Bioethics: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Euthanasia


As this edition of Solidarity was being finalised the South Australian Parliament voted against a Bill legalising euthanasia by the narrowest of margins (the Speaker deciding the issue with a casting vote against the Bill). Euthanasia is an issue which is being “debated” around the world.

But to what extent does the debate present arguments for and against the legalising of euthanasia? Are the arguments subjected to rigorous analysis?

One of the anonymous reviewers for an article in this issue of Solidarity commented on the disappearance of reasonable arguments from this debate. More and more the issue is decided by the presentation of apparently tragic stories and an appeal to emotions. This has certainly been the case in the recent debates in Australia.

In reporting on the defeat of the legislation referred to above, the ABC News online did not mention one argument given for or against legalising euthanasia. Rather it referred to a video of a dying man who had obtained the drug Nembutal so as to end his life.

This edition of Solidarity seeks to offer reasoned arguments against euthanasia, and to subject some of the standard arguments for euthanasia to close scrutiny.

Jeremy Bell considers two of the standard “principles” often appealed to in favour of allowing voluntary euthanasia – autonomy and beneficence – and finds the arguments wanting.

Tom Angier traces the dialectic between autonomy and compassion and argues that by legalising euthanasia a State undermines its own authority.

Most appeals for voluntary euthanasia seek to embrace doctors as the persons to either administer death or to assist persons to kill themselves. Xavier Symons calls into question the particular expertise of the doctor to make the judgment required in the face of the suffering of the patient.

Michael Quinlan poses the question of whether introducing euthanasia would be inconsistent with arguments accepted as grounds for the abolition of capital punishment.

Heidi Giebel pays special attention to the Principle of Double Effect as a useful tool for ethical analysis of end-of-life care including the more recent issue of “terminal sedation”.

Thomas Balch argues that there can be coherence between “Catholic Treatment Ethics and Secular laws”.

Finally Tom Ryan, SM has provided us with a review of Margaret Somerville’s latest book Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars. The book goes beyond the issue of euthanasia to raise questions about the values which are at the foundation of our debates.

It is obvious that not only do we need good reasoned argument against euthanasia and the legalising of euthanasia, but we also need continued reasoned discussion amongst those who defend human life to rigorously test our own argumentation. There is something of each in this edition of Solidarity.

Raymond Campbell
Guest Editor


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