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Should we extend the 'right to die'? A response to Peter Singer

James Mildred

Assisted suicide dominoes 0 8

Pro euthanasia activist Peter Singer has written an article on extending ‘the right to die’. Citing countries like Canada, where assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia has been legal since 2016, and also Spain and Portugal which have considered the issue more recently, his basic point is that expanding access to euthanasia around the world is a good thing.

Of course, it is no surprise Mr Singer thinks like this. He has been a passionate advocate for euthanasia for some time. In the article, he even seems happy with the idea of legalising assisted suicide for people with mental illnesses – an extreme position even in jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia have been legalised. Singer holds this position because he thinks its simply logical to allow anyone to end their life if that is their settled intention. It is their right, he argues.

This is exactly the kind of misleading, deceptive reasoning often employed by the pro-assisted suicide lobby. Quick to play down the risks and dangers, even quicker to talk up the ‘safeguards’ and utterly unwilling to engage with the clear evidence from places where the law has changed which demonstrates, again and again, that once you change the law, you’ll see rising numbers of people accessing assisted suicide and euthanasia and an incremental expansion in those who are eligible to ‘end their lives’.

Singer cites Canada as a positive example. However, what is going on in Canada should be an especially cautionary tale to MPs and policy makers here in the UK. Assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia was introduced there in 2016 for patients whose natural death is ‘reasonably foreseeable’. Just three years later, in a case brought to the Superior Court in Quebec, judges ruled that the ‘reasonably foreseeable’ restriction was unconstitutional and violated the Charter of Rights.

So, in March this year the Canadian Parliament approved amendments allowing patients to be eligible if they have a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’. Some additional safeguards were also created, meaning that patients who fall under this new category must receive extra scrutiny. This year, the Parliament is also expected to review the existing law and consider whether advance requests should be permitted and whether assisted suicide should be available to someone who’s suffering is caused by mental illness.

As far as Singer is concerned, why would you not offer assisted suicide to someone who’s ‘unbearable suffering’ is caused by mental illness when you already permit it for someone with a physical ailment. By that same logic, why not include children? What about those who are tired of life? What about the depressed and downcast? In Singer’s worldview, life can be meaningless and valueless if the patient believes that it is. This implies that there are some lives saving and there are some worth ending, based on the emotional status of vulnerable and hurting people. This is not true. All life is intrinsically valuable and there is always hope.

Behind Peter Singer’s passion for assisted suicide lies a worldview known as utilitarianism. This idea says that you should allow actions that foster happiness or pleasure and avoid actions that cause harm or unhappiness. But who decides what is right or wrong? If it is based on your feelings (which are incredibly changeable), you’ll end up with a mess. This worldview erroneously assumes that we always know best.

In contrast, the power of the Christian worldview is that it begins with a Creator God who made the universe. His laws are good and provide the basis for deciding what is right and what is wrong. In this worldview, there is an objective standard for morality, and it is not based on collective feelings. It is an unchangeable standard and one that comes from a perfect, totally wise and all-knowing God. More than that, in the Christian worldview, every human life is precious because all are made in God’s image. The value of human life is not altered by irremediable suffering or by the anguish of mental illness. Whether you are in great pain or not, Christianity teaches that your value is utterly unchanged. As Dame Cicely Saunders put it, you matter because you are you.

This then influences how we respond to suffering. We seek to get alongside the lonely, the depressed, those with terminal illness. We show them love, urging them to be a burden on us and we affirm their value, insisting it does not and has not changed because they are ill. Moreover, as Christians we must believe there is purpose in suffering. God redeems suffering and uses it to develop our character, our perseverance and our hope.

Singer might have no problem with expanding the so called ‘right to die’. But honestly, it is a bleak vision of where we could end up a society. I say we must not cave in to this demand for legally sanctioned, physician assisted suicide. There is another way, one that offers true compassion and solidarity with the most vulnerable in our society.

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