In a very limited number of circumstances, English and Welsh doctors have a defence of medical necessity open to them when they take a life. If, for instance, they are operating on Siamese twins, or performing an abortion, and it is likely that a creature will die as a consequence, their act would technically be illegal but for the defences in statute and case law. Similarly, when they withdraw sustenance from a person under their care, they can point to medical necessity and to their professional assessment of probabilities as the reason.
This week, a largely misinformed press and political class began a debate about how to expand the situations in which doctors might kill further. This was prompted by a ruling concerning a woman who wishes to be assured of two things. Firstly, she wanted to know that any of her loved ones who helped her to a foreign 'suicide clinic' would not be prosecuted for assisting her suicide. Secondly, she wanted the option of asking others to end her life when she was unable to do so to be available. The mechanism by which she sought these liberties was a requirement that the Director of Public Prosecutions state the criteria on which any person could be prosecuted for doing what she wanted.
The simple answer to her, of course, was that the criteria were simple; the law as it stands. However, a consensus has emerged amongst a secular and pragmatic elite that the policies of the National Health Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions should take into account a 'right to die'.
One other story fed into the mix this week. It was that of a man who, on hearing that his father had a terminal illness, and knowing that his mother already had lost her faculties because of Alzheimer's disease, was prosecuted for handing his father a gun with which to end his life.
I found myself reflecting on whether there was a moral difference between allowing a conscious person to shoot himself, under what must be the duress of expectation and learned behaviour, and killing a person medically with legal sanction.
I also thought knowing that I am a Catholic Christian. It would therefore seem to me wrong to allow either option, on the basis that societies should not condone murder; that rules about killing are, when compromised, apt to get out of control because people are flawed and the consequences are absolute; and that this sort of thing belongs to the Holy Spirit. The last of those criteria, and the mystery it conveys about life, and death, I know would seem heartless and arcane to most people these days and I would not construct a civic argument from it.
This is a society that bans smoking on the basis that some who do not smoke may be hurt--even though research shows definitively only that those who live with smokers are hurt and assumes that they do not smoke. It is a society currently constructing a vast edifice of taxation on the basis of an unproven--indeed falsified--hysteria about planetary change that often invokes 'the children and grandchildren and generations yet unborn'. It is a society that has invaded liberty after liberty on the basis of protecting children whilst engaging in huge levels of abortion.
Now, it proposes to do something that only Nazis and Romans did before; to formalise medical killing. What does this do to the vocation of doctor, to community, and to society? What does this say to people at their most vulnerable?
Romans, of course, were a society of low population growth that could only be sustained by slavery and immigration. Had the Nazis ever built their new order, they would have been too, I have no doubt of that. But the west, now?
This is the most prosperous and peaceful moment in human history. More people are alive now, and more people can be fed, than ever before. Our technology is so successful, serious people are wondering if it is not a new form of evolution. Despite the fact that we face a terrible global depression, there is no need to despair if you have your life and your health, though I can point to no purpose in life if you aren't of my faith. If you are, I can't explain it.
What happened, that we decided to kill, to ease the feelings of those left beside the suffering, or the feelings--not the duties or thoughts--of those who suffered, as most humans ever did? Is it that consumerism has given us 'our lives back' so that we can choose to destroy them, or the ultimate end of atomised liberalism?
I've seen people at their most desperate and I would hope that I had the emotional intelligence to understand the awful state and choice that some people have. I also understand that, if I see why that man handed his father a gun but not why a doctor might kill, that I could present myself as confused.
But I'll never be reconciled to this. Just two generations ago, men and women railed against the dark; now they want it as a part of their freedom. This can only lead to the worst sort of trouble civilisations can get into.
And I know that euthanasia used to go on--people used to be 'helped along' at home or in medical wards with pillows or drugs. But when it did, people kept it quiet because they were ashamed of it, in part, but also because they understood as citizens how dangerous an idea it was to kill. When did it become acceptable to enshrine it in law, and characterise it as a right?
UPDATE: Apparently, Polly Toynbee has been chatting bilious nonsense (no surprise) on this issue. Mutatis mutandis, isn't that what she does? Anyhow, I was very taken by Norn Iron blogger Splintered Sunrise's take on the whole thing, to which I would direct people.