If every human life is of equal value, why promote assisted suicide? - Katie Breckenridge

Mr Liam McArthur MSP’s recent Summary of Consultation Responses to his proposed Bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill resulted in the National Secular Society calling for a reform of Scottish law that “protect[s] individuals to ensure other people’s religious beliefs are not imposed on them and limit their choices and autonomy”.

However, in a civilised society we all have beliefs which cannot be proven scientifically. Indeed, in a just society, every human being is expected to believe (and it is just a belief) that all others have basic, inherent, and absolutely equal value and worth. As stated in the 1948 UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and it is only a Declaration and not a proof): “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination”.

This means that the reason why every person strives to be viewed as an equal member of society is that only such a society can function, peacefully, for the benefit of every person within it. Thus, in a society where every life is believed to have equal value and worth, including those who may be depressed, old, or disabled, there is no rational basis to promote murder, suicide, or assisted suicide. Instead, the possible suffering of the dying patient is addressed by the provision of compassionate palliative care.

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This all means that even those who are not religious and want to continue living in a civilised society have an inherent set of beliefs which protects this society from anarchy. Otherwise, why do we need a parliament? Why do we insist on all persons having one equal vote for our version of what is best for society’s stability? If our culture and society is not founded on the essential moral belief that each person is equal, simply because he or she is a human person, then all other moral orders will degenerate into systems where only the persons wielding power are worthy of such equality. It would be a society similar to George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm published in 1945 where ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’.With the equality of value and worth of each person (which must be believed by every person and can never be lost) comes a society which focuses on fairness of access to healthcare, employment, education, compassion, and justice.

Katie Breckenridge, Research Associate, Scottish Council on Human BioethicsKatie Breckenridge, Research Associate, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics
Katie Breckenridge, Research Associate, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics

We know justice cannot exist without equality, and equality cannot exist when we are viewing certain members of society as having lives that should be ended. Thus, equality in society can never be achieved while some of its members are viewed as unworthy of life, meaning that Scotland must reject assisted suicide to uphold even a semblance of moral civilisation.

Katie Breckenridge, Research Associate, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics

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