Thursday, 31 July 2014

Assisted dying and the meaning of dignity

Here is a boringly unprovocative suggestion: both sides of the assisted dying debate have good moral arguments and are more than often motivated by an ethical sense of empathy and compassion. Some on either side may be misguided to mutually accuse each other of representing extreme viewpoints to the contrary, with the proponents of assisted dying being painted as nihilistic eugenicists who seek vulnerable and chronically sick people's lives to be treated as burdensome and disposable, and the opponents viewed as religious fundamentalists committed to the perpetuation of aimless mortal suffering being imposed on the dying for the dogmatic and/or God-fearing sake of it.

In truth, it seems that the united concern of both sides, overwhelmingly, is the safeguarding of existential human dignity, a concern which is an extremely sound basis to have any moral or political debate about. In this paradigm, there is concern that allowing assisted dying will contribute to the social conditions that already victimize, dehumanize and neglect the well-being of the elderly and people with disabilities -- and on the other side objection to terminally dying people being paternalistically forced to bear excruciating pain and indignity at the end of life with no conscious self-determination to the contrary.

I come to the conclusion that the onus is on wider society to resolve these dilemmas. There would be small concern about vulnerable people being pressurized into death if defending the basic welfare and dignity of every human being was embedded into the fabric of life, as opposed to the selfishness and cruelty that frequently disposes elderly people into care homes that are often run for-profit, leaves disabled people languishing in poverty, and cattle manages mental health patients with sedation and institutional brutalization. To assure dignity in dying we must also ensure dignity in living.

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