The importance of stories in the euthanasia debate

The pro-euthanasia case is compact and quick and easy to make: It focuses on a terminally ill, seriously suffering, competent adult who gives informed consent to euthanasia and bases its claims to prevail on the obligation to respect that person’s right to autonomy and self-determination and dignity.

The case against euthanasia is more complex and time-consuming to establish.

It requires placing euthanasia in a much wider context that takes into account, among many other considerations, what its impact would be, not only in the present, but also in the future, and what protection of vulnerable people and society demands.

Euthanasia involves a clash of two important values: respect for individual autonomy and respect for life.

Pro-euthanasia advocates give priority to autonomy; anti-euthanasia proponents to respect for life.

Respect for life is not just a religious value as pro-euthanasia advocates argue. All societies in which reasonable people would want to live must uphold respect for life and at two levels: respect for every individual human life and respect for life in society in general.

Even if legalizing euthanasia were viewed as not contravening the former, it seriously harms the latter.

Both the pro- and anti-euthanasia sides in the euthanasia debate are trying to persuade the public to affirm their stance. So how are they presenting their cases to the public?

We form and support or reject the shared values on which we found our society, in part, by creating stories that we tell each other and buy into in order to create the glue that binds us together as a community.

So the pro-euthanasia case relies on “bad natural death” stories – stories of the extreme suffering of some terminally ill people who die a natural death – and characterizes and promotes euthanasia as an essential-to-provide kindness and its prohibition as cruelty. Continue reading


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