A culture of death is developing. The value of life is decreasing as we continue to promote assisted suicide.
To be sure, there are complicated medical and ethical questions surrounding end-of-life care for the terminally ill.
But there is a line, difficult to define in practice, between easing someone’s death, through painkillers, for example, and actively ending their life through administering a poison.
Furthermore, the celebration of the latter, as somehow life-affirming, is a retrograde step for a culture, and a medical profession, which has, in the West, seen such progress in treatments.
Death, dressed up as a ‘dignified death’, has become a positive virtue. The person choosing suicide is praised as brave and courageous; an autonomous human being, deciding their own manner of dying.
Suicide, of course, is an age-old phenomenon, and was in ancient times seen approvingly by honour-based societies.
The stoic philosophy of Rome and Greece, and the Japanese Shinto practice of seppuku, for example, both saw suicide as an honourable way out of suffering.
Today, however, others are asked to assist in the act, including medical practitioners, and friends or family members. Hence the pressure to legalise assisted suicide, so helpers will avoid prosecution.
To solve this, the advocate of voluntary euthanasia, Philip Nitschke, recently invented a ‘suicide machine’, called a ‘sarco’: short for sarcophagus.
In this, someone could release nitrogen gas, merely by blinking their eye. Designed to eliminate the need for someone to administer a poison, it also enables a paralysed person to end their life. It represents the normalisation, even glamourisation, of euthanasia. Even without it, some people will always seek to end their pain through death.
Think of David Goodall, the 104 year-old Australian scientist, terminally ill, who travelled to Switzerland to end his life at Dignitas.
But this, surely, is not a cause for celebration, but sadness, sympathy, and compassion.
There are, furthermore, worries that elderly people may be pressured into accepting euthanasia, to save relatives from emotional stress, or financial cost.
The Director of Dignitas, Ludwig Minelli, was recently charged with profiting financially from his patients.
Even if proved false, the charges demonstrate the inherent dangers with euthanasia. Another danger is the risk of a ‘slippery slope’, as the scope of euthanasia is expanded.
Already Belgium has legislated to allow children, albeit terminally ill, to choose euthanasia; and in the Netherlands, increasing numbers of mentally ill patients are ‘choosing’ assisted suicide.
Do either have the capacity to do this? When will ‘voluntary’ become ‘involuntary’?
As Michael Burleigh shows in his book, “Death and Deliverance”, the liberal compassionate desire to eliminate suffering led historically to the Nazi extermination programmes.
But why do so many want to die? And in affluent western societies? Why do our societies facilitate this?
It is ironic that many of euthanasia’s opponents are religious and believe in an afterlife, while many of its proponents do not.
Is there a correlation? As belief in the afterlife has declined, has this affected the value we place on this life?