Euthanasia, Bentham and Haggai
A doctor friend emailed recently about the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords (UK) on June 6th. If passed, it will legalise euthanasia for anyone with an “irremediable condition” (a “terminal or serious physical illness”) and “suffering unbearably” so long as two doctors confirm that the patient is of sound mind and has made the request voluntarily.
The Christian Medical Fellowship web site (www.cmf.org.uk) carries helpful material, in particular Twelve reasons why euthanasia should not be legalised as well as a longer piece for doctors on the Christian ethics of taking life. For me, the first three reasons are enough: voluntary euthanasia is unnecessary because alternative treatments exist; requests are rarely free and voluntary; voluntary euthanasia denies patients the final stage of growth.
In other words, if faced with a painful death, I would like to have good, if costly, palliative care. I would like my own dignity to be preserved and, by respecting both human life and the dying process, that of family, friends, medics and the wider society. Secondly, I don't want to have to consider an option to relieve the burden on relatives by ending my life before God does - coping with that ‘option’ alongside whatever else I may be going through. Thirdly, with those pieces in place, I want to give dying - that God-given final part of the journey (Heb 9:27) - my best shot and to expect their best from those who accompany me.
Lord Joffe's Bill has roots in the utilitarianism of moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), who argued that we are morally obliged to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, happiness being determined by reference to the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Yet where in our modern world is the happiness that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are supposed to bring? How much do we heed the prophet Haggai, whose words were read last Sunday in some churches? The repeated line “Consider how you have fared” (1:5, 7) says read the signs, take some feedback, evaluate your strategies: are they producing the hoped-for results? And if not, why not?
Between now and June 6th there is still time to think Christianly about pain, suffering and death. Ascension Day reminds us that “the saints” are “seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:1, 2:6) - how do things look from this point of view? 21st Century prophetic action might then be to state your opinion carefully to someone in government. (If you want to write to your MP or a peer, you might find www.parliament.uk useful.)
Yours in Christ,
PS Euthanasia is a complex issue. This reflection does
not embrace different circumstances such as whether or not it is right to
terminate the artificial prolongation of life, or to allow pain control
even though it may hasten death.