“Assisted dying” vs rationality

Excellent article in today’s Guardian from the Rt Revd Dr Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, on the subject of “assisted dying” (“permitted killing” would, of course, be a more accurate term): “We need more rational argument and less polemic on euthanasia”.

Dr Harries (of whom I am not normally a fan) is responding to a number of recent Guardian articles, in particular a recent column by Polly Toynbee, which have argued that the only opposition to euthanasia comes from those bent on using oppressive religious dogma to crush the dignity and freedom of vulnerable individuals.

In reply, Dr Harries argues that his opposition to current proposals for euthanasia “depends on no religious presupposition, only an ability to reflect rationally on what it is to be human”. He expresses concern over “the lack of rational argument, leading to a genuine meeting of minds, by those who wish to change the law to allow assisted dying”.

Almost everyone agrees, he continues, that “human autonomy cannot always be the overriding value” and that, as a consequence, “there is then a proper debate to be had about the circumstances when it might need to be overruled”. Dr Harries raises concerns over the effect that euthanasia would have on palliative care, but his key argument relates to this issue of “autonomy”:

My own particular concern recently has been the emphasis put on autonomy by the bill’s supporters. It would be all too easy to slide from an emphasis on the importance of human choice into a growing assumption that when people are not able to make choices, when they become utterly dependent, their value is diminished.

We are dependent on others for long periods in our lives, and dependence as much as independence and autonomy are part of what it means to be a human being.

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