Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Why is Euthanasia such a hot topic?

The national increase in the number and proportion of elderly people in the population in Europe and in the UK is well documented. This is usually contrasted to the decrease of the younger population by a falling birth rate. Families are smaller; people travel and work abroad far more easily now than 20 years ago and our communities lack cohesion precisely because of the increased mobility. All of these factors have reduced the availability of potential carers for older and disabled people, throwing an ever greater load upon voluntary and statutory health-care and supportive services.

Medical advances, life-supporting technology and pharmacological solutions have increased the public’s expectation of life and the expectation of cure to the point that illness and death are less accepted as part of normal human experience. Our bodies are healthier, medical know-how is available to sustain life for longer spans and as a result, our society is living longer. In an ageing population, questions are being asked about our financial capacity to continue care at current or increased levels, and the option of voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide is continuously being presented as an option. These issues are no longer discussed in the privacy of hospital rooms or churches, but under the public glare of the media. The public seems eager to know of the harrowing details of the very personal confrontation with death of individuals afflicted with pain and terminal illness.

In the UK, pressure for the introduction of euthanasia as a legally acceptable treatment is constant and a number of countries in Europe have already legalised assisted suicide options. However, what does this move towards seeing life as disposable, say about our society? Where have our cultural roots been filed in this ethical connundrum?

One of the primary and fundamental principles in the Judeo-Christian ethic is that of the sanctity of human life. This also applies in most other religious systems and it is enshrined in article 2 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental freedoms, and in article 6 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. “You are precious in my eyes and I love you”. This could be the refrain of a popular love song, but it is not; it comes from the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah 43:4) and is one of the foundations to understanding a Christian approach to end-of-life issues.

How can honour and love be at the heart of the euthanasia debate? A Christian understanding of the value of human life derives from the belief that we are made in the image of God and that God loves, honours and respects us. There is something of the sacred within each one of us. Our lives, no matter how frail are not disposable.


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The photograph of the dying rose was taken by Zivash


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