Human dignity requires a prohibition on killing

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Home > Media > News > Human dignity requires a prohibition on killing
Human dignity requires a prohibition on killing

By Dr Brigid McKenna
MBBS MBioeth FHEA

Debate about ‘voluntary assisted dying’ evokes strong emotions and impassioned pleas for empathy and compassion.  At the same time, appeals to principles such as the sanctity or inviolability of human life are often sidelined as impersonal and cold hearted.

However, we need to be intellectually honest and ethically informed; acknowledging that ‘voluntary assisted dying’ is simply a more palatable name for voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Voluntary euthanasia is the deliberate killing of another person, with the person’s consent, and with the motive of ending suffering.

Assisted suicide is helping persons kill themselves. Advocates claim that ‘voluntary assisted dying’ is not really suicide, because it involves a choice between dying now or dying later, rather than a choice between living and dying.

But word games cannot change the moral reality of these acts.

Deliberately killing another human being is always wrong. 

Suicide, for whatever reason, is always a tragic act of despair, and assisting someone with suicide, makes a person complicit in killing.  Both are fundamentally different to letting someone die naturally, because they each involve the intention to actively cause death.

As well as being intrinsically wrong, euthanasia and assisted suicide have wider consequences.  Even when freely requested by competent persons, performed or aided by registered doctors or nurses, and sanctioned by law, these ‘personal’ choices give dangerous public witness to the idea that some lives are not worth living and that it’s sometimes OK to kill.

Once this judgement is made about some people, what can prevent its extension? Logically, if euthanasia is permitted out of mercy, it will be extended to suffering people who are unable to make a free and informed request to die; babies, children, people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, dementia or reduced consciousness. 

Logically, too, it will be extended to people who are suffering, but not dying.

The very presence of laws sanctioning euthanasia and assisted suicide also make sick, disabled or elderly members of our community more vulnerable to the belief they are a burden upon family, carers, hospitals and the taxpayer.  

This legislation sends deadly mixed messages.  Why else would the Lifeline phone number come at the end of news reports about this bill?

The collective wisdom of all successful cultures and societies tells us that the way to nurture compassion and sustain our universal belief in human dignity and equality is to maintain the prohibition on intentional killing.  We cannot abandon this principle.