Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Voluntary sex okay; why not voluntary euthanasia?

With the inspiring and touching news of the assisted suicide by Sir Edward Downes and his wife, is it not time for further thought on the matter of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia – and a change in the legislation?

This couple had to travel to Switzerland, instead of having their deaths in familiar surroundings, maybe with friends. This couple were lucky enough to have the knowledge and money at least to make use of the Swiss facilities. How unfair for others needing to embrace death, yet who lack of the wherewithal!

When lives have gone well, the need to embrace death is obviously very sad; but not as sad as spending a last few months or years in pain, distress, or hopelessness. Of course, some religious believers speak of the sanctity of human life – though we may note that that concern does not usually extend to giving up many luxuries to help the starving and the dispossessed. Some religious believers speak of not interfering with God’s ways – yet, as David Hume pointed out, they happily interfere with God’s ways when those ways are pointing to death.

Of course, what is often wheeled out is the slippery slope argument. If voluntary euthanasia is permitted, the slide will commence and we shall end up with many cases of people being persuaded to go for euthanasia, being pressurized into it – even into our accepting blatant involuntary euthanasia.

Were that sort of argument sound, then surely this one would also be sound. We should not permit voluntary sexual intercourse. In permitting it, we are giving the green light to people being persuaded against their true feelings into having sex, to date rapes and blatant violent rapes. Yet, no one seriously puts forward that argument. Why? Because they know that there is a clear distinction in many, many cases between someone voluntarily saying ‘yes’ to sex and someone not voluntarily saying ‘yes’. The slope is avoided through educating people about the importance of consent – and through the law.

We permit voluntary hairdressing. Do we, as a result, fear that people will slide into being frogmarched to the hairdressers?

We value people being allowed to flourish in their lives as best they can. A flourishing life – a full life – may often need to have regard to how death will come about. That is part of a flourishing life – and if people want to round off their lives in certain ways, instead of the ways of pain, indignity and hopelessness, then we ought not to interfere. It is a simple matter of the value of autonomy with regard to this most important matter. For more on this – well, modesty does not forbid – try my Humanism: a beginner’s guide.


Geri O'Hara said...

Love the title Peter

& enjoyed reading your thoughts, agree with you cheers Geri

Patrick Hurley said...

I was frogmarched to the hairdresser's back when I was a teenager. The reason it didn't matter was because the stakes were so low. Within three months, my hair was back to the same length it had been before my involuntary trip to Sweeney Todd's.

Unfortunately, your analogy lacks a similar mechanism by which the effects of similarly forced euthanasia could be reversed. I'm unaware of anyone ever actually coming back from the dead...

Jennie Staines said...

I found your website Peter via the humanists. You taught me Philsophy and the Human Condition for an OU module - a 2.1 against my overall first,found you the toughest marker (that's philosphers for you). Agree with your ariticle and remember your aversion to slippery slope arguments. Agree with Patrick though that a mistake to use hairdresser argument. I too have been frogmarched to hairdressers for a perm, aged 7 in about 1961 - god (or whoever) knows why - but it did grow out!