On April 20, The Spectator, one of the oldest and most influential weekly, news magazines in Britain, published an intriguing debate on the legalization of euthanasia by two avowed atheists, Sam Leith and Douglas Murray, respectively literary and associate editor for the magazine.
In recent years, bills to legalize euthanasia have been repeatedly rejected by the British Parliament, yet the idea commands widespread popular support in Britain. According to a recent poll by the National Centre for Social Research, close to 90 per cent of British adults currently support legalized euthanasia for terminally ill patients and 77 per cent also favour legalizing the death-dealing procedure for patients who are not terminally ill and are not mentally incompetent, but have been diagnosed with dementia.
Given such polling numbers, is the legalization of euthanasia in Britain all but inevitable? Not necessarily. For the past 30 years, an overwhelming majority of the British population has supported euthanasia for the terminally ill, yet as recently as 2015, the British Parliament held hearings and deliberated upon the matter at length only once again to reject the legalization of euthanasia by the overwhelming margin of 330 to 118.
Until recently, the Parliament of Canada likewise rejected pro-euthanasia bills time and again, but that was of no account to our unelected rulers on the Supreme Court of Canada. In the 2015 Carter case, they unilaterally imposed both euthanasia and assisted suicide on the people of Canada under the guise of legalizing medical-assistance-in-dying (MAID).
In a case similar to Carter 2015, a man with an incurable paralytic disease tried to persuade the United Kingdom Court of Appeal last year to strike down the longstanding ban in British law on medical-assistance-in-dying. He contended that this anti-euthanasia provision violated his “right to private life” as guaranteed in Article 8(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In a unanimous judgment, a three-judge panel of the court firmly rejected this argument. In its reasons, the court held: “There is a great deal of conflicting evidence as to the consequences of legalising assisted-dying about which reasonable people clearly do reasonably disagree and which the court, by contrast with Parliament, is not well placed to assess.”
Quite so. Would that our judicial activists in Canada also display such deference to established law and the authority of Parliament.
In The Spectator debate, Leith argued in favour of legalizing euthanasia for terminally ill, mentally competent patients who were likely to die within six months. He insisted: “If you are in a position where you, for good and intelligible reasons, want to control the circumstances of your death, you should be entitled to.”
In response, Murray contended that as a mentally competent person, you do not have an autonomous right to “control the circumstances of your death,” whether by suicide or euthanasia, because doing so is bound to have a profound impact on your loved ones as well as unavoidable ripple effects on the rest of society. “In the case of assisted-dying for terminal illness,” he stressed, “nobody knows what the wider effects will be.”
To underline this point, Murray recalled how the legalization of abortion was initially supposed to protect a few hundred desperate women from the depredations of backstreet abortionists, yet soon escalated to the mass annual slaughter of tens of thousands of babies in the womb. Already in Canada, the rapidly rising death toll from euthanasia reached an estimated 4,235 in 2018, up more than 50 per cent over just one year earlier.
The Netherlands has less than half the population of Canada, yet recorded no fewer than 6,126 euthanasia deaths in 2018. While most of the euthanized were cancer patients, 67 were psychiatric patients and another 144 were mentally competent, dementia patients in the first stage of the disease.
Summing up, Murray reminded Leith of the farewell admonition of Moses to the people of Israel: “Choose life, that you and your descendants might live.” Note how even an avowed atheist like Murray can readily grasp on the basis of reason alone that respect for human life is, as he said, “an unbelievably important” part of our religious inheritance.
We flout that fundamental moral and religious truth at our peril.