As an adviser to the C of E on medical ethics, Brendan outlined the ‘back story’ to the debate on assisted suicide. He articulated a theological reservoir from the following sources of thinking:
God the life giver; God as Trinity (relationships); God incarnate (implications); God the Redeemer; God as justice; God as community (the body of Christ)
However, none are specific to medical ethics. How then should we engage in debate with a nation that does not always share these (theological) views.
Everyone has a ‘reservoir’ of some sort – which can lead to a set of principles, which underpin decision-making in this field.
Four principles emerge – significance of/ argument about the order, especially 3 and 4
– Affirming life
– Caring for the vulnerable
– Building a caring community
– Respecting individuals
These become the point of engagement with a variety of people/groups
Principles can only guide. Acceptance of a moral spectrum – from utopia (heaven) to the despicable (hell). Does the suggested practice sit with the principles set out above?
Normative – anti-normative
Importance of the middle ground – the non-normative
Working things out in practice
1. Personal autonomy – is this an acceptable value? (Margot McDonald in Scotland)
The Church’s goal: to make a contribution to the debate, rather than to win it
Attitudes to the church – what the church is thought to stand for? Inflexibility/ dogma
Balancing individual and other demands (social, community need)
Back to the question of autonomy – Is this is paramount? If so, there are huge implications for policies on health care, human rights/ criminal law
Equal intrinsic value – this varies from place to place (re the young/ the old/ the sick) – cultural mores.
2. The church articulates an aspiration
An Anglican debate – middle axioms
The Catholic approach is ‘different’
Is coercion acceptable? Of Christian legislation/ or anti-Christian legislation.
An acceptance of pluralism – the church must argue its point as must secularists. Secularists can also be dogmatic.
3. The ‘meaning’ of suffering – how to ‘manage’ this without a religious discourse
We cannot eliminate suffering but we can resist it. Is assisted suicide simply a (premature) rejection of suffering?