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José María Torralba, Senior Associate Professor of Philosophy Moral and Politics at the University of Navarra.

Euthanasia: the discussion that is not being

Tue, 04 Dec 2018 10:54:00 +0000 Published in La Razón

A law on euthanasia is currently being processed at congress . It is a controversial issue, because its ethical evaluation is not obvious to everyone (unlike corruption, for example) and, moreover, it can lead to heated discussions. This is not surprising, because it affects fundamental values such as respect for life, care for the sick, the need for autonomy, and the meaning and way of dealing with suffering.

I have been teaching ethics to university students for almost twenty years. Although ethics is not confined to controversial issues, it is unavoidable to address them if they affect individuals and societies so much. When attention euthanasia, my perspective is not that of a bioethicist, nor are the students from the health sciences. This, which may seem a limitation, has an advantage: the context of classroom is similar to that of public dialogue. The students are voting citizens who, sooner or later, will make decisions about illness and death.

In class there are varied, even conflicting, positions. agreement But they all agree on one thing: the lack of reflection and discussion on controversial issues. The quality of our social dialogue is rather poor. It is very scarce and we leave it to politicians, when it would be logical to have more contributions - in the media, social networks and public events - from doctors, nurses, jurists, philosophers, patients and families, and their respective associations. Moreover, when it comes to debate, the goal seems to be to defeat those who think otherwise instead of counting on them to find the fairest solution. And the risk of social fracture ("them" vs. "us") is also forgotten, when our strength depends on the ability to coexist with those who think differently. The fed-up and hopeless face of a student when he asked, "Why do we have this social and political climate?" stuck in my mind.

After examining the positions, I will explain which one I consider most appropriate: euthanasia should not be legalized. In ethics there is no room for neutrality, since not all arguments are equally valid. At the same time, having experienced first-hand the needs of sick or dependent people, I believe I have sufficient empathy to understand those who call for its legalization. But understanding does not mean agreeing, particularly if we think of the social consequences; and in a law this is decisive.

Among others, I have three concerns. First, it is stated that having a right does not oblige anyone to exercise it. This is true, but it is also true that by typifying that in some situations of "serious and incurable illness, or serious and chronic disability" euthanasia is permitted, it is stated - at least implicitly - that there are some types of life that are more dignified than others.

Secondly, although guarantees are proposed to avoid "social, economic or family" pressures, legalization will force each person to ask himself whether it is appropriate for him to ask for death in his status . Society must protect the weak. The weak are those who suffer so terribly that they wish to die, but so are those who may end up being induced to do so because culturally it is considered that, in their status, it is the best thing to do. And laws create culture.

Thirdly, we must think about what subject society we are building with this legislation. Certainly, it would make the autonomy of the individual a supreme value, but it is doubtful that it would help everyone to know that they are equally valuable and never see themselves as a burden. We have all been cared for at one time or another, and we know that it is on those occasions that humanity shines through. The paradoxical thing is that, precisely now that we are reaching the highest levels of welfare, integration of people with disabilities and support for dependency, utilitarian approaches emerge. I remember what a student told me. Her parents had taken care of their grandparents, who were suffering from degenerative diseases. One day they gathered their children together to tell them: "If the same thing happens to us, please don't waste your life taking care of us". Their generosity is evident (they cared without expecting to be cared for), but the question also arises: What is happening in our society to make us reason like this?

It would be necessary to consider other issues such as the difference between legitimately refusing treatment (or letting die) and directly causing death; the status in Holland and Belgium; how to act in the face of those who consider their freedom to be diminished without this law; the accessibility of palliative care; and, of course, what solution to offer to those who say they are suffering "unbearable suffering". There are no simple answers, but it is time to seek solutions together.

Although it seems that the law will be approved here, in other countries where it has been recently debated or voted -France, Portugal or England- the result has been against legalization. Maybe it is just coincidence, but these are democracies with an active civil society and a quality public dialogue. For my part, every year I see that our new generations yearn for a more reflective and participatory society. The hope is that in those desks sits the future.