Occasionally I have published articles about euthanasia (I was against it) in newspapers. The on-line comments were often astonishingly venomous. “I hope you die of cancer in agony, you wretched mongrel,” was one of the more memorable ones. I am pretty thick-skinned and these did not bother me at all.
But the intense feeling of supporters of euthanasia was new to me. Many of them, it seemed clear, were terrified of dying, terrified of pain, and terrified of being alone. With so much at stake for them, they felt desperate. But basically it was a very self-centred reaction. Their despair was blinding them to the effects that legalisation would have upon the rest of society and on the medical profession. Elder abuse is already a “hidden epidemic”. It seems obvious that the frail and aged will often become inconvenient burdens who could easily be pressured to choose death. As far as the doctors are concerned, suicide is currently legal so they are the only people whose role will change. But won’t the power to execute people corrupt some doctors?
These questions are generally ignored in discussions of euthanasia. But Canadian academic Margaret Somerville and Australian activist Paul Russell examine them in some depth this week. Dr Somerville gives an excellent sketch of the perils of legalising euthanasia. In Canada the danger is proximate, as a judge in British Columbia has just ruled that a ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed, but the danger is real. Paul Russell discusses the link with elder abuse.
In our other two articles this week, Harley Sims analyses the emergence of gay superheroes in the comic book world and Ronan Wright reviews Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s eagerly-awaited prequel to Alien.