Are euthanasia arguments honest?

5 August 2015
Glyn Carpenter

Are euthanasia arguments honest?

by | Aug 5, 2015

Are the arguments presented in the current euthanasia debate honest?

This is the question put to me by a person who holds a Master’s Degree in philosophy and who is about to graduate as a medical doctor.

I asked him to write up what he was thinking, and this is what he wrote …

This is in response to the arguments for and against euthanasia typified by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) and Euthanasia-Free NZ (EFNZ) respectively.

There are two distinct, key issues currently being debated in NZ generally and by VES and EFNZ specifically:

  1. Is active euthanasia (or PAS) ever acceptable?
  2. Is it possible to implement a policy of PAS in some way shape or form that will adequately account for unwanted but predictable secondary consequences?

There are other important issues that are not really in question, that I think should be separated from the current debate. For example:

  1. Is passive euthanasia ever acceptable, and if so in what circumstances?
  2. Are interventions that may hasten death, even predictably hasten death, but are not directly designed to cause death, ever acceptable, and if so in what circumstances?”

Going back to those two key issues, I think they are quite different, in terms of category, and this should be acknowledged.

  1. The first is really a worldview issue. In a sense, one’s position is a fundamental premise that to some extent defies logical examination. One can never “prove” that one’s answer to this issue is right.
  2. The second is a matter of practicality. One can “prove” their case to be better than an alternative.

I believe that in the current debate, both the VES and EFNZ are guilty of eliding the two issues in a manner that is not entirely honest.

  1. Each major player has decided from a worldview perspective what the correct answer to the first issue should be.
    1. VES is closely aligned with the rationalist humanist point of view, one that promotes a very libertarian mind set.
    2. EFNZ is Christian, and believes life is inherently sacred and should not be “taken”.
  2. There is some hesitance to state these worldviews clearly, perhaps because it is so difficult to engage people in debate on that level or maybe it is seen as a turn off.
    E.g. EFNZ says “We have no affiliation with any church, religion or any other secular organisation.”

Because of the failure to make this distinction, the debate slips and slides between the two major issues.

In any case, I think it is obvious that answering the objections raised by each side would do nothing to budge those whose fundamental convictions have already been made.

  1. It’s the classic story that for those who have faith, no evidence is necessary, and for those who don’t, no evidence is enough.
  2. This is why the debate goes back and forth on issues such as legal safeguards, and undermining trust in the medical profession
    (see Arguments and Rebuttals on the VES site)

Furthermore, to have the conversation honestly around the second issue, would need a worldview that would allow PAS, which EFNZ cannot do.

  • EFNZ may suggest that practical objections point to a higher truth, but again, that is an assertion that cannot be “proved”.
  • A danger for the EFNZ is that if all their practical objections could be accounted for, then one would have to conclude PAS would be acceptable in some circumstances. And most of their objections are those of practicality (8/8 on the pamphlet).

Because of the above points, the arguments from both sides then, are directed at those who do not have a fundamental conviction, and are open to persuasion.

  1. So it does not matter so much if the arguments are valid, so long as they are persuasive.
  2. This is why the arguments for and against PAS can be so weak and illogical, because this is not their primary requirement for each side.
  3. This is akin to telling a children “noble lies” (described by wikipedia as a “myth or untruth, often, but not invariably, of a religious nature, knowingly told by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda. The noble lie is a concept originated by Plato as described in the Republic).

Three other points:

  1. I think the approach of groups like Euthanasia-Free NZ is doomed to failure
    1. Perhaps EFNZ thinks that as long as people are persuaded by something to vote against any bill or referendum, then it doesn’t matter how valid the arguments are, as they are achieving a good outcome BUT
      1. If their practical objections can be demonstrated to be wrong, this undermines their position
      2. Debate over practical objections has a tendency to get messy and confusing, this undermines their position
      3. They are on the losing side of a general social thrust towards personal rights (prostitution reform bill, marriage equality bill), and their opposition to this makes them seem callous, and this undermines their position
  2. I don’t think it is so much the Christian’s job to stop what society wants, but rather to change what society wants
    1. We need to address the fundamental world view stuff, the rest will follow
    2. I think the most persuasive augments here are examples.
      1. For me, moving towards a position against PAS was due to a combination of seeing palliative services in action, and Victor Frankel’s book, “Man’s search for meaning”.
      2. People need to see that suffering is not something to fear and necessarily to avoid.
  3. If PAS does become legal, then doctors should be excluded from it.
    1. I agree entirely with the NZMC Code of ethics statement: “Doctors should bear in mind always the obligation of preserving life wherever possible and justifiable, while allowing death to occur with dignity and comfort when it appears to be inevitable. In such inevitable terminal situations, treatment applied with the primary aim of relieving patient distress is ethically acceptable, even when it may have the secondary effect of shortening life.”

The writer wished to remain anonymous. But we think he has raised some interesting points and questions.

What do you think? Would it be more honest, perhaps also more effective, to state that we believe there is a God, that life is a gift from God, and that God alone has the right to end life. Further, we believe that everyone will one day come face-to-face with God and have to account for their actions in this life.

Please let us know your thoughts.

Glyn Carpenter
Author: Glyn Carpenter

Glyn Carpenter was National Director of New Zealand Christian Network from March 2003 to 2017. He attends Northcote Baptist Church in Auckland, is married to Christine (married in 1981), and they have three sons – two working as doctors and one in computer science.

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