Perhaps we should update that proverbial expression for brutal honesty, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings”, to include “and retiring politicians”. After ten years in the Scottish Parliament, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is moving to the British House of Lords as a Life Peer.
She used the occasion to write an op-ed for The Telegraph (London) in support of assisted suicide.
In ten years of elected politics, I have made more mistakes than I can ever hope to remember some through overreach, some by omission, others by nothing more than blunder. But the mistake that eats away, demanding redress, is voting against assisted dying. Sometimes, amid complex arguments and conflicting evidence, you know – simply know in the essence of your being – that something is plain wrong. It’s time to change the law.
This is not an uncommon sentiment, but her reasoning is out of the ordinary. She advances two reasons. First, a common one: that a gradual decline into dementia is humiliating and demeaning for an elderly person and a torture for their loved ones.
Second, and not so common, is IVF.
What has that to do with assisted dying?
Davidson explains that going through IVF herself, together with her lesbian partner, stripped away all of her illusions about the special nature of the beginning of life, and thus, as well, about the end of life. Her words could almost have been taken from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, a document which made the phrase “the culture of death” famous:
It may seem odd to say that medical intervention to help create life has hewn away inhibitions about a more planned or even medicalised end of life, but it has. The systems and processes of egg retrieval; choosing donors through any number of characteristics from height to family medical history; embryo implant and even being able to guarantee against twins, makes a mockery of the mystique of kismet surrounding birth. And if birth can be so demystified (for the over 50,000 people who undergo IVF treatments in the UK every single year) then what rule of fate exists for death and why is there such imbalance?
This makes sense, in a way. In both IVF and assisted suicide or euthanasia, human life is commodified, dominated by technology, and de-sanctified. Is socially-acceptable IVF, then, a distant precondition for the emergence of legalised euthanasia? If a pro-life campaigner had made this argument, she would have been mobbed on Twitter. But Ruth Davidson’s valedictory candour has a ring of truth to it. Out of the mouths of babes, sucklings and retiring politicians…