December 6, 2021

‘The Economist’ backs assisted dying

As a reflection of the influence of classical liberal thought upon current affairs, the British “newspaper”, The Economist, has no peer. Its tightly written leaders (editorials) and backgrounders are extremely influential. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, is said to have remarked: “I used to think. Now, I just read The Economist.”

So its stand on euthanasia is bound to affect the debate.

In 2015 The Economist decided to defy the taboo on euthanasia, as it had with a number of progressive social issues, like same-sex marriage. This week it renewed its commitment with a leader, “The welcome spread of assisted dying”, accompanied by a backgrounder.

It is well enough informed about arguments from opponents of euthanasia to airily dismiss them: abuse of the vulnerable, the slippery slope, the need for palliative care, the danger of killing people with dementia and so on. It concludes with a classic endorsement of the liberal creed:

But the overall principle—that individuals are entitled to choose how they end their lives—is, we believe, a sound one. The evidence from countries that allow assisted dying is that abuses remain largely hypothetical, whereas the benefits are real and substantial. It relieves suffering, and restores a measure of dignity to people at the end of their lives.

This framing of the issue – “that individuals are entitled to choose” – comes directly from Sinai, that is, John Stuart Mill. But there are problems with this to which The Economist turns a blind eye. In the name of choice every taboo can be broken – even, for instance, cannibalism. It shrinks from metaphysical questions about the nature of the choice — in the name of freedom, how can anyone annihilate his freedom?

It is also brutal in asserting the right of individual choice over the common good:

But the possibility that some may agonise over whether to die should not trump the certainty that others will suffer unendurable pain if their freedom to choose is denied.

In the course of the leader, The Economist acknowledged that some practices, like euthanasia for the demented, are beyond the pale at the moment. But, like all taboos, this could melt away with progress:

No rules in this area are perfect. All should be subject to revision in the light of new evidence about how they work in practice, or to take account of medical advances.

As a description of the working of the slippery slope, this could hardly be bettered.

7 thoughts on “‘The Economist’ backs assisted dying

  1. Each living thing is born with a contract to die. Instead of a spiritual experience we’ve made death a medical event, yet we do not provide high quality death options for anyone, disabled or abled. Medical treatments can torture a person before death, encouraged by unprepared loved ones who cannot let go.

    There is no end of life education to inform doctors, patients, families, caregivers how to care for the dying. Why are we not teaching death education in schools as we do sex? Access to palliative care, hospice facilities or medications that ease our ends is very limited, and fear of administering comfort drugs is high. Nursing homes are not prepared to support the dying process.

    Dying can take months or even years. The only legal, available way to stop suffering into death a person has is to voluntarily stop eating and drinking. Even though that is difficult and slow, more and more of us are taking that route to hasten death. If a person is already dying, it is not suicide to hasten the process.

    I want to end my life in comfort and peace surrounded by loved ones. I want as many choices as I can get, including medical aid at the end. You may want to die suffering. I do not. Let’s all be able to choose among more legal and safe choices that support the end of life process, not prolong it.

  2. Once suicide becomes readily available and accepted, dependent persons who refuse to choose death will be blamed for voluntarily burdening their caregivers, and for burdening society as well, thus filling the end of their lives with new sorts of suffering. The issue before us is not just how to preserve the lives of those vulnerable and isolated people who will be pressured to kill themselves, but how to preserve the quality of life of those of them who resist those pressures, who choose to live.

  3. Vaccine mandates are a good example of denial of “choice” when the alternative is a threat to the “common good”. What is the threat to the “common good” when an individual decides that their suffering is intolerable? Surely not “cannibalism”.

  4. The Economist was always liberal, but it used to be more honest in its way of arguing. Since Zanny Minton Beddoes is editor in chief it took a wrong turn and lost a faithful back-to-back reader (me). Now it’s way too complacent with the worst of globalism and woke causes for it be bearable. What I most appreciate about the newspaper, it’s rationality and clear, no-nonsense arguing, seems to just disappear when certain topics come along… sigh…

  5. We live in a culture of expediency. It is inconvenient to be burdened with the vulnerable and unproductive. What better solution than assisting people to off themselves even if they are a little reluctant to do so. Offer them a helping hand

    1. This kind of commendation to suicide is inevitable and has been building up for years. The push may be economic expediency on the part of the state in these difficult times (never articulated of course, but some pandemic ICU decisions pointed that way), but individualism and certain religious approaches to life from the East do contribute to this kind of behaviour of human persons.

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