We live in a time of increased conflict of belief, thought and opinion. Largely the increase has been brought about by the growth in technology and communication but also through change - some say demise - of standards, principles and ethics.
That is not necessarily a bad thing but depends on the approach taken to resolve the issues. Civility has been seriously damaged. We have become a culture of more aggressive opinion combined with the ability to express it. Drugs, sex, marriage, religious practices, abortion and euthanasia. Respect, law and order and courtesy. It's a long list.
I'm intrigued by news headlines that, until recently, would have had a short shelf life but now still prevail for weeks. I was at a sombre function this week and had a discussion with an acquaintance I hadn't seen for a bit. For the past few years, she was highly positioned in politics but not a politician. Still, she is in the thick of things.
Discussion turned to media and euthanasia being the central topic of the moment. Revealing that was to be my column this week, she asked my thoughts. You can read it Saturday, I replied. A funeral wasn't the right place for that discussion.
I had no intention to touch upon euthanasia again as a topic. As my friend said, everyone else had. However, the day before something changed my mind.
The BBC's annual Reith Lectures this year featured Lord Jonathan Sumption, a former Justice of the UK Supreme Court and distinguished historian. He argues that the law is taking over the space once occupied by politics. Having concerns about activist judges, I paid attention. Sumption was reflecting, almost precisely, my own opinion. I was surprised.
But first, he discussed the growing desire for more individual freedom but pointed out that it is accompanied by a trade-off with ever more laws of restriction for the public at large. Then there was the increase in the political surrender of controversial decision-making to the courts. This, in order to not lose votes over sensitive issues. He also mentioned the number of judge-led inquiries that governments are conducting for the same reason. We might remind ourselves of the number of inquiries that the incumbent New Zealand government has appointed. By deferring to an inquiry, especially a Royal Commission, politicians can both delay action and de-hook themselves.
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There are any number of examples revealed by an internet search, for both pro and anti factions in the assisted suicide debate. The more emotional the better. It's also a generational debate: "Baby boomers have wrecked the world; it's our lives that matter now." Actually, it's a rewrite of the 60s where no one over 30 was to be trusted. Boomers rewrote behaviour rules post-Woodstock. Now that same under-30 group wants to ride roughshod over the boomers.
Belgium is a world leader in euthanasia and how it can be expected to develop. It was legislated there in 2002 and extended to terminally ill children in 2014. As of August 2017, two children had had their lives terminated. More than 360 doctors have called for a tightening of rules. One member of the Commission for Euthanasia Control resigned, claiming the Commission violates the legislation.
Lord Sumption called euthanasia a major moral issue subject to strong views in which people disagree. He'd be right. In the question segment of his lecture, he was challenged by a woman who accompanied her husband to Switzerland earlier this year to help him be euthanised, at his request. His wish was to avoid the last few weeks of anticipated agony in his life.
An anonymous reporting of their intention resulted in an interrogation by the police, which caused them great distress. They worried that he might be prevented from travelling, she could have been arrested. She wanted the law changed.
Sumption believed "the law should continue to criminalise assistance in suicide and I think the law should be broken ... broken from time to time, but a law to prevent abuse. But it has always been that this is criminal and it has always been the case that courageous relatives and friends have helped people die and I think that is an untidy compromise of the sort that I suspect very few lawyers would adopt, but I don't believe that there is necessarily a moral obligation to obey the law and each person has to decide within his own conscience. That is where it ought to be decided."
That is some statement. Having been on the periphery of such a case, but not a blood relative, I had already arrived at that conclusion. But, as Sumption was determined to point out, there is no universally acceptable resolution.