The
1970s were famously described by Doonesbury as a kidney stone of a
decade. It certainly had more than its share of dystopian movies
featuring ridiculous plots, atrocious haircuts and worse acting. Why
would we want to take our ethical inspiration from them?

Yet
this is effectively what Britain's best-known bioethicist,
84-year-old Baroness Mary Warnock, proposed last month.

Cast
your mind back to such classics as Soylent Green (1973) and
Logan's Run (1976). Both reflect the 1970s obsession with
overpopulation and resource depletion. In the first one, people were
encouraged to "go home" via gentle, soothing voluntary
euthanasia. In the second they were obliged to "renew"
themselves at the predetermined age of 30. If they escaped, they were
hunted down and terminated by Sandmen like Logan, not exactly warm
and fuzzy types. (For instance Logan's entire seduction repertoire
seems to consist of: "You're beautiful. Let's have sex."
What girl wouldn't swoon?)

In
the end, both films warn against a future in which humans who have
become too old or bothersome are required to commit suicide in order
to, in Ebenezer Scrooge's immortal phrase, "decrease the surplus
population". Whether by slow poison amid images of nature and
classical music in Soylent Green or by lurid vapourization in
an elaborate public ceremony in Logan's Run, it's all
perfectly ghastly. And increasingly believable.

In
fact, after reading Baroness Warnock's latest contribution to the
euthanasia debate, it seems that Logan's Run must have been
one of her favourite films. She told
a Church of Scotland magazine that "If you're demented, you're
wasting people's lives -– your family's lives –- and you're
wasting the resources of the National Health Service."

She
didn't mean it in a good way.

Indeed,
she continued, not only should you have the right to commit suicide,
but you may even have a duty to do so: "I'm absolutely, fully in
agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then
someone should be given help to die," she said, "but I feel
there's a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately
wants to die because they're a burden to their family, or the state,
then I think they too should be allowed to die. Actually I've just
written an article called 'A Duty to Die?' for a Norwegian
periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there's nothing wrong
with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as
yourself."

It
makes a certain gruesome sense. If you live hedonistically in what
the tagline for Logan's Run calls "a perfect world of
total pleasure", you can't very well imagine sharing it with
folks who are old, sick, drooling or sexually unattractive. In
Logan's society, nobody is fat, ugly, or over 30. Science delivers a
life of ease and pleasure, one orderly to the point of sterility,
with all aspects of reproduction taken care of by a master computer
running elaborate laboratories. At one point, asked by a Sandman
friend whether he knows the "seed mother" of the newborn
son he views behind nursery glass, Logan replies: "Of course
not! I'm curious, not sick!" Thus fetching young things in
revealing outfits (Farrah Fawcett plays an important role here) are
free to enjoy sex in a Mall of America environment uncomplicated by
such pesky things as commitment or pregnancy.

It's
extremely disturbing, and not just because I'm looking at 30 in the
rear-view mirror. At the moment, I can afford to be glib. Thirty is
still close, though behind me; I am healthy, and I usually manage to
muddle through my days without outside assistance. I have nothing to
fear from Baroness Warnock, who'd rather that the decrepit elderly
off themselves in a selfless act of duty towards their carers and the
publicly-funded health care system.

But
when she concluded by suggesting the desirability of "licensing
people to put others down", I had a hideous vision of myself
clad in a crepe paper microskirt fleeing from an assassin in a
desperate attempt to extend my life beyond 30. Where else can such thinking
end?

Baroness
Warnock has written a scary script for Britain's National Health
Service, one which assumes that life is not worth living past the age
of constant partying. But we can't all look like Farrah Fawcett (not
a bad thing, either). Life is more than cute 20-somethings looking
clueless in tacky tight clothes. So why is this eminent ethicist
insisting on imitating bad 1970s sci-fi movies?

Brigitte
Pellerin is a writer and broadcaster based in Ottawa.