Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Personalism v individualism ... euthanasia

Reading this - as usual - brilliant paper by Rowan Williams, "What is a Person? Reclaiming Relationality in an Uncooperative Age," is a timely link to a unique experience on Monday ... I was part of a presentation, led by Dean Lawrence Kimberley, to the Justice Select Committee on the Right To Choose euthanasia bill which is being considered by our Parliament. "Unique" means I have never been in front of a Select Committee before.

Anyway, the Committee was kind and heard our Diocese's voice, which was centred around the content of the speech Dean Lawrence made to our recent Synod when we agreed to a motion which asked our then Bishop, Victoria Matthews, to write to parliament stating our position and our concerns. (Some news reports about the role of our Diocese and Bishop in speaking against the proposed bill are here and here.)

But a news agency, Newsroom has spotted that our bishops are divided on the matter of whether people should be assisted to die or not. This is not unexpected  - we do not have a specific doctrinal position on euthanasia which binds the bishops to a common teaching - and there are, of course, sentiments worth considering when considering how best to assist people towards imminent death in the midst of great pain. I support best possible palliative care but that does not mean I dismiss those who think there are some circumstance in which it is reasonable to move beyond assisting people towards inevitable death by actually assisting them to die.

Nevertheless, I am against assisting people to die. Two reasons are particularly significant for me.

First, once we breach the principle of respect for life, for extraordinary reasons (e.g. great pain), and become used to making decisions to assist people to die and then actually being part of the ending of life (killing?), it will be very easy to continue the breach for ordinary reasons (there are too many elderly people, this treatment for depression just isn't working, health resources are limited, if Grandma died we could pay off the mortgage with the inheritance). We will become a society with a cap on the length of life and guilt for living a long life will drive people to an early end.

Secondly, what ++Rowan says. If we believe we are persons and not individuals then we will take account of our families and friends before asserting the right to choose as an individual to do what we want with our lives. Their loss of us, their distress at our going should be important. They have a right, if we use the language of rights, to have a say in our choice. But these personalist considerations, I fear, for a bill being driven by the party leader of the party most insistent on the sovereignty of the individual, could be lost.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter.
You point towards an undergirding question: to whom does one’s life belong?
Palliative care in our nation is second to none – and encouraging euthanasia can lead to lessening focus, research, and application of the more expensive palliative care. This is simply a ‘trolley problem’ in our predominantly Consequentialist, Utilitarian context.
You mention pain – but, in a pro-and-positive-palliative-care context (and with the Principle of Double Effect well understood and applied), it is those with Locked-in syndrome and similar situations who are left unaddressed. For this, I suggest we may need to apply a more Proportionalist ethical framework. Part of our national problem is that our church has become stuck in the cul de sac of uncontextual Bible verses about sex as our primary ethical agility with no real way to get back up from here onto the fast and accelerating motorway of real ethical issues in our nation. Meanwhile, those outside the church also have no ethics education in a system that thinks that this would be getting too close to churchiness. So on the motorway, the illusion often is that as long as we agree on the rules, driving will be safe.

Jean said...

Thanks for being part of the representation Peter. I think it is a very important issue and concur with the points you make. Obviously our subjective experiences come to play and this is where I find faith helpful on ethical decisions. In particular in this case the biblical concept beginning in the OT of God never giving human beings authority to take an individuals life. Overseas examples point to the fact that actually yes the boundaries of who ‘has the right to die’ do extend after Euthanasia is introduced, including in France where the abortion of babies who are identified as having Down’s syndrome is practiced. I would never discount the awful suffering of many people and yet the inherent selfishness evident in many of us alongside our limited ability to know the future make humans I believe unqualified to ever be put in such a position.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe the real issue is that New Zealand is now a largely post-Christian society with a left-liberal social outlook, in which a nominal adherence to Christianity by the majority who ticked that box in the past has been replaced by the "philosophy" of "selfism" which exalts maximum autonomy over one's body: thus unrestricted abortion ("my body, my choice"), sexual behaviour ("the bedroom is no business of the state"), drug taking (see the massive move in the west to decriminalize cannabis and other drugs) - and now suicide, beginning of course (doesn't it always?) with "hard cases" - just as the campaign to legalize abortion in the 1960s did. To grow up in such a world makes the "pro-choice" position on abortion inescapable for Generation X and Y - of which NZ's prime minister is a perfectly modern example: a bright, ex-Mormon atheist who has a child without marrying the father and who espouses every position of the liberal-left on what it means to be "free" and "human".
If a number of those attitudes have insinuated themselves into postmodern Anglicanism, one should hardly be surprised. After all, the new Bishop of Toronto (the man who got the job Victoria Matthew left Christchurch to seek) was present in the room as Dean to "bless" the suicide of two of his elderly parishioners. I'm sure he is fairly "agile" in explaining his purpose.


Anonymous said...

Yes, a typically penetrating piece from Rowan Williams which affirms that human personhood is intrinsically relational (the facts of our generation, as well as our nurture and use of language tell us this), theological (we already exist in relation to our Creator) and eschatological (what we may yet be vs. what we try to make ourselves). The idea of 'the uncooperative self' is an interesting one, although I would argue that modern work and business are much more cooperative and interdependent than he seems to depict them. Still, good to have a thinker who can combine psychology and sociology with biblical principles about humanness. Westerners would do well to learn from Russian Orthodox thinkers, especially those who suffered at the hands of the Bolshevist-Leninist-Stalinist nightmare.


Cameron said...

Hi Peter,

I recently attended a debate on this issue where our own Rev'd (newly minted) Dr John Fox, and Dr Stephen Child (MD) spoke against the Bill in its current form.

Whilst there was a clear theological question asked in question time at the end by Rev'd Fr of the Coptic church. I felt John Fox brought considerable theological presence to his argument, even if he did not name it as such.

Interestingly in what was news to me, but perhaps well known to others, Dr Child stated that fifty percent (50%) of palliative care in NZ is NGO funded. Bosco's comment RE 'Second to none" has me wondering just how much more we could/ought to be doing?

Note to any viewers - please do not read anything into me linking a Nat Party fbook page. I could not find it anywhere else. The debate nor the vote are concerned with Party politics.

Cameron said...

I should add. On the other side of the debate was Hon. Maryan Street ( who brought a similar Bill to parliament a way back), and Hon. David Seymour whose Bill it is this time round. So you get to hear the views of those at the hub of it all.

Father Ron Smith said...

Would it surprise anyone on this thread if I mentioned having read somewhere (I'm afraid I do NOT have chapter and verse, but if this is true, some of you will no doubt remember it) that even former Archbishop George Carey expressed the view that properly supervised 'euthanasia' ought to be made available in circumstances where the sufferer themselves decided they'd 'had enough' mental or phyical pain and could take no more.

Consider the understanding of animal lovers that they would never, for one moment, consider it ignoble or immoral to allow a suffering pet to be 'put down' - and sometimes these animal/human relationships seem more compelling than purely human relationship; nevertheless, they are still within the responsibility of all creation to militate against unnecessary suffering.

It has even been known, within the experience of hardened warriors, that there have been instances of friends putting an end to the extreme suffering of a dear comrade by means of shooting them. Would God reward such compassion with eternal death?

I remember being part of an ethics seminar in the setting of the Institute of Christian Studies at the venerable Church of All Saints, Masrgaret Street in London in the early nineteen-seventies. One of the subjects was euthanasia. After a brilliant talk by Dame Cecily Saunders (Founder of the Hospice Movement in the U.K.) there was a presentation by an elderly woman doctor - a member of I.C.S., who told us that there had been occasions in her own experience of hospital work where she had felt it right to withhold further clinical means to preserve the life of an individual whose suffering was piteous to behold.

I think many of us learned a lot from those seminars - which included discussions about many facets of moral ethical teaching, including a long discussion on gender and sexuality - that helped us to see life in a far more compassionate light than we had been accustomed to viewing it.

A big questioin is; If it were one;s self or one's nearest and dearest who were the subject of our conversation; what would the compassion of Christ demand of us?