Helping someone to die doesn’t respect their life

Hayden Ramsay (ACU)

As the New South Wales Parliament debates euthanasia, Australian Catholic University's Hayden Ramsay argues that ending someone’s life may respect their wishes, but not their life. Source: ABC News.

When we say life is sacred or has unique value, we mean two things: that the life of each and every human being is utterly precious, but also that human life itself should be revered, defended, upheld.

Crucial values like justice, respect or compassion only make sense because they serve some great good or ideal. And perhaps the greatest of these goods is life. This is something we all agree on, whether we’re religious or not, whatever our culture.

Ending someone’s life is respecting their wishes but not their life. Deliberately ending any life, for any reason, raises fundamental questions: Do we really mean that life is so great a good it should never be directly attacked? Or can the good of life be set aside when judged too costly, inconvenient or burdensome? If so, where does that leave our society?

But surely helping a few suffering people die earlier at their own request doesn’t put a question mark over the value we place on life more generally? Actually, it does.

Healthcare has traditionally been about save-heal-care. But it can be perverted to serve anti-life ends, as when doctors take part in capital punishment, or in the development of biological weapons, torture or grotesque experiments. No one would pretend those anti-life activities are motivated by mercy.

In “voluntary assisted death”, on the other hand, healthcare may be anti-life but with a compassionate motive. Lack of malice makes it better in an important respect; the problem is, it also makes it worse.

Killing and hatred, tragically, explain each other; killing and kindness undermine each other. Kind killing infects our attitudes towards both life and mercy.

Professor Hayden Ramsay is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Ethics at the Australian Catholic University.


What would we lose by legislating voluntary assisted dying? (ABC News)


Labor elder John Watkins urges MPs to oppose assisted dying bill (Sydney Morning Herald)

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