Denise Cooper-Clarke is a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph. D in medical ethics (end of life issues). She has special interests in professional ethics and the ethics of virtue. Denise is an occasional adjunct lecturer in Ethics at Ridley College Melbourne, Moderator for Philosophy and Ethics at the Australian College of Theology, member of the Social Responsibilities Committee of the Diocese of Melbourne, voluntary researcher with Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society and a Fellow of ISCAST.
Description: Now that ‘assisted dying’ has been legalised in Victoria, and may well be in other Australian states and territories, there are important lessons to be learned for Christian communities before such laws come into effect (in Victoria, in 2019).
In the public debate, opponents of ‘assisted dying’ relied heavily on consequentialist arguments (the risk to the lives of the vulnerable), while proponents argued on the basis of the principles of respect for individual autonomy (the ‘right’ to choose) and of the obligation to relieve suffering, mainly through emotive appeals based on anecdotes of ‘bad deaths’. This strategy enabled proponents to win over both public opinion and the parliamentary vote, despite the strong opposition of doctors as expressed by the AMA. Arguments on the basis of the principles of the sanctity of human life and of biblical justice were largely missing. Should we rethink our reliance on consequences rather than principles in future discussion on this and other public moral issues?
Within Christian communities, an alternative to both principles and consequences, virtue ethics, might be a more fruitful approach. We need to form communities with an alternative narrative to the culture that enthrones individual choice as the ultimate value that trumps the common good, and that regards all suffering as meaningless and to be avoided at all costs: communities which embody in practical ways our affirmation that all human lives are valuable, including the disabled, the elderly the sick and the frail, so that no one is forced, because of pressure from their families, loneliness and/or lack of availability of quality palliative care or mental health services to reach such a point of desperation and hopelessness that they feel they have ‘no choice’ but to ask for assistance to end their lives.