Wednesday 19 October 2011

George Pitcher on Assisted Suicide

Yesterday (18 October 2011) LICC and Theos co-hosted an evening event with George Pitcher on assisted suicide under the title ‘Don’t Put Yourself Down’.

George Pitcher is the author of A Time To Live: The Case against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (excerpt here). He is a journalist by background and has worked as an award-winning Industrial Editor of The Observer and as Religion Editor of The Daily Telegraph, before spending a year as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Public Affairs.

In the LICC blurb for the event, he was billed as being ‘one of the most outspoken critics of attempts by lobbyists to have assisted suicide legalised in the UK’, who ‘believes that no proper case can be made in law, medical practice or theology for the establishment of a two-tier system of human life in which some lives are considered of less value than others’.

George also contributed a ‘Connecting with Culture’ piece on the topic for LICC some weeks back, which can be viewed here, and which gives a flavour of his perspective and style.

Beyond the obvious ‘life and death’ issue itself, a topic like assisted suicide provides a way of exploring how various underlying cultural currents shape our moral convictions – currents like autonomy, rights, and consumerism. Thus, engaging with it requires formulating a Christian understanding not just of assisted suicide but broader issues related to lifestyle and choice, suffering, sickness and death.

Of the many stimulating things that George said during the evening, his comments about ‘dependence’ stuck out for me. Human life, he reminded us, has been turned into a commodity – where we worship at the altar of ‘choice’, and where a ‘lifestyle’ can be bought. So, if we can buy the life we live, why not also the death we die? But this way of thinking and living, said George, takes no account of ‘dependency’ – our dependence on God, on others, and even on the created order – where dependency is a healthy and honourable estate, where we rightly take care of babies, of those who are sick, of the old, infirm, and dying.

We’ve grown afraid of such dependency, George argued, privileging the heroic loners and those trampling over others to get to the top of the pile in The Apprentice, assuming that ‘autonomy’ is a right of life. But this, according to George, is absurd –from a theological and philosophical perspective, as well as in legal terms. Thus, we should seek to recover our capacity for, and human requirement of, mutual dependence – in the issue of assisted suicide as anywhere else.

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