Euthanasia, MAID, Atheism and Medicine
The Debate – Medically assisted killing and medically assisted suicide in Australia
Discussion about euthanasia usually centres on the existential aspects of this activity. It has often perplexed me why Christians who debate these issues in the public square have allowed themselves to be confined to a naturalistic frame of reference. The arguments against euthanasia are not just the existential issues of slippery slope phenomenon or an intuitive discomfort about assisted killing and assisted suicide. The most powerful arguments against euthanasia are the arguments against naturalism where euthanasia is a corollary of a worldview that denies the existence of life beyond biological death, the existence of immaterial souls, disembodied consciousness, resurrection, heaven and hell and importantly the existence of a holy God. My conclusion is that Christians are not trained at all by their pastors and churches to defend the Christian faith. This is a damning indictment of the ignorance and failure of many churches to equip believers which was an exhortation of Paul to the Ephesian church.
The average pastor is a poor apologist who preaches to the converted but rarely engages in dialogue with non-Christians. When they do, I suspect it is the same assertion of the gospel message which they preach to their congregation but they are unable to engage in deep conversation with non-believers. I have heard so many times that you cannot argue someone into developing faith in Christ. In one sense, I agree. It is always through the work of the Holy Spirit without any shadow of doubt. But in another important sense, I emphatically disagree. There are many instances of non-believers coming to faith in Christ because a Christian apologist has addressed the intellectual barriers which genuinely prevent some from submitting themselves to Christ. After all, Christ did affirm the command to love the Lord our God with all our mind, our soul and our strength. I find the intellectual laziness of many Christians to be not only to astounding and embarrassing but a dishonour to God who has commanded them otherwise.
The following is a copy of recent letter to a medical committee concerning a proposed position paper on euthanasia which is now referred to as medical assistance in dying. Following this letter, I dialogue with a Christian colleague who raises questions about the semantics of medical assistance in dying.
Recent letter to a Royal Medical College concerning a proposed position paper on euthanasia
To the Medical Assistance in Dying Committee, Royal College
There are 2 broad questions for the Committee to address, (i) What position should the Committee take on medical assistance in dying (MAID)? and (ii) How should it advise physicians on the implementation of MAID if it is introduced? I have confined my discussion primarily to a plea for a broader frame of reference during dialogue so that important fundamental issues which can influence decision-making concerning question (i) can be legitimately discussed. The dichotomy of naturalism and supernaturalism is such that popular opinion heavily favours naturalism as a worldview which lays exclusive claim to being rational and evidenced-based. The corollary is that supernaturalism is considered to be irrational and without evidence. Unfortunately, this popular view paints a broad brush of all religious views as having no correspondence with reality which I contend is unjustified. In the last 20 years, only a minority (8.2%) of journal publications on the topic of euthanasia or medical assistance in dying (MAID) mention either “religion”, “spirituality”, or “faith”. The outcome is that several important fundamental issues related to MAID are excluded from discussion because they are not considered either pertinent or legitimate in the MAID debate. These issues include:
- Meaning and purpose of life
- Morality and ethics
- Free-will and autonomy
- Implications of the mind-body problem
- Life after death
The above issues underlie the basic tenets of the MAID debate and profoundly influence ultimate decision-making. For example, life after death (LAD) is considered by advocates of naturalism to be obviously untrue and death unquestionably equates with non-existence and with the ultimate termination of conscious suffering. One cannot over-emphasise the importance of this tenet to the argument favouring MAID. The implication is so powerful that advocates understandably consider it unconscionable not to offer MAID as a therapeutic option in the management of the terminally ill. Implicit adoption of the view by presupposing that death affords ultimate relief of suffering as fait accompli prejudices the discussion and considerably sways the argument in favour of MAID before the debate has started and perpetuates this presupposition. There are rational arguments for LAD which at the very least should make one consider whether the case against LAD is unquestionable and beyond reasonable doubt. Understandably LAD is considered highly contentious by many but within mainstream Australian society about half of the general population hold convictions about its reality, overwhelmingly from within the major religions. When prominent naturalists raise the possibility of consciousness beyond embodied sentience one needs to at least consider their rationale for revising logical corollaries from within their own worldview.
A substantial proportion of Australians (37% to 69%) hold religious convictions including about 50%8 who belong to religious faiths where the sanctity of life ethos has originated from such a worldview. Many advocates of the sanctity of life ethos hold to the tenet of LAD as true, the conscious decisions that one makes concerning the big questions in life and how one lives out those convictions determines the quality of LAD. No amount of assurance about safeguard measures surrounding the introduction of MAID would salve their conscience that MAID is ethical. If the contrary view that LAD is established as non-existent at the outset and accepted as an unquestionable axiom then one of the most significant counter-arguments against MAID is excluded a priori from the debate. To delegitimise the LAD argument because it is considered to be religious and is not scientific presupposes that such a view is religiously dogmatic, without rationality and without any scientific basis – this is an untrue assertion which is inaccurate and pejorative.
As noted in the discussion paper, no decision that we make as a learned group or as individuals within the broader context of society occurs in isolation or is isolated in its ramifications. Importantly the unintended consequences of the quest for broadening of certain individual rights for some will lead to the infringement of rights of others and may jeopardise the safety of the unwilling or the vulnerable – the issue is not whether this will happen but to what extent it will occur, the timeframe for its development and the price we (or our descendants) are willing to pay for MAID. This is understandably downplayed by strong advocates of MAID. Whilst there are limitations of certainty with inductive arguments there is arguably no logical compulsion for an ethical stopping point when an ethos is based on sociobiological trends – there are no objective boundaries which should never be breached and the slippery slope phenomenon is a natural and logical consequence of such a philosophical position.
There is extensive and diverse scholarly literature and dialogue on the fundamental issues which impact on the MAID debate. With the exception of those who are firm in their convictions it is not immediately clear to the agnostic as to what view the undecided should adopt. It is this group of individuals whom the firmly convicted on the polar sides of the debate seek to persuade.
In a multicultural society such as Australia, there is a plethora of worldviews with Australians of different persuasions seeking to be actively involved in shaping our nation and in the case of the Committee members seek to be actively involved in shaping the direction that our Committee takes on the topic of MAID.
I wish to acknowledge that MAID is an emotionally loaded issue for some and the discussion of fundamental issues may be equally distressing for others, however, this should not deter open civil discussion of these relevant and important topics. I simply plead with the committee to kindly frame the discussion paper in such a way as to facilitate informed discussion on a level playing field by establishing a broader frame of reference that legitimises debate by allowing rational arguments on the fundamental issues and does not bias discussion from the outset in favour of a particular worldview.
Dialogue with a Christian colleague about the semantics of medical assistance in dying
Your analysis of the semantics is correct and accurately describes what actually happens in euthanasia which is medically-assisted killing and medically-assisted suicide. The error is not accidental but intentional.
This is the contemporary terrain we are negotiating and living in. As a Christian, none of this is surprising because at the heart of it, this is the ultimate expression of autonomy from God Himself, to believe that we as humans have absolute authority over our own lives. This is what sin is, to reject God’s authority, to repudiate the possibility of His existence and to dismiss His decree that we are ultimately accountable to Him. An inherent feature of sin is deception and self-deception and hence euphemistic terminology is used to allay and avoid the guilt for individuals who engage in killing someone and assisting another to commit suicide. This is a sad state of affairs but the reality of living in a fallen world where humans prefer to choose death rather than life (particularly with reference to theological semantics rather than biological or medical).
Our local state member has recently indicated in the press that he will support motions in the parliament to support euthanasia. This is disappointing.
Previously I had an informal conversation with Dr A (whom you may know is a Australian specialist and a vocal advocate for euthanasia). I asked him if could give me account of where we came from and the origins of life. He was unable to answer to that but claimed his own existence was due to the random mating of his parents and the random rearrangement of parental genes. I indicated to him that all coded information comes from a mind and that native DNA contains coded information. Therefore, native DNA comes from a mind which must be personal, immaterial and highly intelligent. That this is consistent with the Judeo-Christian God. At that he announced with astonishment that I was trying to coerce him and I retorted not all. If the strength of the argument is convincing but he chooses to reject it, that’s his prerogative. Ultimately he’s not answerable to me. I was surprised that such a public advocate for euthanasia like himself should be so poorly versed with such fundamental issues and it would seem to me that he has not really engaged in the deep philosophical issues which underlie his worldview for which he seems so sure about. This is folly.
The Judeo-Christian foundations for Australian society and its morality is rapidly crumbling within our lifetime under the unremitting challenges of a growing body of discontent with Christianity and with religion in general. We have poor examples of those are supposed to represent Christ and instutionalised Christian churches that are demonstrating what institutions do best, protecting the institution and callously ignoring abused individuals who are expendable. In ancient Palestine, Christ clashed with a similar type of religious leaders of His day, He called them hypocrites and vipers. There’s a desperate need for the consistent and genuine display of the love, grace and mercy of Christ through His body the Church. At the same time, we need to engage with our society in the manner that Paul did at Mars Hill in Acts 17.
My personal view is that issues like euthanasia should force Christians out of their foxholes. It calls upon them to provide sound and rational reasons why euthanasia should be rejected and not just a mere assertion of the truth of their faith. Sadly the average Christian is ill equipped for that. Discussing the existential consequences and fallout of euthanasia is very important but allowing the scope of discussion to be dictated and confined within the narrow range acceptable to naturalism and materialism is conceding far too much.
by AristotleO, July 2017
 By supernaturalism, I’m specifically referring to theism and other religious faiths.
 There were 1,174 publications in a PubMed search of journal publications on the topic of euthanasia or medically assisted deatha (14,279 publications) between June 1, 1997 and May 31, 2017 that mention any of the following in the text: religion, religious, spiritual, spirituality, or faith.
a Includes medically assisted dying or medical assistance in dying
 Including the basis for morality and ethics
 Naturalism is the philosophical position that processes governed by natural explanations (usually physical and chemical governed by physicochemical laws) can account for and explain the reality of and within our cosmos. Closely related is scientism which is a philosophical view that only science can adequately and thoroughly explain reality.
 Opponents of LAD have appropriately objected that it is surely the right of every individual to believe what they choose. There is no disagreement about the right to do so. The objection, however, can become a question-begging objection that assumes belief in LAD is false and is therefore inconsequential. This is more importantly the central issue to MAID than the right to choose what one will believe.
 Notably, Antony Flew and Alfred Ayers were both prominent atheist philosophers of the mid to late 20th century. Former naturalists include Francis Collins (director of NIH, ex-director of Human Genome Project), Alister McGrath (biophysicist and chemist) and Frank Tipler (physicist). Contemporary former naturalists who used the expertise from within their own profession to question their long-held naturalistic worldview include Lee Strobel (journalist) and J Warner Wallace (homicide detective).
 Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism. WIN-Gallup International, 2012
 Cultural diversity in Australia. Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012–2013. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012
 The “big questions” in life include explanations for the origin of our cosmos and of intelligent life (including human beings), the ultimate explanation for moral values, meaning and purpose of life and the ultimate fate of humans after death.
 The broadening of criteria for MAID in Belgium and Netherlands is noted as an example that may not necessarily be part of the preliminary introduction of MAID in Australia. However, the philosophical literature on morality and ethics is clear that there are no objective boundaries when contemporary zeitgeist or biological evolution is the driving force for change. When these are the dictates that determine morality, logical necessity cannot be relied upon to provide objective moral values.
 By objective boundaries I am referring to objective moral values which are binding universally upon every human being regardless of whether they believe them to be true or not. Examples of objective moral values include prohibitions such as torture, child abuse and rape.
 A frame of reference which does not allow for inclusion of other disciplines of knowledge (such as philosophy and history) is much too narrow for an important topic such a MAID which has far-reaching practical implications for our society.