Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The right to die is the right to kill

There is much that is evil in the culture of death-- abortion, population control, among much else. Another manifestation of this evil, and a particularly dangerous one, is euthanasia.

A prominent leader in the euthanasia movement is Eric MacDonald, an ex-Anglican priest. Ex-reverend MacDonald is an atheist (of course). Because there is no inherent contradiction between being an Anglican priest and being an atheist, the fact that MacDonald actually took the trouble to leave the Anglican priesthood means that he's a particularly militant atheist.

MacDonald has an obsession with euthanasia. I was going to say "obsession with killing", because of course that is what euthanasia is, but that would be flip and unfair to MacDonald, because he is a bright guy who tries to make coherent arguments. Let's look at one of them, from his website Choice in Dying under About.


As I say in my first post, the purpose of this blog, which is just up and running today (2 December 2010), is to explore issues related to choice in dying and the right to die. Its purpose is largely to address itself to the widespread religious opposition to choice in dying...
"Choosing death" is always an option, and the religious right will have no say at all if MacDonald decides to exercise his choice. As long as there are ropes, bridges, running automobiles in closed garages, shotguns, and those left-over sleeping pills in the cabinet, there will no shortage of opportunities to die. Given that the cumulative dying incidence is 100%, more or less, and there are innumerable ways to avoid the wait, MacDonald's insistence on "choice" in dying seems odd. Dying is inevitable. And if you're proactive, there is a nice selection of choices.

... to explain why this opposition is not only baseless, but an unwarranted intrusion into the rights of suffering persons.
The rights of suffering persons can be listed succinctly:
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
... and so forth.

The "right" to be killed by physicians was considered by the Framers, along with the right to be blinded by opthalmologists, but it didn't make the cut.

How can someone have a right to be killed?
It is my belief that the issue of choice and assistance in dying must defeat the religious opposition to such choice and assistance.
Odd syntax, but I know what he means. Of course, religious opposition to "choice and assistance" (i.e. the right to be killed) takes several forms:

1) Many religious people object to killing. Suicide is killing yourself. Which is killing.

2) Many religious people believe that legalization of the killing of people who lack "quality of life" devalues the life of people with disabilities.

3) Many religious people believe that killing is not medical care, and that the medical profession should have nothing to do with killing. Hippocrates proscribed killing. Of course he was Catholic...

4) Many religious people believe that resources should be directed to alleviating illness and suffering, rather than to killing people who are ill and suffering.

5) All religious people point out that if Eric MacDonald really wants to kill himself, no one can stop him, so what's he whining about?
The opposition is based on personal beliefs which should not determine public policy...
It's hard to think of a more stupid assertion. What should voters use to guide policy-- impersonal beliefs? Personal non-beliefs? Impersonal disbeliefs?
Until religion is taken out of the equation, the dispute about choice in dying will be fraught with continuing unnecessary complexity.

Why does opposition to killing add "complexity"? What's so complex about "don't kill"?

And why should religion be "taken out of the equation"? Why not take "atheism" out of the equation? Why not take killing out of the equation? Why is it that only Eric MacDonald's beliefs get to stay in the equation?

While religious people have a right to their beliefs about dying, and its role in human life, they should have no right to impose those beliefs on others...
Every person has a right to his own beliefs about dying. It's actual killing that's a problem. A doctor killing you at your request is killing.

In a democracy, people have a right to regulate killing through the legislative process. The regulation of killing is the most important application of law. All law is the imposition of beliefs on others.

Is there anything I just said that isn't obvious, Eric?

It took several centuries to wrest political power from the hands of the religious.
Yep. Wresting religion has been a veritable industry. In some places, it was quite successful.
The right to die is one area where the churches and the religions have retained their power. It is time to take back this freedom too. 
The Catholic Church has done nothing to limit the sale of stools and rope, Eric. Your freedom awaits, and not a single religious conservative will get in your way.
A subsidiary though central purpose of this weblog will be to explore religion and religious belief more generally, and to argue against its powerful cultural presence
The fact that you have a weblog that is not controlled by the government is directly attributable to Christianity's powerful cultural presence. Ya' know, "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights...". All that religious stuff. Here's a refresher on the cultural implications of Christianity and atheism, compared and contrasted.
— an intrusive presence even in the lives of the non-religious, granted to religion largely because of a misunderstanding based on a long and complicated history. Despite the fact that over the last four or five centuries, religions (in the more secular societies of the democratic West) have been forced onto the back foot, it is still widely held, for no reason besides religion’s long period of dominance until the modern age, that society would dissolve into chaos without religion. This is a misunderstanding that we will explore in some detail.
Society doesn't dissolve into chaos without religion. In fact, societies without religion are generally quite organized. Even docile. Different religious and irreligious ideologies produce different political systems, with impressive regularity. Christian ideologies tend to produce liberal democracies. Atheist ideologies tend to produce totalitarian hellholes. Aside from that, there's not much difference.
As time goes on, readers of this blog should have the opportunity to see how religious beliefs and doctrines not only have no rational basis, but are, in fact, a danger to rational, evidence-based thinking upon which, alone, the ordering of human relations ought to be grounded.
An atheist isn't allowed to use the word "grounded". Catholics can't use the word "guilt-free". Jews can't use the words "unconcerned mother". It's like a law.

Atheism is the explicit denial of a ground for anything. Existence. Reason. Morality. Anything. Shit just happened.
As I have already suggested above, this blog is a work of love and devotion. My wife and dearest friend, Elizabeth, went to Switzerland to die at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas after years of suffering and increasing paralysis as the result of an aggressive case of MS. She experienced a death of unexampled courage and peacefulness. This weblog is a labour of love and obligation undertaken in her honour. The reader who follows the conversation here will soon learn of the circumstances, and the outcome of that journey into exile, from Canada to Switzerland, in order to find help in dying which she could not receive in her own country.
My condolences to Mr. MacDonald on the death of his wife.

He uses her tragic death to advocate for medical killing. He apparently sees no problem with medical killing. Some would agree.

People with disabling and painful conditions have many non-lethal options for the alleviation of their suffering. They also, of course, have every option to commit suicide on their own. No one can stop them. They do not have the "right" to be killed by doctors.

No one has a right to be killed. No one has the right to kill. And it is wrong to involve the medical profession in killing.
In the Middle Ages, when the plague decimated the population of Europe, a new attitude to death was developed by the church, as it sought to turn experiences of horror into opportunities for spiritual growth. Thus developed the spiritual practice called the ars moriendi, the art of dying. The idea was to transform suffering into a spiritual experience. Suffering was reconceived as something that makes us fully human. Instead of asking Job’s question — Why was I born if I must undergo such pointless suffering? — the idea of the art of dying was to see suffering as an opportunity. This idea deeply influences contemporary religious arguments against assisted dying, and it needs to be confronted.
News to Eric: people suffered and died long before the 14th century. Virtually all of humanity lived in the era before anesthesia and antibiotics. Redemptive suffering permeates scripture. Exodus, Job 19:25-27, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Luke 9:23, Hebrews. The Judeo-Christian theology of suffering long antedates the Black Death.
It is my conviction that the art of dying is an art which, in our own day, may suitably take its leave from religion and set up its home in the secular order to which our freedom is chiefly indebted.
Secular freedoms are all based in the (mostly Christian) insistence on the dignity of man, a dignity notably missing from the atheist-Darwinist understanding of evolved apes. "Render unto Caesar... Render unto God" is a distinctly Christian view.

It's counterpart in atheist rule is just "Render unto Caesar", without the God option.
People are free to see their suffering in the light of their faith in Christ, if that is what they wish. But this interpretation of suffering is not an obligation. Indeed, it may justly be seen as a piece of prevarication, hiding the reality of suffering, and, if there were a god, that god’s responsibility for it.
People who are suffering may see it, with some justice, as something which subtracts from rather than adds to the meaningfulness of life. For those who do not find suffering spirtually fulfilling, or in any sense an opportunity for human growth, it should be possible to negotiate other ways of leaving life than through the processes of disintegration which take place as we die. Those for whom suffering is a good reason not to believe in a god, or for whom the god they believe in does not desire pointless suffering, should have the choice to die at a time and in a manner of their own choosing. They should, in other words, have choice in dying.
Eric: did you quit the Anglican Church, or did they hear your sermons and ask you to leave?
It is significant that this last right of the individual is still refused to us on almost entirely religious grounds, with religion playing a dictatorial role to the very end.
Pope Benedict has personally blocked the construction of bridges...
It is time to put the religious pieces of this puzzle back into their box, and put it away with other things that are used to befuddle and constrict the human intellect, and the freedom of choice that appropriately belongs to it. The right to die is a human right, and the religions should stop imposing their ideas of death on other people.
People die, inevitably. What Eric means by "right to die" is really the right to kill-- to kill yourself, and if you are a physician, to kill others. But there is no right to kill anyone. Taking an life is never a right.

The issue here isn't about dying. The issue is killing. What Mr. MacDonald is really trying to do is to put a legal and medical imprimatur on killing. But people who are suffering are at their most vulnerable, and they need companionship and compassionate care and alleviation of their pain. They do not need to be killed.

Euthanasia should evoke strong opposition from people of conscience who understand what legal killing means. The right to be killed is the right to kill, and no one has a right to kill.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,
    This man's blog reads like rantings of man broken up on the reefs of grief.
    I am also sincerely sorry his wife died. I am doubly sorry she committed suicide.
    I can completely understand how that could shake his faith. A normal, natural death can shake the foundations of a life on all levels. A terrified loved one killing themselves? A nightmare I know far too much about.
    May God guide him home safely and whole.
    May his wife finally find peace.

    I am almost sure he was politely asked to resign the Church. There is a great variety of acceptance but this stuff is just going way to far.
    It is not Canadians that famously find exile in Switzerland, nor do billions in Canadian gold. I do recall something about Nazis and thier war concentration camp and booty, though. I am sure they would have approved of 'Dignitas'.