Assisted suicide my secular response to the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop made a form of a plea to the MP’s  who will debate the assisted dying bill  on Friday. He made an argument that creating an assisted dying bill will cross an “ethical and legal Rubicon”, the word Rubicon is used so much it is on the verge of becoming a cliché. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army which had not been disbanded it was a flash point in history which ended in the destruction on the Roman republic. As Justin Welby has noted the DPP doesn’t prosecute people who help end their relatives lives when they’ve had enough suffering. To call the official decriminalization of a law which is no longer enforced crossing the Rubicon is disingenuous and ethical grandstanding at its very worst.  Trying to push your point by scaring people into submission isn’t the best way in the world to get across your argument.

His comparison with suicide is one again which doesn’t pass any serious test when we think about ethics. He states that suicide is a tragedy and while we don’t criminalize suicide we do all we can to prevent it. In this the archbishop is correct, suicide is viewed rightly as a tragedy and groups like the Samaritans are dedicated to trying to stop this occurring. Mr Welby then goes on to argue the assisted dying bill puts this logic on its head, that it means actively supporting suicide. If Mr Welby has read the bill, he will realise that people with only 6 months to live with a terminal illness with no hope of recovery who are of sound mind, and over the age of 18. There is no room for doubt within this bill either, someone has to be determined to end their own life with no hope of recovery. This is not the equivalent of someone who is mentally ill in a fog of despair and anguish deciding to quit prematurely when they will have decades to come, and with medication and therapy can in time have a happy and fulfilled life. To equate the decision to die 6 months earlier than your terminal illness will take you in agonising pain, to someone who is in a mental health crisis is to deny agency to those with a terminal illness who have only months to live and want to die with dignity. We will all face death at some point as Edgar Allan Poe once wrote “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?”, if someone on the verge of death with no chance of recovery and is in sound mind wants to die with dignity then who are we to say that cannot happen?

My point about agency is one i believe must be stressed, even J.S. Mill didn’t believe that people with suicide did have the agency to commit that final deed if it were to succeed. However, people with a terminal illness who are mentally fit and who want to die with dignity should have that legal option to do so. Mr Welby talks about compassion with those family members who help their relatives die, in my opinion in a way which should be befitting in the way which they have led their life. He seems to have a problem with the idea of giving the drugs to the ill person themselves, and making sure they do it of their own volition. He talks about the detachment of the judicial and medical process, however he neglects that this is the only way to safeguard vulnerable people. His concerns that people will be coerced into taking their own life don’t match up with the figures from places like Oregon, where only 0.3% of the dying have actually decided to end their own life. The places which have enacted these laws haven’t become states of death where terminally ill people flee to escape the final curtain.

Mr Welby’s concern that the type of society we’ll become if we allow assisted suicide is odd, after-all we have all but legalized assisted suicide in this country. The only difference legalizing it would make is that it would protect the families who are currently at risk of prosecution at home, and give the option to the patient if they wish to take that course of action. Of course his religious ethics that ending life before they naturally come to an end come into it, and that’s fine, however he should have the courtesy to state that belief. His associating of suicide with assisted suicide is intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant. He calls for compassion, care and love for those with terminal illness, but he ignores that sometimes compassion, care and love makes assisted suicide not only moral but in a great many cases the compassionate, caring, and loving thing to do.


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