Over at the Huffington Post there is a debate between Margaret Somerville, purported ethicist from McGill University in Montreal, and Wanda Morris, Executive Director of Dying with Dignity (Canada), the voice for choice at the end of life in Canada. Somerville, as is her wont, brings out all the usual suspects, none of which are really compelling, and all of which depend on two things, making you afraid of it, and claiming that it’s simply — it’s really that simple folks! — wrong to kill people. She forgets, of course, that people have been killing other people since the dawn of time, and will go on doing it. Certainly, many acts of killing are wrong and to be regretted and condemned, but merely saying that something is a matter of killing another human being is not enough all on its own to make it wrong.
Margaret’s biggest argument — the real big argument so far as Somerville is concerned — is that permitting the act of assisting someone in great suffering to die (she doesn’t like that euphemism, so we’ll come back to it) is changing something fundamental about the way in which we regard human life, and it will bring about untold changes in our society, and may — in fact she is sure that it will — change the way we regard killing others, so that legalising it in the case of those who choose to die in order to end their suffering will set society off on a slippery slope to disaster and depravity. She’s said this numerous times before, and she puts so much weight on it that it really constitutes her main argument against assisted dying (a ”sanitised” form of language that she deplores, but we will come back to that). Margaret’s problem, not to put too fine a point on it, is that she is left asking a vague question about the future: “What long term effects might result from that?” She doesn’t know, but she has this in common with the pope: she believes firmly that this will usher in a “culture of death,” if it hasn’t already arrived, and that there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth because we didn’t listen to Jeremiahs like her.