether or not this has ever happened to any degree in countries that have legal suicide laws (Netherlands?), I know not.

  • Paul.||

    This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmarks is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime.

    Ahh, the shared public cost of healthcare.

    Looks like we've got another you-know-who-else - worried-about-the-public-cost-of - health-problems meme.

  • Zeb||

    I think you take this a bit too far, Hugh. I don't see a lot of people being forced to die in Switzerland or the Netherlands. As far as I can tell, even in these socialist hellholes they are quite careful to make sure that the person genuinely wants to end his life that way. There are other possibilities between the libertarian ideal and hell on earth.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...were too vast for the court to decide, it has to be up to Parliament.

    Both the courts and the legislature no doubt suffer from their own paralysis.

  • wef||

    Lord Justice Toulson, the decider along with two other judges, wrote that the implications for letting the men die, as well as assuring them that any helpers would be free from punishment, were too vast for the court to decide, it has to be up to Parliament.

    This seems the right attitude for an unelected state agent : the People should decide such weighty moral questions. Not elites.

    That does not resolve the more basic question of individual responsibility, regardless of what some government entity does or says. The practical problem is future immunity from state retribution, if one does help the suicide. If it were my child, I would likely help find the end, and then take whatever the result. These things have to be resolved from the accumulation of many, many individual actions, in any event.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    "The People" deciding would be just as bad.

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    When will this ludicrous democracy fad fade away already?

    Democracy isn't freedom. Permitting the mob to dictate your liberty and that of your neighbor is retarded.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Amen.

  • ||

    It isn't going anywhere. Democracy is holy to collectivists, since it is the ultimate expression of collectivism. It allows the camouflage of legitimacy and collective will to be applied to decisions where 51% defeated 49%. I spreads the falsehood that we speak with one voice: through voting.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    We are the Majority. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile."

  • ||

    Appropriate response: "Your moms can adapt to service me, assholes. If you want to pillage my property, come and take it. *Cocks shotgun*."

  • ||

    Does that make me Locutus? Because I obviously don't want to be Hugh. You know which Hugh I mean.

  • ||

    Ensign Harry Kim is the best character in the history of television. You should be Harry Kim, because it's a crime not to want to be Harry Kim. Harry Kim is awesome.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Episiarch: The Man Who Would Be Kim

    Has a nice ring to it.

  • ||

    You people are worse than Archer.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Krenshaw: Jesus, Archer, you think this is a game?
    Archer: No, I think Jenga's a game.

  • A Serious Man||

    Krenshaw: But what if I were real KGB?

    Archer: Then I think you'd be too busy trying to suck a promotion out of some Russian guy's cock.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's fine Epi. We all know that your real dream is to be Robert Beltran. Failing that, your dream is to be with Robert Beltran.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Wait, I was led to believe that Epi *was* Robert Beltran, and that he lived with his life partner, Ethan Phillips. Is this not true?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Now that you mention it, I'm not sure anyone has ever seen them in the same room together. All we know for sure is that Epi nurtures an unhealthy obsession with Voyager's first officer.

  • ||

    Look, I keep my private life just that: private. What Neelix and I do in Ferengi* costumes behind closed doors with adult diapers is our business, and the business of all the people who subscribe to our website, and no one else's.

    * also known as "Space Jews"

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Neelix? You're a monster worse than Zoidberg.

  • ||

    I finally learned what it's like to be a grandmother; subjugated, yet honored.

  • ||

    Without dreams, Hugh, we wither and die.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Democracy will go away when there is a more convenient pretext for those in power to use to justify their legitimacy. Divine right of kings just wasn't doing it in the Enlightenment era, so they seized upon a more fashionable pretext.

  • Paul.||

    When will this ludicrous democracy fad fade away already?

    Wait, the Middle East is just finally getting democracy, and now you're tired of it?

    You're one of those alt-culture geeks, aren't you. The minute something gets popular, you no longer think it's cool.

  • ||

    You just hate me because my kind dress better, you tasteless fiend.

    *Dons pink, five-pointed-star-shaped glasses.*

    Livin' on the edge, bitches.

  • Paul.||

    I'm not doing any duets of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road...

  • Caleb Turberville||

    I love that last paragraph, Lucy.

  • Brandybuck||

    And yet the NHS still has "death panels" to decide whether or not certain ill individuals can receive medical treatment.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Correction: Olympicly-celebrated NHS death panels!

  • ||

    More basically, have you ever seen the way NHS nurses and physicians treat their patients?

    If ever some Satanic force ever compels me to visit that God-forsaken island again and I break a limb, or suffer serious trauma, I'll just jump off of the nearest building and spare myself the anguish for their shitty public healthcare system.

  • ||

    *of

  • ||

    I have related my experiences with the NHS here before. Make sure you read the whole subthread.

  • ||

    Yeah, I read it when you posted it originally, I think.

    I haven't been treated in an NHS facility for anything as serious as that, but I have been for minor injuries twice, and I've also observed awful shit on two other occasions, once while a friend was seeking help for a broken arm.

    That was enough to drive me to open disgust. I don't even want to know what I'd do if I had to suffer their procedures for treating a fucking broken femur.

  • Brutus||

    My daughter had to go to an NHS facility when she was studying in London for a semester. My wife flew over and was aghast at the place.

  • Paul.||

    If ever some Satanic force ever compels me to visit that God-forsaken island again and I break a limb, or suffer serious trauma, I'll just jump off of the nearest building and spare myself the anguish for their shitty public healthcare system.

    So you didn't like the dance number, I take it.

  • ||

    awesome. lucy used the term "decider".

    that aside, seems yet another way ... (said it before, i'll say it again) - "washington is better"

    "I know I would try to tackle someone trying to jump off a bridge, even if I believe in the abstract righ to suicide, and I cannot imagine the horror of having to support a loved one's desire to end their life —"

    OF COURSE.

    one can, and i do, believe the right to suicide should be recognized by the state and ALSO recognize that people actively engaged in "spur of the moment" etc. type suicides should face intervention.

    heck, living here in the PAC NW, the epicenter of mental illness, seasonal affective disorder etc. a substantial %age of calls i go to involve suicidal behavior/ideations, or at least parasuicidal behavior and it's a slow month if i haven't invol'd 2 or 3 .

    and of course for those who are ambulatory, suicide is not difficult at all, and most of the ones we interrupt are 'calls for help', not bona fide attempts -the guy who blew his head off a couple of weeks ago being an obvious exception

    it's pretty easy for a person not suffering from paralyzation to off themselves if they really want to.

    there's a basis for the fact that the vast majority of "attempted' suicides are women, but the vast majority of actual suicides are men.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Indeed, there is a difference. But I also have some Thomas Szasz-y impulses that I have yet to entirely suss out. Mental illness is real, but you own your body, and if you're judged crazy enough a lot of violations of civil liberties can and do happen...

  • ||

    well, yea. if i deem you an imminent danger to self or others, i can take you into custody and you can be held up to 72 hrs in a medical facility before you need a hearing.

    granted, most invol's are out of the hospital after speaking with an MHP in under 6 hrs, but i would say getting taken forcefully to the hospital, strapped to a gurney, with no say in the matter at all is definitely a strong infringement on civil liberties.

  • ||

    i've heard many horror stories about NHS, but does anybody have experience with the french health care system? the latter , from what i have read, is much better, but i'd be curious if any here have any experiences with same.

  • ||

    The one French hospital I've been inside looked very outdated and decrepit, but I've had no first-hand experience of actual care.

    All the knowledge about its shittiness is out there to see either way, from other people's accounts.

  • ||

    i have a few surfer friends who moved to france and/or visit - they like it.

    i had good experiences with costa rica's medical facilities, but that's it as far as socialized medicine goes

  • ||

    Irony: The best hospital/medical care I've ever personally experienced was a/at a private Russian clinic in Moscow. It was state-of-the-art. Imagine the facilities those tree-hugging scientists in James Cameron's Avatar use, and you'll have a pretty good idea.

    They had awesomely attractive server girls running around asking people every 20 minutes whether they'd like something to eat or drink, too.

    And it was only a street away from a huge public hospital, one that looked like a bombed-out Stalingrad ruin, only with a few people and some gurneys in the hallways.

    SOCIALISM IS BEST!

  • ||

    but michael moore said that cuba has AWESOME medical care, so it must be true!!!1!

  • ||

    The contrast was like black and white. It was astonishing. And the costs weren't that bad, either. We got our scans and treatment on the same day. All of it.

  • ||

    i had a fun filled 3 days in the ICU after an ambulance trip to harborview (like 25 miles) and 8 hrs in the ER.

    total cost: 40k+

    drugs alone were over 10k.

    fortunately... INSURANCE

    the nurses and doctors were all excellent.

    i shudder to think how sucky it would have been in the UK.

    plus. it's a total turnoff when the nurse giving you a spongebath has bad teeth

  • ||

    Don't worry. The quality of our medical facilities is going to come into line with Limetree Island's just as soon as the federal government finally destroys those greedy private establishments and makes healthcare entirely public.

    Then we'll all die strapped to 40-year-old unwashed gurneys together!

  • ||

    i shudder to think how sucky it would have been in the UK.

    ------

    It would suck doubly for you, because you're a filthy Yank, and all upstanding Europeans know Americans are awful. So the nurses will probably shout obscenities at you while prodding your broken limb with a pen.

  • Zeb||

    Matt Welch wrote something about French Healthcare a few years ago that seemed to indicate that it was pretty good as far as that sort of thing goes. I think that it is important to recognize that there are other models besides the NHS type socialized healthcare. And if it begins to seem inevitable that we are going to get more of a universal system imposed, it would be good to look at other examples besides the very worst. The systems in France and Germany seem like relatively good options. Probably better than the fucked up system we have in the US now in some ways.

  • Robert||

    So make the body disappear. This should be an easy one to get away with. In fact, years could go by before anyone knows he's gone. His caregiver could keep getting paid by NHS for a no-show job. It's win-win!

    In case you think I'm joking, I'm not. It really would be an extremely easy killing to get away with, because there'd be nobody checking on the man's existence. He's not going to scream or phone 999. His caregiver would be on your side, or could do it herself. Because of privacy concerns, nobody would be around to witness the action or to snoop around, and it might be decades before anybody found out -- or never. Perfect crime.

    Why am I the only one who thinks of these things? Or writes about them?

  • ||

    privacy concerns?

    IN THE UK???

    bwahahahahahahahaha!

  • ||

    +100,000,000.

  • Robert||

    What, you think they send around an independent inspector to see if he's still alive? Or if his refrigerator is running?

    Say, you should be an expert. How would you arrange the murder?

  • ||

    My experience of these people is that they simply wouldn't give a fuck.

  • Robert||

    Exactly, which is why someone can simply pop this guy and nobody will even remember him.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I'm in favor of assisted suicide in theory, but my concern is what happens when it meets the reality of the massive government involvement in healthcare. It seems far too easy for a patient deciding whether or not their life is worth living to slip into a beuracrat deciding whether or not the patients life is sufficiently useful.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    "He slipped and fell on my crysknife. Repeatedly."

  • ||

    Mike Mathews: It just happened, Joe. It...
    Joe Hallenbeck: Sure, sure, I know... it just happened. Coulda happened to anybody. It was an accident, right? You tripped, slipped on the floor and accidentally stuck your dick in my wife. "Whoops! I'm so sorry, Mrs. H. I guess this just isn't my week."

  • ||

    it's really only necessary for people who are severely disabled.

    otherwise, it's cake to do yourself.

  • Zeb||

    I really don't see this as a major concern. In any case, if something is a right, there ought not to be laws against it, period.

  • Mickey Rat||

    If this is true:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    Then you cannot alienate your right to life, and granting someone else the power to kill you cannot be a right.

  • Hugh Akston||

    So the State's police and military powers are invalid?

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Yay!

  • Mickey Rat||

    "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,..."

    I don't think so.

  • A Serious Man||

    So how many times does the government have to betray that trust before it becomes illegitimate?

  • ||

    see: the 2nd amendment

  • Mickey Rat||

    Where did I say that was impossible?

  • Juice||

    Hold my breath as I wish for death
    Oh please God, wake me

  • ||

    btw, as far as PILLS go, the only successful suicide by OTC/Prescription pharms i have ever been to? - tylenol. a couple of times. sleeping pills, anti-depressants, etc. - pretty difficult to kill yourself with.

    insulin (humulin R at least) is actually over the counter, and would probably be pretty effective, moreso if taken in combo

  • Generic Stranger||

    Tylenol overdose is a shitty way to go.

  • Brutus||

    I had a friend whose son - a twin, no less - offed himself with aspirin. He had second thoughts, but it was too late.

  • ||

    One day at work (I work with choo-choo trains), one of the crews called in to report that a man had stepped onto the tracks of their 50mph, 12,000 coal train, waved at the crew, put the shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, then fell onto the tracks, where he was promptly run over by the train. Now that would beat anything you could ever buy over the counter, I don't care whether it's a CVS or a Walgreen's.

  • ||

    Well, that's one way to make sure you succeed.

  • ||

    Well, that's one way to make sure you succeed.

    Yes, and as I recall, he succeeded. I feel sorry for the conductor who had to get out once they got the train stopped and take the long walk back to where the body is.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Supposedly conductors get told in conducting school that they are going to kill someone and they should be prepared for that.

    I mean, at least in this case the guy was likely already dead before the train hit him.

  • Zeb||

    I really have very little regard for most suicides. If you are going to do it, you should at least be decent enough to make it as little hassle for other people as possible. It is just inconsiderate. Even though the Engineer or whoever is in control of the train couldn't do anything about it in any case, it must be very unpleasant and traumatic to have someone off himself with your train.

  • ||

    Then you cannot alienate your right to life, and granting someone else the power to kill you cannot be a right.

    This is not the same thing as, say, having someone sell you the drugs or other things that could kill you, and rigging up a device that you could trigger to deliver those drugs. So long as you made the decision to push the button or whatever triggers the drugs, you would not be alienating that right.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Correct. This is a thorny issue, and there is a conflict of rights involved, and the idea that government has absolutely no role in determining whether a normally impermissable agreement is valid is odd.

  • ||

    Maybe I'm jaded, but I'm surprised the courts even acknowledged their right to starve themselves to death. You would think a properly authoritarian government like Britain's would force-feed them if they declared their intent to starve.

  • A Serious Man||

    You would think a properly authoritarian government like Britain's would force-feed them if they declared their intent to starve.

    The trick is to be a member of the IRA. Just ask Bobby Sands.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Given that they are paralyzed and can't feed themselves anyway, I'm confused why they wouldn't charge the caretaker with some form of negligent homicide.

  • Robert||

    Because the caretaker never tells anyone the person died.

  • Pinky||

    It is easy to kill yourself in the united states. You dress up like a dog and run toward a cop.

  • JoeZilch||

    My Hulk-Rage is likely kicked into overdrive on issues like this one because of the contradiction. We can allow the person to starve to death or die from dehydration and tell ourselves that it is painless and "they won't feel it" but giving somebody a drug to make sure they won't feel any pain and will die peacefully, oh no that's wrong.

    I watched my grandfather die, over the course of days, after they pulled his feeding tube. We wouldn't put a junkyard dog down in a such an inhumane way. Imagine going to the vet with a dog that was terminal and having the vet say "just don't feed him until he dies". That's the "moral high ground" and it sickens me to no end.

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