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Euthanasia without discussion


Published in

El Norte de Castilla

Ana Marta Gonzalez

Professor of Philosophy Moral. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra

At the end of March the Senate will vote on the proposed organic law on euthanasia. There has been little discussion about this law. It has been too quickly assumed that there is a great social demand behind it, without making clear the exact nature of that demand. In one of the few countries that have legislated on the matter, the times have been much slower, the citizens have had more opportunities to understand what was being proposed and a referendum has even been called.

The text of the law lends itself to many comments. In the exhibition of motives, the Preamble states "to legislate to respect the autonomy and will to end the life of those who are in a status of serious, chronic and incapacitating suffering or serious and incurable illness, suffering unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated in conditions that they consider acceptable, what we call a euthanasic context".

Thus, the legislator wishes to respect the autonomy and the will of the person who suffers from "unbearable suffering", not susceptible to relief "under conditions he considers acceptable". By their very nature, these formulations open a wide space for interpretation. The law tries to limit this space by introducing the requirement of an "informed, express and reiterated request in time" by the patient, and by regulating in detail the procedure. In the meantime, however, it is assumed that healthcare professionals, unless they expressly declare the contrary on the grounds of conscientious objection, must place themselves at the service of the patient's wishes. Certainly, the law contemplates conscientious objection in order to preserve the autonomy and will of healthcare professionals, but only in terms of exception. That is to say: what is presented as the basis of the law for some, is presented as exceptional for others.

In any case, the reflection I would like to propose here refers to the subject society we are building with laws such as this one, something that does not only concern healthcare professionals, but every citizen. I have already mentioned that, although the law presents itself as a response to a social demand, the nature of that demand is not clear. The only thing that is clear is that no law is solely or primarily a reflection of social facts or demands, since every law prescribes behavior, and thus shapes society to suit itself. Therefore, it makes no sense to ask ourselves what class society we are projecting.

Some have presented the law as progress in individual rights and freedoms. Those who argue this way adopt the worst version of liberal individualism: the one that contributes to erode the social bond. If we were not living in times of weak thinking, it would be surprising that the proposal law was born from left-wing parties. On the other hand, the Preamble implies that the social demand is due to the "secularization of society", as if the value of life were only a privilege of religious people, and as the religious internship decreases, so does the love of life. It is evident that this is not so: if life can be a religious value, it is because it is a profoundly human value.

In fact, the law itself does not seek to question the value of life as such, but life under certain conditions. Specifically, it speaks of "unbearable suffering". What are we to understand by this? Suffering without possible medical relief? This would mean questioning the work of palliative care professionals. What are we talking about then, when we speak of "unbearable suffering"? Despair at the impossibility of leading an autonomous life? All of us, with age, will lose Schools, and certainly this can be a cause of suffering. But when in such a status someone expresses a desire to die, we cannot assume that his expressions have the meaning that was perhaps attributed to them in moments of lucidity. Often he is only asking for financial aid. Many times they simply need closeness, support, external confirmation that their life is still valuable.

When the social bond is strong, and the person knows he/she is recognized, appreciated, loved, those expressions are put in their rightful place. From this perspective, the supposed social demand for euthanasia would mean nothing more than our failure as a society: the written test that we are incapable of offering a perspective of meaning to the lives of elderly, unproductive or dependent people, simply because, unlike other societies that cared for their elderly and sick with veneration and care, we have come to convert youth, productivity and independence into the only factors that make life desirable. If the only response we can offer to a person who says "my life is meaningless" is to provide the means to end it, rather than presuming to respect individual autonomy, we should presume to be cynical.