Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My reply to the Baroness

Baroness Mary Warnock wrote an article defending the Joffe Bill HERE . Here's my response:

The Baroness suggests that the “slippery slope” argument “is necessarily speculative” and “hypothetical.” I do not agree. When the slippery slope argument suggests possible outcomes once you open the door to physician assisted suicide, this is because the principles on which the Bill is based ALREADY legitimise a range of wider applications.

Consider, for example, the principle of wanting to prevent suffering. If preventing suffering were sufficient to ensure that an action was morally right (which seems to be the presupposition underpinning most of the arguments for physician assisted suicide), then we would be compelled to kill people who are perpetually unhappy, or eliminate groups of people that contribute to the unhappiness of society. Or consider how this reasoning, on the surface gracious to people who are weak and vulnerable, actually leaves them unprotected. If, as the Baroness, suggests, “it is possible to question whether the sanctity of life is a principle from which parliament can properly derive its decisions”, then the value of life must be derived elsewhere. If we say it is derived from the value each person places on their own life (which is the result of saying that as soon as a terminally ill patient ceases to value their life and wants to die, the doctor can concur), then it follows that all of the depressed, dysfunctional and vulnerable people who do not have a proper estimation of their own value, do not actually value. Vulnerable people are protected only when we affirm that human life is intrinsically valuable, regardless of the mental or physical state of the sufferer.

Whether the slippery slope applications will ever be realized in our society remains, I agree, hypothetical, but it must at least be acknowledged that to be totally consistent with the utilitarianism of the Baroness’ argument, we should have no scruples making these applications. If the Baroness and the supporters of Joffe hesitate to be so consistent, can we be sure their successors will not?
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