Thursday, 28 October 2010

Hard cases and bad law (again)

The current fashionable cause is that of a change in the law on assisted suicide, something being promoted by a highly vocal minority of opinion formers and given huge amounts of publicity, usually in the form of individual "hard cases," by a largely unaccountable and unrepresentative mass media. This is Christina Odone's take on it, from the Daily Telegraph a couple of days ago; here she sums up the fears of many of us:

"Little by little, we would start expecting this acceptance of premature death. Our culture would shift from catering for the disadvantaged to killing them off. The image of Florence Nightingale hovering lovingly by the patient’s bed will give way to another image, of an impatient nurse, looking at her watch, tapping her foot, clearing her throat in a pointed hint: just push off, will you?"
          Read it all here

One of the most frequently heard assertions on the part of those calling for 'liberalisation' of the law on ethical issues has always been that 'slippery slope' arguments do not hold water and are, in effect, a form of patronising scaremongering. According to this line of argument, all that society needs for its continued welfare is yet another grand ethics committee composed of 'the great and the good' to monitor the philosophy of clinical decisions surrounding the end of life and to prevent abuses. The problem, of course, with all such coarsening of society's moral vision, is that we won't be aware of a problem until it's far too late to put it right, and the situation described by Christina Odone has already come about. This is not only about assisted suicide; many think it is about the suicide of a entire civilisation and an embracing of a culture of death, so evident in our attitudes towards the beginning of life.
We tend, perhaps, as Christians to focus far too much of the time on the things which bitterly divide us one from another. Surely this is an an issue which should unite us all, although I have a strange feeling that I may be being too optimistic. See here.
I don't doubt for a moment that those Christians who argue in favour of assisted suicide do so from deeply felt motives of compassion, often prompted by personal experience of knowing those who have suffered agonisingly. The difficulty is that "compassion" now always seems to be defined in a way which subjugates everything (including Scripture, tradition and the experience of many who don't go down this route) to an a priori secular humanist viewpoint, which sees this life as all there is, and the alleviation of individual pain and distress as always the supreme good. Often the opposing view either goes unheard or is toned down and understated. Who, after all, wants to appear to be arguing against "compassion" and in favour of increased suffering?  For obvious reasons a strident tone on the part of those who defend the legal status quo is inappropriate, but a measured and reasoned defence of the the traditional prohibition on assisted suicide, taking in the wider implications for individuals and society of a change in the law, is wholly necessary and , in truth, the only real "compassionate" response.
The problem we have (another, and very closely related aspect of the crisis of authority which faces us)  is that unquestioning and mainly unquestioned secular assumptions have penetrated so deeply even into the heart of many of those Christian bodies which owe their separate existence to the 16th Century Reformation, that on any question, doctrinal or ethical, there is always someone ready to sell the pass -  and, again, for all the 'best' possible reasons.

See also this report on Titusonenine here

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fr Michael
    It isn't unlikely that, within the next 20 years, the UK parliament will enact legislation permitting, one way or another, that which is rather loftily called 'voluntary euthanasia'. My guess is that the bulk of the population will favour it. The influence of the present Archbishop of Canterbury in standing against such possibilities should not be underestimated.

    Once upon a time philosophers would snigger at talk of slippery ethical slopes and point to its irrationality - though how slopes can be confuted on the grounds of their being irrational is not clear. However, the experience of ethical avalanche in the Netherlands experiment has somewhat muted the mocking chuckles of the sophists. Fr Peter Jones


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