Friday, August 14, 2009

liberty, dignity, responsibility for all

i find it interesting how the public conversation on end of life issues such as euthanasia are playing themselves out on either side of the atlantic.

as i understand it, both discussions turn on how one understands the ethics of self determination. while concerns exist over the abuse of the elderly in both debates, what strikes me as positive potential is that discussion about end of life counselling is intended to ensure every or any patient has had the opportunity to think through and, if they wish, determine, in advance, while they have all their mental faculities, how they wish their life to ideally end. the conditions under which they want not to be resuscitated. or in the case of
euthanasia, at what point, a patient wants their suffering to be brought to an end.

both debates if engaged with seriously, maturely, sensitively and cautiously are about the ethics of human dignity.

what strikes me as interesting also is that the need to protect the elderly is framed in the UK, (by contrast with the US), as an implicit need to protect 'grandma' from abuse or pressure by her family, not the state.

the quality of debate could not be more different. i think the US could learn a lot about how to handle sensitive issues such as this... that this is the kind of ethical debate that needs response, not reaction. it demands that we think. and think very calmly and carefully about how what we might want and what others want. and how to ensure everyone gets the dignified ending they deserve and desire.

and i'm provisionally thinking, and i am sure there have been tomes written about this throughout history, that having a written constitution, which outlines one's right to liberty does not necessarily mean the debate of what that looks like in practise is any better than when you live (even under monarchy) without a constitution.

or to put it more provocatively, does the abjectly infantile nature of the current US discourse over health reform, (as well as being based on fear and partisan politics) exist in part because the founding fathers having written a constitution down created a perfect excuse for at least some of their children to never have to think or question what it actually means to have liberty at all? or is it simply, as is all too evident here in Western Europe, that when we think about rights, we all too easily forget about the responsibility that comes with those rights. not simply of the state, but each person's responsibility. starting with honouring one's freedom by giving it the serious attention it deserves.

i'm not convinced that having a written constitution automatically results in freer or more dignified democracy. nor am i saying there's good reason to not write it all down. i just think it's easy to fall back on the words of one's forebears as if they had done all the necessary thinking, rather than engaging thoughtfully in the present.

i heard a commentator suggest the other night, freedom of speech needs to be balanced by a willingness and responsibility to listen. and i think that listening is bound to exercising the freedom to think. because when one is shouting, one is not only not-listening, one is also not likely to be thinking.

which when i think about it is how a lot of folks engage with religion. and it's surely no coincidence that fundamentalist Christianity is embedded in right wing politics. for Biblical literalism risks us simplifying things so much that one need never think about it all. it makes us mimics rather than free thinking humans.

i'm just thinking out loud. i don't claim for a second to know the answers. and i'm sure this question has been asked many times before... but i am repeatedly struck that the debate in the US right now has so little to do with ethics.

"pulling the plug on grandma" is not primarily a political issue, let alone a partisan one. and anyone making it so has already robbed grandma and themselves of a whole lot of human dignity. screaming about it only debases the discourse further. first and foremost any end of life decision is an ethical concern for each individual, that has political and legislative ramifications in order that those individual ethics are (sensitively and with dignity) supported, respected and protected as best as society is capable.

regardless of topic, politics, and religion, without being underpinned by mature ethical consideration and discourse makes for poor forms of both.

the way to avoid totalitarianism is not to create a circus of democracy...


No comments:

Post a Comment