Click on the post title to read an opinion piece in Australia's national broadsheet newspaper, The Australian , about euthanasia, which contains the crucial line, "it's not just about religion." Of course, euthanasia is at its heart a religious issue - it's ultimately about who is Lord of life, God or man. But religious arguments don't play in secular democracies, where laws on ethical matters have to be framed within the universally accepted parameters of reason.
This piece highlights two reasonable arguments against legalising euthanasia, 1) the weight it places upon the shoulders of doctors who, despite public views to the contrary, are not gods but fallible human beings who are often ill-equipped to deal with the dying; and 2) the difficulty of providing adequate safeguards to protect those who may have a terminal disease but who do not wish to be euthanased.
But I think there is an even more profound argument which the author overlooks - the astounding change in the role of doctors that euthanasia laws would introduce, turning them from the guardians of life into the chaperones of death.
It's a long way from the Hippocratic Oath, which lies at the ethical foundations of western medicine and contains this vow:
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked,nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.
Ancient Greece may have been a pagan society by Christian standards, but in some important ways the Greeks were philosophically and ethically more advanced than our nihilistic, philosophically rootless, post-Christian culture, and the doctors among them realised that euthanasia and abortion could not be reasonably justified. We hope that the Australian Medical Association, the peak organisation representing doctors in this country, has not forgotten, nor renounced, the pro-life ideals represented in the Hippocratic Oath. This is indeed not "just" about religion, or about the "right to die", or about safeguarding the rights of the mentally incapacitated, it's also about the almost sacred role of doctors in western societies.