Some prominent Australians who favour a change in the law on assisted dying seem so anxious to implement it that they deliberately ignore arguments against it.
Jeremy Irvine spent two years making a documentary entitled Fade to Black, which follows terminally ill Peter Short’s final months as he transforms from businessman into a right-to-die activist. Irvine, who claims the film canvasses the ‘full spectrum’ of views about whether Australia should allow assisted dying, came up with this bizarre claim: ‘Without exception those who opposed assisted dying laws did so because of their religious beliefs — even those who offered other reasons for their views.’
‘I spent probably 12 months searching and I found it really tough to find people who opposed assisted dying laws who weren’t looking at [sic] from a religious view.’ ‘Even people who would not talk about their religion, if you dug a little deeper, it would always come to that: “Oh, I’m a Catholic”. I didn’t find anybody.’
I feel like the kid at the front of the class with his hand up as the teacher scans everywhere else in the room for a hand. Me! Over here, Mr Irvine! In 2013, I published a book entitled Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation. I have been writing about this subject for more than 20 years. OK, the book has sold modestly, shall we say, down under. But it is there if you look for it. And, I really am an atheist.
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Irvine might have asked his fellow supporter of assisted dying, Andrew Denton. Mr Denton knows my ideas, if not me. He has berated me on some of his podcasts (he added eerie music to selected parts of a speech I did in Adelaide in 2015, which he recorded with my permission, like a morbid DJ). I wrote to him in a friendly and respectable manner more than once to point out some inaccuracies and, more importantly, to open up a dialogue.
He never replied. He’d had the chance to speak to me before. He sat through my conference speech in Adelaide, where I was billed as an atheist. Did he attempt to interview me (though he interviewed many of the others at the conference) or even introduce himself? No.
I’m not the only atheist in the “No” camp. Prominent British actress and comedienne Liz Carr has recently returned from your fair country and, lo, she, too, is an atheist. So was the late great Stella Young. We exist!
The reason we have been ignored is that it is much easier to write off opinion as religious than confront it. Then you avoid the difficult questions like, if assisted dying is deemed medical treatment, how can it be denied to anyone who suffers? (My homeland, Canada, which legalised it last year because of a 2012 case about a terminally ill woman, has recently granted it this year to a 77-year old woman because she had osteoarthritis).
Or, what will sanctioning suicide for some do to efforts to combat suicide generally? Or, won’t defining dignity as the ability to go to the toilet unaided demean and devalue the existence of many disabled people who lead enjoyable, fulfilled lives, thank you very much, despite not having that ability?
That’s just for starters. I could go on (and do, at length, in my book). But I doubt Denton will read it or anything else that gets in the way of his righteous indignation. Some campaigners are simply offended that anyone would have the gall to disagree with them. We await the documentary but it is difficult to believe, given Irvine’s pronouncements, that Fade to Black will have any shades of grey. Christians today are no match for this crusade that substitutes emotive examples for reason.
The activists for assisted suicide like to see themselves as rational and realistic, dealing with terrible situations in a compassionate and sober manner. Of course, I suspect that most of them are compassionate and well meaning. But so are those of us on the other side of the question. No one that I know who opposes assisted suicide – religious or not – would oppose doctors taking occasional acts of kindness in the last hours, days, or weeks of a life of a dying person. Our objections are to a change in the law. At least take us and our arguments seriously. In my experience, Christians can sometimes say worthwhile things.
I live in hope. I would be delighted to have a debate with anyone on this subject and honestly hope that there can be rational and reasoned discussion about such a radical proposal. But perhaps that is what some are frightened of. Parliament in the UK had one of its longest, most passionate and most considered discussions in 2015 and, in its wisdom, overwhelmingly rejected assisted dying.