Euthanasia is ethical option 1

January 22, 2009

Soran Reader, who is facing risky neurosurgery, is not overstating matters when she argues that it is wrong that patients in the UK cannot ask for euthanasia ("It is monstrously wrong that patients cannot ask for euthanasia", 8 January).

In future years, when good sense and rational ethics have prevailed, I believe that we will come to look back on the current prohibition on euthanasia with a similar sense of horror to that evoked when we think of past nightmares such as the torture and execution of "witches".

There is indeed a commonality between such past atrocities and the contemporary prohibition of euthanasia: they are rooted in religiously inspired, wholly irrational notions, such as the absolutist doctrine that claims all life as sacred.

One need only look to the House of Lords, with its preponderance of religious figures, or listen to our churchgoing Prime Minister pontificating against assisted suicide to realise that the religiously inspired anti-euthanasia lobby retains a dominant position in the UK's corridors of power.

Such institutionalised opposition to euthanasia runs counter to the wishes of the citizenry, with the majority of the UK populace supporting physician-assisted suicide - a consistent finding in contemporary opinion polls. And it is clear that the vast majority of (non-religious) ethicists, and many physicians also, are in favour of changing the law to permit patients to obtain assisted suicide should they desire it.

Giving patients the autonomy to opt for non-existence would result in a massive reduction in suffering for many reasons. This includes the elimination of pain, escape from the fear of a drawn-out life of incapacity, and - not to be underestimated - the avoidance of deep unhappiness and distress experienced by relatives who at present must stand impotently by as their spouses, parents or children are forced to endure lives they do not want to live.

I wish Reader well in her operation, and I would call on academics who find the current proscription of euthanasia to be utterly morally bankrupt to make their voices heard.

Kevin Smith, University of Abertay Dundee.

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