Thursday, 17 July 2014

Why Assisted Dying needs to be resisted

Should we legalize Assisted Dying? The debate will last some time, but there is one historical factor that might make us pause before making such a step, however minor it may seem at the time, and however many safeguards surround it.

Michael Burleigh's book, 'Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda' is a long read, at times depressing and inspiring, but always impresssively erudite. One of the most interesting sections is on the Nazis extermination policies in the 1930s.

It started with the gradual acceptance of the idea (shamefully agreed to in 1930 by the 'Inner Mission' one of the main Protestant welfare agencies), that sterilization was 'morally legitimate', even perhaps an act of duty towards future generations, a necessary means of social progress. It seemed at the time a fairly harmless move, only voluntary, with no indication that it led anywhere else. 


The next step was the decriminalization of voluntary eugenic sterilization in 1932. That again seemed a fairly harmless step. After all, no-one was forcing it on anyone, it was only for those who chose to have themselves sterilized on racial grounds, opening up the possibility that someone might choose to stop themselves bearing children in the future, and thus perpetuating their own race. 

The next stage was the possibility of sterilization at the consent of a guardian, for those whose own behaviour indicated that their children could end up being 'anti-social'. Once the earlier rubicon had been crossed, this didn't seem too bad either. After all, if the principle of the benefits of sterilization had been established, then a legal guardian worried about a teenager's behaviour might choose to save society the trouble and cost of future aggro by preventing any possibility that promiscuous delinquent youths might give birth to other promiscuous delinquent youths. It wasn't a huge step then towards the legalisation of compulsory sterilization at the decision of the local Party, who decreed that certain elements of society should be nipped in the bud and no longer allowed to replicate themselves.

From there it became feasible to imagine not only the enforced sterilization of undesirables but their extermination. After all, if you are stopping a particular kind of person from reproducing, why not go a stage further back and stop them living?

The point is that Nazi Germany did not suddenly go from a 'normal' society to one that could tolerate mass state murder of its own citizens overnight. It happened gradually, incrementally, step by step, almost while no-one, even 'good' people, noticed. It is to my mind one of the arguments that should make us pause before legalising Assisted Dying, however desirable it may seem to stop someone's pain. You never know where it will lead once you step out on that path. 

1 comment:

  1. I take your point about this being a serious issue and one which a decision should not be made without first analysing all possible inevitabilities. However I am struggling to see the link between this issue and one of the worst atrocities committed my mankind. The Nazi's eugenics programme was tailored to produce a master race or the perfect nation. This on the other hand is about giving those who have decided themselves that their lives are not worth living the chance to end them. I fail to see how in our modern democratic society the former will turn into the latter. I believe the real problem lies in where do you draw the line? If you allow a person with MS the right to commit suicide then do you also allow a manic depressive the same right? Or do we give certain illnesses greater priority over others. I can assure you that as somebody who has suffered from mental illness in the past this should not be the case.

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