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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Globe and Mail supports physician assisted suicide

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper has published an editorial supporting a tightly-regulated system of physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. It concludes as follows:
Research shows that, in places where assisted suicide is legal, there is an initial spike in requests. However, the number then diminishes. “Many people, once they know that if all else fails, this is an option, they won’t make that call. The stress is gone,” says Udo Schuklenk, a Queen’s University professor who chairs the Royal Society’s committee on end-of-life decision-making in Canada. The committee will release a report this fall.

“Often when people talk about end-of-life decision-making, the assumption is, it’s about pain,” he adds. “But it’s not. The concern is more about losing control over the quality of their lives.”

As well as retooling the law on euthanasia, the government should expand the use of palliative care, so that people with terminal illnesses can be less fearful of an agonizing, protracted end, and less drawn to assisted suicide as a last option.

There must, however, be a way for society to grant the wishes of mentally competent adults who do not want to live with unspeakable pain, lose their ability to swallow, walk and talk, lose their selves. Surely this is the most compassionate way for them to end to their journey, and to have the good death they deserve.
Kudos and congratulations to Udo Schuklenk for his role in moving this issue so far forward. I don't need, I hope, to point out that this would be a change for the better in Canadian society, brought about in the face of resistance from religious groups. As usual, moving away from religion is necessary if we want improvements in the way our societies do things. The unfortunate fact is this: if we want more compassionate societies, they will have to be less religious societies. The only people who can make it otherwise are the religious leaders themselves, if they are prepared to let go of their empty moralising and look at issues in a more modern, liberal, and humane way.

All too often, religious morality puts otherworldly factors higher than such obvious secular goods as relief from suffering and the freedom to live a life that suits you; and thus it places barriers to a better morality (yes, "better" ... by very plausible standards of what we actually want our moral systems to deliver). Going by its record to date, religious morality is something to be overcome.

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