On the 30th July 2009 Debbie Purdy, a lady who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, won a case which persuaded the law lords to put an end to the legal ‘grey area’. This ambiguity created a dilemma for the relatives of many terminally ill people. Individuals faced with this predicament were uncertain whether or not they could face jail for assisting in the death of a loved one in a country where assisted suicide is legal.
This has re-opened the debate about euthanasia. Euthanasia defined as “the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition” is favoured by some people and rejected as an immoral practice by others. Those against euthanasia argue that:
1. Euthanasia is against the word and will of God
2. People don’t own their bodies, God does
3. Euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life
4. Suffering may have value
5. Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable
6. Euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life
7. Accepting euthanasia accepts that some lives (those of the disabled or sick) are worth less than others
8. Euthanasia might not be in a person's best interests
9. Euthanasia affects other people's rights, not just those of the patient
10. Proper palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary
11. There's no way of properly regulating euthanasia
12. Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill
13. Allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives
14. Euthanasia may become a cost-effective way to treat the terminally ill
15. Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
16. Euthanasia undermines the motivation to provide good care for the dying, and good pain relief
17. Euthanasia gives too much power to doctors
18. Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives
19. Moral pressure on elderly relatives by selfish families
20. Moral pressure to free up medical resources
21. Patients who are abandoned by their families may feel euthanasia is the only solution
Most of the arguments against euthanasia seem persuasive and many may argue that they represent what people believe to be ‘common sense’. However why is euthanasia gaining more support? One of the reasons is that, in a secular society morality changes. This is because God is removed as a basis for our social practices and norms.
What has secularism got to do with this?
In a secular society morals can never be objective. However before this is understood secularism must be defined.
Secularism, according to the respected Professor of law & philosopher Charles Taylor, is when “The state can’t be officially linked to some religious confession…that there be some kind of neutrality or principled distance.” In other words God or religion is not used a basis for how to live our lives in the public sphere.
According to Professor Barry Kosmin, from the ‘Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture’, describes two types of secularism: hard secularism and soft secularism.
• Hard secularism is a type of secularism you find in France where it negates religion intellectually and culturally via its world view.
• Soft secularism is where religious freedom is apparent and upheld in society, examples include the USA.
• Both types of secularism share the idea not to refer to God for morality.
Social Pressures & Evolution
Paul Kurtz is right because God is the only conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity, so without God there is no rational basis for objective morality. Therefore if in a secular society God is divorced from these issues then, in His absence, there are only two possible alternative conceptual foundations.
1. Social pressures
Evolution is problematic, in that it dictates that we are just accidental by products of a lengthy evolutionary process, and that we acquire moral understanding gradually. Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science from the University of Guelph, writes,
“Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth… Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
In other words we are just animals, and animals have no moral paradigm. When we see a tiger chase a deer eventually catching it and then ripping its flesh, we do not say that the tiger is acting immorally, rather we are saying that it was acting in accordance to its nature. Evolution as as a basis for objective morals is without foundation because according to this perspective we change our morality as we change in nature.
Social pressures provide no basis for objective morality as they change with time and place. Any reader in social science and social constructionism will easily conclude the relative nature of social pressures.
So without God there can be no rational basis for morality. God as a concept is not subjective therefore having God as basis for morality makes them binding and objective. The following statement by Richard Taylor, an eminent ethicist, correctly concludes,
“Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning.”
Logical coherence of this argument
1. God is the conceptual anchor that transcends human subjectivity
2. Secularism divorces any reference to God in moral matters
3. Therefore morals are subjective & relative in a secular framework
Islam & Euthanasia
In Islam morals do not change because they are grounded in God. Concerning euthanasia and suicide they are would be described as immoral. They always have been, and this will not change. For example the Qur’an mentions:
• Not take a life, which God made sacred, other [see Qur'an 17:33]
• If anyone kills a person - unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed the whole people. [see Qur'an 5:32]
• God decides how long each of us will live. When their time comes they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they bring it forward by a single hour. [see Qur'an 16:61]
• Destroy not yourselves. Surely Allah is ever merciful to you. [see Qur'an 4:29]
The Prophet (pbuh) also said,
"Amongst the nations before you there was a man who got a wound, and growing impatient (with its pain), he took a knife and cut his hand with it and the blood did not stop till he died. Allah said, 'My Slave hurried to bring death upon himself so I have forbidden him (to enter) Paradise.'" [ref: Sahih Bukhari]
As can be seen the concept of a life not worthy of living does not exist in Islam. If people of secular persuasion do not agree with this then all you have to say is that their morals are based on subjective and relative foundations such as evolution and social pressures. Additionally our basis for morality is grounded in God, which is independent of human subjectivity. However if they probe you further and say they do not believe in God or what he says, then all you have to do is prove God’s existence and show that the Qur'an is what He says. Otherwise we would be, as Richard Taylor puts it, "really just weaving intellectuals webs from thin air."