I have to admit that, before Scott McKenna proposed it, it seemed to me that you could not pry the sanctity and inviolability of life apart. As he says, quite clearly:
For me, sanctity of life does not necessarily equate with inviolability. My argument is that God has given us moral responsibility. We cannot ever say that God desires intolerable suffering of us and, in ending our life in such circumstances, we, as co-creators with God, are exercising compassion and God-given choice. There are no ‘disastrous consequences’: God is bigger than that. It is precisely because God is compassionate that we have nothing to fear. We have real moral choice: we are not ‘sheep’.
This is, it needs to be said, contrary to what is normally meant by the sanctity of life, and, as for moral responsibility, religions have normally seen morality as a function of their belief in and loyalty to God, not something which can be separated from that belief or that commitment.
The Roman Catholic Church puts the point with its wonted bluntness. In its Declaration on Euthanasia it is quite clearly stated:
It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action. For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity. [my italics]
Of course, there is a qualification, bringing the principle of double effect into play, namely, that one may not intentionally bring about the death of an innocent human being. This expedient, however, is simply a band aid where a battle dressing is required. In her book The Sanctity of Life Doctrine in Medicine: A Critique, the Australian philosopher Helga Kuhse defines sanctity of life as follows:
It is absolutely prohibited either intentionally to kill a patient or intentionally to let a patient die, and to base decisions relating to the prolongation or shortening of human life on considerations of its quality or kind. [11; italics in original]
In the light of these considerations, how can Scott McKenna claim that he supports the principle of the sanctity of life, and yet does not consider this principle absolute?