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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

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 Episcopal church supports euthanasia

The Church of England has taken a bold step towards backing euthanasia of terminally ill patients:
Canon Professor Robin Gill, a chief adviser to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said people should not be prosecuted for helping dying relatives who are in pain end their lives....

"There is a very strong compassionate case for voluntary euthanasia," Gill told The Observer . "In certain cases, such as that which involved Diane Pretty [the woman who was terminally ill with motor neurone disease and who campaigned for the right to be helped to die], there is an overwhelming case for it."

This position conforms to what most humanists -- myself included -- support. Humanist concern for quality of life and respect for personal autonomy lead to the view that in many circumstances voluntary euthanasia is the morally right course under the proper circumstances, including extreme pain and suffering; helplessness and loss of personal dignity; and permanent loss of those things which have made life worth living.

To postpone the inevitable with no intervening benefit is not a moral act. Indeed, there is no rational moral distinction at all between allowing someone to die and actively assisting them to die in these circumstances: the intention and the outcome (the death of the patient) are the same in both cases, but the more active means is probably the more compassionate one.

Some religious people maintain that there is a moral distinction between acts which cause death (active euthanasia) and omissions which cause death (passive euthanasia), only the second being morally permissible. I think they've got it the wrong way round, because the first is quicker and thus kinder for everyone involved, though both are probably painless for the patient.

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