Sunday, July 19, 2009

Assisted suicide

The recent failed attempt in the United Kingdom by some to amend the law on “assisted dying” and the case of Sir Edward Downes who, although not terminally ill, was assisted by the Dignitas suicide clinic to commit suicide has shown that the topic of assisted suicide will not leave the public forum in the United Kingdom.

The repercussions of allowing a change in the law in this area are neatly summarised in this letter to The Times on 18th July 2009 by Professor Nigel Biggar, Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, at Christ Church, Oxford :

“July 18, 2009
Dangers of Dignitas and the law

The dangerous logic of libertarian arguments for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia


The policy of the Dignitas suicide clinic exposes the dangerous logic of libertarian arguments for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia (letters, July 17). Dignitas assisted Sir Edward Downes to kill himself, even though he was not terminally ill.

This was entirely in accord with the view of its founder, Ludwig Minelli, that anyone with “mental capacity” should have the right to kill him or herself with assistance — and presumably also without it.

It follows from this that not just the terminally ill, but the chronically ill or disabled, the grievously bereaved, the philosophically miserable and the amorously unsuccessful should have the same right. After all, if the individual is the sole arbiter of the value of his or her own life, and if some adult reckons that living is no longer worth the candle, then who may gainsay them?

It also follows that when someone should volunteer to die in the masochistic ecstasy of being mutilated and eaten — as happened five years ago in Germany in the case of Armin Meiwes — the law should be silent, no crime having been committed.

The problem is that what fends off interference also generates indifference and carelessness. If my life only has the worth that I accord it, then it has no objective value; and if it has no objective value, then why should anyone else care for it?

Edward Downes’s son and Melanie Reid (report and commentary, July 15) are therefore wrong: the assertion of the individual’s absolute right “to choose what they consider to be a good death” is not simply a private matter that affects no one else. Its libertarian logic undermines society’s commitment to support fellow members in adversity — and encourages the abandonment of the ailing.

Professor Nigel Biggar “