The sanctity of human life is not an absolute principle.

An excerpt from the speech made by Baroness Mary Warnock in Belfast this evening. This is the first part of the argument in favour of assisted dying. The excerpt deals with- a) is it possible to have more liberal laws in favour of assisted dying, and b) the sanctity of human life is not an absolute principle. The second part of the argument will be dealt with in another thread, later threads will continue with the argument against.

I cannot possibly cover all of this huge subject this evening. I would like to start off by simply dividing the arguments that people put up against liberalising the law. Is it possible to have a law that would entitle people to indicate their wish to die and be helped to die by assisted suicide, or by euthanasia, thereby being given a lethal injection?

It is possible as we know in the Netherlands there is a liberal law and in Belgium and in the state of Oregon and now in the neighbouring state of Washington. These laws do exsist.

The Netherlands has had the law for the longest time and there is more evidence about how it works, but one must not take that analogy too seriosly because for one thing they keep their records in a very different way from the way we keep records. As the relationship between a doctor and a patient is very different in the Netherlands in that the people who administer death to those who want it and ask for it are usually doctors who have known this person for many years. The Netherlands is much more like we used to be and that is a family doctor who knows the people very very well and we’ve none of that really in the United Kingdom. So it is possible to have a law that works.

Now the objections to changing the law. The argument can be divided into two. First of all the absolute argument. The a priori argument, matters of absolute principle. This principle is often referred to as the sanctity of human life. And there is a very large number of people who object to any thought of assisted dying because they argue that human life is sacred. And some of those people derive this course from their religion. They argue that life is a gift from God, and therefore it should not be taken away except by God, that God has an ordained time for when people may die, and they may not die before that. And that principle is very often cited.

But one has to remember that it is a very difficult principle to defend because very often we don’t pay attention to the sanctity of human life. We send soldiers to Afghanistan knowing that they are at risk of dying – in which case the people who are responsible for sending them regard other principles as trumping the sanctity of human life. We are prepared to accept that people kill each other in self defence, as well as in war, and here again the principle of the sanctity of human life doesn’t really operate as an absolute principle. However it is cited by such people who regard it as an over riding principle to refuse a request from somebody that they should be helped to die.

  • Yvette

    DISCOURS DU PAPE BENOÎT XVI
    À S.E. M. PAUL DÜHR,
    NOUVEL AMBASSADEUR DU GRAND-DUCHÉ DE LUXEMBOURG
    PRÈS LE SAINT-SIÈGE

    Salle Clémentine
    Jeudi 18 décembre 2008

    Political leaders, whose duty is to serve the good of man, as well as doctors and families should remember that ‘the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always evil from the moral point of view and can never be lawful,’

  • Dave

    “Do you think life is sacred? If so is it due to your religious upbringing?”

    If someone believes that a thing is sacred, then you second question seems redundant. Besides, none of the major religions preach that human life is sacred (i.e. divinely invioable): they all hold that the right to self-defence takes precedence over the right to life.

    My reason for upholding the right to life is purely self-serving. I’d rather not be killed by some legal technicality, if you don’t mind.

    Euthanasia is very common practice in Ireland, but it usually takes the form of agreement between the relatives and doctors of allowing patients to die by failing to administer medical treatment – often, however, the doctors take that decision and by-pass the relatives. My own view is that this form of dying needs to be codified so that it does not operate to the advantage of the psychopaths who pass for members of the ‘caring’ profession (caring about social status and high wages) in Ireland.

    I’ll just add that a lot of older Irish people grew up in a culture where they felt that being ill meant that they would be a burden on others, and that is something they are too proud and too independent to be. In addition, there was a huge stigma attached to illness in Ireland such that, for example, people felt ashamed if they had cancer or TB so they kept these sicknesses private, never admitting to others that they were suffering from them. For example, over Christmas, an elderly relative of my wife was told by her GP to go immediately A&E;for treatment for a urinary infection. This poor woman, who was in no fit state to walk five paces, insisted to my wife that she take the bus to the hospital! That shocked me greatly. I wondered how she could ever have drawn the conclusion that she could be a burden to my wife (who is deeply fond of her), but when you are busy with other things you don’t realise that those who are close to you begin to feel less close and even overlooked or irrelevant. Needless, to add, she was driven to the hospital – where she then had a 7-hour wait to be seen by a doctor. As it turned out, her own GP could have treated her with antibiotics rather than referring her to spend an insufferable amount of time in a waiting room (and my wife along with her) when she should have been at home in bed. I’m quite convinced that introducing euthanasia in Ireland would have utterly tragic consequences.

  • Yvette

    “I’d rather not be killed by some legal technicality, if you don’t mind.”

    I don’t mind at all mate, I’m hundred percent with you, I know exactly how you feel.

  • Kathleen

    I agree with you Dave, and that proves the Baroness has a point when she compares the relationship between doctor and patient to that in the Netherlands, where the relationship was more like what it used to be here.

    The tradition of not wanting to be a burden is also something we can agree on. I know of elderly relatives who saved for their own funeral so no one else would have to pay for it, and dignity about themselves was very important to the elderly.

    However, the logic of the Baroness that if a person choses to die so as not to be a burden on anyone, particularly the NHS can be taken to an illogical conclusion. The logic if allowed to run its course would mean anybody would be within their rights not to seek medical help in order to save the resources for someone else who could use them more. Why an ill person should have that presented to them at all is beyond me. I’m not swayed by her financial argument, nor the burden argument, I can see her argument that dying is the last chapter in a persons life which is the same as the old religious idea of having a merciful death.

    She does everything to escape the religious argument yet her argument mirrors it a lot. Shes some lady, even at her age anyone could see she is a great mind, highly intellectual. But her argument for this didn’t sway me.

    They took a vote at the end, but I don’t know how it went, as I had to leave early.

  • East Villlage Electric Newspaper

    Our hospitals are bad enough, I’d hate to think of them doing it on purpose.

  • Rory Carr

    I am not surprised you left early, Kathleen, I would have nipped out sharpish too had I been there. Before the baleful one cast her glance of doom my way at least.

    While I am appalled at the very idea that we are considering putting someone to death because they are considered to have become “a burden on society” (look out Prince Charles) I am more open to persuasion of dispatching with one who is a positive menace to society.

    So maybe that evens things up a little between Warnock and me – while I am busy keeping an eye out for her she will best be employed keeping an eye out for fellows like me who see her as a bloody menace.

  • NCM

    Gee, a Baroness who doesn’t believe that others’ lives are sacred. What a total shock. Next you’ll tell me that rich and powerful bankers on Wall Street aren’t natural champions of the poor. My worldview is shaken.