It has been a very interesting experience to debate assisted suicide here in the UK.  I had in-depth exchanges with three different advocates, one a Member of the Scottish Parliament, one a bioethicist from, I believe, the University of Glasgow, and Dr. Libby Wilson, the head of an assisted suicide advocacy group here, who was apparently charged with assisting the suicide of someone using the helium method—although she says she merely talked on the phone about it.

The debates here were far deeper than the ones we usually have in the USA.  We didn’t have to waste time on the nonsense that assisted suicide isn’t really suicide or that it would only be limited to the terminally ill, although that is the MSP’s stated position.  In fact, we were able to engage at length the fundamental question raised by this movement—whether death on demand for other than transitory desires to die is a human right.  For as Dr. Wilson stated, permitting it for the terminally ill, neurologically degenerating, or seriously physically disabled—as proposed previously by MSP MacDonald, and likely to be in her upcoming bill—is a “good first step.”

So, what we have really, in this debate, are divergent and incompatible world views.  What is each of our—and society’s—duty to the ill, disabled, and despairing who “want to die.?”  I say, that we should value their lives, even if they can’t at the particular moment.  That means suicide prevention, interventions to make life more bearable, love and inclusion to help the suicidal make it to a hoped-for new dawn.

In contrast, my opponents here said, generally speaking, we should help them die. And it became very clear, especially in the debates with the bioethicist from Glasgow and Dr. Wilson, that the “helping” would, in the end, become a very broad license, to enable—in Dr. Wilson’s words, those with serious conditions to give their families “the gift” of no longer being a burden. Think of the message that attitude sends to the suffering among us!

I was rather stunned by the inability (refusal?) of some—both debaters and questioners—to recognize the value of a life that has difficulties.  The fear of suffering from these folk was palpable  But I was also encouraged that the young who spoke up seemed to be rejecting the “autonomy ubber alles” meme that under-girds assisted suicide ideology and opens the door to abandoning the elderly, chronically ill, despairing, and dying to the belief that they and their loved ones are better off if they are in the grave.

But it is a difficult thing: The clear flow of the culture at the moment is toward disdaining suffering at all costs, even when that means ending the sufferer,  perhaps even when the sufferer has not asked to be ended.

Tonight I will be giving a speech at the Hotel Cadogen near Sloan Square in London, entitled, “The Culture of Death in the United Kingdom: A Perfect Storm.”  I enjoyed meeting some of this site’s friends in Scotland and hope local SHSers can attend the event tonight.

Then home tomorrow, and on to the next. There is much to do and to say about many issues in the weeks to come.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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