Rights and Duties
31/July/2009 Filed in: Jottings
Yesterday the Law Lords decided that the Director of Public Prosecutions should clarify the law on assisted suicide. Inevitably, many hailed the decision as "compassionate" and "a step forward". Surely, no one could be indifferent to the suffering and anguish of those who long for death as a release from something they find intolerable, nor can one be unmoved by the suffering of those who must watch one they love struggle with terminal illness. But we need to be clear about what is at issue. At the moment, assisting another's suicide is illegal. The DPP is being asked to clarify the circumstances in which, for example, a relative who helps someone to commit suicide would not be prosecuted. Advocates of "mercy killing" are right to say this is not the same as permitting euthanasia, that it is a limited measure with limited scope. However, one can see where it is likely to lead, particularly once the language of rights is invoked, as it so often is in the emotive "right to die" argument. So, two points to make. (1) We do not have a right to die, we have no moral claim on death. On the contrary, death has a claim on us. (2) If we do have rights in this matter, then we also have duties. Do we therefore have a duty to die once we are considered a burden to ourselves or others? Who makes the judgement and on what grounds? Catholic teaching on these subjects is remarkably clear and consistent. Living up to its demands is tough but personally I don't want to abdicate responsibility. It's part of being human. And I want to go on being human until I die, which I trust will be at the moment of God's choosing, not mine, nor anyone else's.