This Post is now available in Polish at Racjonalista. Thanks to Malgorzata once again.
There is a column in the Guardian this morning which goes through all the usual misunderstandings of assisted dying, and ends with a claim that, on the face of it, no one would deny, least of all those who support assisted dying, but in such a way as to suggest that the author has made her point, and this is the reductio of anyone who chooses to oppose what she says. As Haggis says below (comment #9), this first one sentence paragraph may not make sense, so I have revised it as follows, trying to say more clearly what I had in mind when I wrote it:
There’s a column in the Guardian this morning which runs through all the usual misunderstandings of assisted dying. However, it ends with a claim that few would wish to deny — namely, that it can be quite rational to cling to life. No one who supports assisted dying would wish to deny that. But she makes this perfectly reasonable claim in such a way as to make support for assisted dying look like a denial that clinging to life can be a reasonable thing to do. Thus she turns a perfectly reasonable claim into an apparent reductio of support for assisted dying, even though those who support assisted dying can themselves reasonably make the claim. This, it seems to me, is a measure of the author’s confusion.
The column is by Deborah Orr, who, apparently, has all the right credentials, being, as the blurb that goes with her name says, “one of Britain’s leading social and political commentators.” If this is a sample of her work, the adjective is in doubt. The column is entitled, “Most of us would rather cling to life – any life – than choose to kill ourselves.” That may or may not be true, but that is not the issue when the question of assisted dying is raised. What is at issue is the choices that people make, and whether or not people should have control over their own dying — or, what comes to the same thing, their own living. And the truth is that most people are in control of their own dying. Not everyone is like Tony Nicklinson, living in a condition that they find intolerable. Most people would rather, as Deborah Orr says, cling to life, any life, rather than die. But some, like Tony Nicklinson, or like my wife Elizabeth, want to be in control in a way that turns out to be a crucial aspect of what it is for them to have worth and dignity. Whether, as some people who receive a legal prescription for a lethal dose of barbiturates in the US state of Oregon, go on to use those drugs, is irrelevant to the question of control. The fact that they have them, and can use them if they choose, is the real heart of the matter.