The false premise at the center of the ‘right to die’ movement is that it upholds the very progressive ideal of radical personal autonomy. That, however, is a marketing ploy.
This self-proclaimed atheist and ”radical humanist” challenges the premise and the whole movement. Which is rare, since the stereotype has it that enlightened liberals all see the only reasonable belief as the one they hold.
As a result, when I tell people that I am deeply uncomfortable with the campaign for the ‘right to die’, and I am not convinced that assisted dying should be legalised, they give me funny looks. They instantly assume that I must be one of ‘Them’ – one of those religious people, one of those strange individuals who thinks human life is so sacred that no one should ever be allowed to die until God wants them to.
But he’s an intelligent humanist who thinks for himself.
I think we need to start making the humanist case against this fashion for voluntary euthanasia.
There are two reasons why, as someone driven by a human-centred morality, I am uncomfortable with legalising assisted dying. Firstly, because it will be bad for the people it is supposed to help: terminally ill people who want to die. And secondly, because it will also be bad for those people who want to live, people who might be sick or disabled or old but who want to continue living.
Now he does go off in a direction of what he believes to be the more reasonable and compassionate way to protect but still enable people who want to end their lives.
The legalisation of assisted dying would replace love with law. It would put an end to ‘mercy killings’ carried out by caring families and compassionate doctors and replace them with state-sanctioned killings. This would be a blow to terminally ill people who want to die, because it would deny them the opportunity, at the very end of their lives, to make an independent choice with the help of their loved ones in private.
He is making a reasoned case, but one that keeps us on the ’slippery slope’. But more on that in a moment….
The humanist case against legislating euthanasia continues, and here he makes a very good argument.
Secondly, legalising assisted dying would be bad for people who want to live, too. It seems pretty irrefutable to me that the campaign to legalise assisted suicide has become bound up with society’s broader inability to value and celebrate human life today. It is clear that society finds it increasingly difficult to say that human existence is a good thing – you can see this in everything from the environmentalist discussion of newborn babies as ‘future polluters’ to the widespread scaremongering about the ‘ageing timebomb’. And you can see it in the fact that some in the pro-assisted dying campaign want to go beyond having ‘mercy killings’ for people close to death to having ‘assisted dying’ for the very disabled, the ill and even, in the case of Dignitas in Switzerland, the depressed. This effectively sanctions suicide as a response to personal hardship, and gives a green light to hopelessness.
The campaign for the right to die has both been heavily influenced by and also influences today’s broader anti-life culture. It expresses a broader social pessimism, a shift away from improving human life towards focusing a great deal of our moral and political energies on bringing to an end damaged or impaired human lives.
Or unwanted ones. Or lives in any way deemed ‘unworthy’ of life. He makes this case very well.
This is increasingly how we judge human life today: not by its internal worth or moral meaning, but by its financial implications or environmental implications. It is not a coincidence that at a time when society is so down on the worth of human life, there is also a very vocal campaign for the ‘right to die’: these two phenomena are linked in subtle but important ways.
The fact remains, however, that only a minority of people in pain choose to end their lives; the majority think life is worth living. But the views of the very active minority of pro-euthanasia campaigners are likely impacting on the way the majority of people experience their lives, possibly making them feel like a burden – a social, financial and environmental burden – if they choose to continue living. And as a humanist, I am also opposed to any undermining of the majority’s quality of life by a tiny minority of campaigners.
Almost makes a pro-life person who opposes any aid in dying want to say ‘Bravo, well said,” and it largely is. This is the debate we must have, and make it a well-reasoned one with clear thinking and clearly stated beliefs. So here’s mine, and why I express that caveat on the ‘Bravo.’
Once we hold out for any type of “mercy killing” or “aid in dying” for even what seem to be the purest and most compassionate of intentions, we’ve allowed for exceptions to the ‘natural law’ that religiously-informed voices of “the new humanism” Pope Benedict often talks about. And that’s the belief that human life is sacred from conception to natural death. Church teaching on end of life issues is clear, comprehensive, and ultimately most protective of human dignity.