Opponents of Euthanasia: Look to the past, not the future.

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

James Eglinton, who was published in The Times of Scotland on July 8, argues that opponents of euthanasia should look to the past and not try to predict the future. 

There is a lot of wisdom in Eglinton’s argument—that “ we can move reliably from our present moment to the past that shaped it.” I have always been careful with extrapolating from  the past to the present, nonetheless, Eglinton is commenting on human experience. 

Eglinton has several excellent arguments opposing euthanasia. He starts by questioning the ability to maintain a tight law that permits euthanasia. 

If bodily autonomy makes it undignified to have no choice in one’s death, why should that choice be restricted to those with terminal illness? Why not make it available to the disabled, the depressed, the healthy elderly who feel they are a financial burden, or the young and healthy who do not want to experience the indignities of old age and infirmity? Arbitrary restrictions hold water only until others see them as arbitrary discrimination.

In fact Eglinton is right. If euthanasia is about autonomy, which it is not but is presented as such, then how can it remain limited to the dying? 

Eglinton then turns to his premise that opposition to euthanasia should be argued from the past. 

The future is, of course, hard to predict, but we can move reliably from our present moment to the past that shaped it. What does it mean for us today that Scottish culture seems to be increasingly fertile soil for euthanasia?

The most thought-provoking answer came from the outstanding Jewish sociologist Philip Rieff, who described the modern West as a culture centred on psychology and therapy that affirms death rather than life.

Eglinton explains that Rieff borrowed his insights from his grandfather who was a Holocaust survivor. Eglinton explains:

Rieff’s explanation of his grandfather’s intuition was that Hitler normalised a doctrine of “life unworthy of life” — in that context, first practised “hospitably to the hopelessly ill and handicapped” before being applied to others. His norms changed ours.

Rieff’s reminder of our cultural history is far more uncomfortable than any warning about the future. It takes us from speculation about the world we will give our grandchildren to the question, “Who gave us the world of today?” If Rieff is right, the answer should shock us to the core.

Based on personal experience with the attitude towards people with disabilities and the elderly, sadly I agree with Rieff’s grandfather, and I am dismayed by the lack of shock toward the implementation of Canada’s euthanasia laws. 

I am most saddened by the people who champion euthanasia who have been unwilling to accept the testimony of people with disabilities who, in this case, are like the canaries in the coal mine. 

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.