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Why not kill Bill?

Before anyone thinks I am advocating murder, abortion, infanticide or genocide, I’m asking a basic philosophical question. Kill Bill? Why not kill another human being? First we have to define our terms: by “kill” we mean to intentionally end another person’s life. For the purposes of discussion I will exclude the killing that goes on in war–not because it doesn’t count, but because the ethics of killing in war time is a more complex discussion. So why not kill another human being?

1. The classic Judeo-Christian position is “God said, ‘Thous shalt not kill.’” It’s a divine commandment. End of story. Don’t do it.

2. Many people–Jews, Christians and followers of other religions or none, are not satisfied with the “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” form of argument. They would go on to say that there is such a thing as ‘natural law’. Natural law is a set of principles–not always defined in the same specific way which is written in the natural order. It’s “the way things work” and consequently  it’s something human beings “just know”. They know that life is a precious thing and to end life is a terrible thing and well, you just don’t do that to other people. The idea of a vague natural law which “just is” would suit agnostics and atheists. Theists would go on to say, “Yes, there is natural law, and it is written into the plan of things by the one who created everything. Natural law demands a lawgiver–one who has created the world with an in built code of meaning. Perhaps, but the agnostic or atheist would reply that this is just a bald assertion, and that the ‘natural law’ is simply part of how we evolved.

3. This brings us to a third explanation–that the prohibition on killing others is simply part of the evolutionary development of man: he came to realize that he wouldn’t want to be killed so it wouldn’t be nice to kill another person. But how would this altruism actually develop through evolution–which is based in the survival of the fittest? If survival of the fittest means the strongest and best survive, then this would best be furthered by the strong killing the weak. An idea not to kill another would require not just a jump in evolution, but a complete reversal of it’s basic principle. Nevertheless, the evolutionary idea also includes the theory that a species might evolve certain traits for self preservation and advancement. So we could posit the idea that people living together in tribes realized that the future of the tribe was assured when the women and children were protected. That might foster the idea that one should not kill, but why not kill the other warriors who threaten the chief, and why not kill the members of the enemy tribe, and why not kill the old and infirm?

4. Another way people may have decided not to kill one another is that they not only decided that life was precious and therefore any loss of life is to be prohibited, but they may also have come to understand that the reason each human life was precious was because it had an eternal dimension. They believed not only that life was precious, but thought it was precious because each human individual had an intrinsic worth. This point of view would only make sense, it seems to me, if there were some awareness of an afterlife or a divine being or some dimension greater than this world, which human beings participated in and which therefore gave them a share in this other world. The Judeo Christian tradition specifies this instinct by saying each person is a unique, eternal soul created in God’s image.

5. A non-believer might posit that we should not kill each other because each individual has his or her own human integrity and human worth, but without the ‘eternal divine image thing’ why is it necessarily true that every human being has basic human dignity and a basic human right to life? If humans are only animals why would it be any worse to eliminate them? Do we have some special worth because we’re smarter than the animals? Is there some other quality to human existence which makes it precious and therefore a crime to kill? If so, what is it?

If there is no special quality to human life, then it is difficult to see how the rule of not killing can be sustained except for sentimental or utilitarian arguments like “It’s just not nice to kill other people.” or “Think what would happen to society if we all went around killing one another.” In the end, these sentimental and utilitarian arguments may be sufficient, and a non believer may be satisfied saying, “We shouldn’t kill each other because we shouldn’t kill each other.” That’s all well and good as long as far as it goes, but if the argument not to kill is only sentimental and utilitarian, then what happens when the sentimental and utilitarian arguments are stronger for killing than not killing?

Here’s an example: Granny is lying in bed suffering from dementia. She seems to have no quality of life. No one visits her and she’s run out of money. At this point the sentimental and utilitarian arguments shift FOR killing rather than against. The sentimental argument is, “She’s suffering so much. We wouldn’t treat a dog like that! She would be so much better off if she could only find peace!” the utilitarian argument would be, “She’s using a lot of resources that could be used for other people. She has run out of funds and there is no one else to pay. We can’t really keep this going.” The ethics of end of life decisions are complex and do not seem to be of the same order of infanticide or genocide–or are they? If the reasoning is merely sentimental or utilitarian surely the difference between end of life euthanasia and abortion, and then genocide is merely one of degree. That is to say, one might make the same sentimental and utilitarian arguments for exterminating a whole class of people as one might for putting Granny to sleep.

There might be some reason for a non believer saying that human beings have an innate dignity and an innate right to life, but given atheistic assumptions, I can’t think of any. I hope no one will take this the wrong way. I’m not saying atheism leads automatically and invariably to murder and genocide, nor am I saying all atheists are evil killers or anything like that. I’m simply musing on the reasons we have for not killing one another.

There may be other reasons, but I’m tired and need to take a break from this here screen and this here keyboard.

NOTE: I welcome courteous, thoughtful comments on this post. Others will not be posted.

 

 

  • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

    2) I have to quibble with your idea of natural law. Natural law posits that morality is based on the nature of things. So the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is wrong not because you “just know,” but because (according to the Catholic Church) homosexuality is contrary to the nature of human sexuality. You “just know” kind of thinking removes natural law from the realm of debate, which is not how natural law functions. Natural law does allow debate because it can consider contradicting evidence about what the nature of things actually is. So you don’t “just know,” you examine the nature of a thing.

    3) I also have to quibble with your portrayal of evolution. Evolution is not the survival of fittest, it is the reproduction of the individuals or groups best able to further their genetic material. Evolution won’t take place with even the fittest organism if that organism is sterile. And anyway, the mechanical process of evolution has no bearing on the morality of things, and I’ve never seen it used that way.

    Also, the jump from not murdering to not euthanizing a suffering dementia patient was rather abrupt. There’s a difference between the general principle and a rather specific exeption. And allowing that exception wouldn’t entirely invalidate the principle either. I assume you allow an exception to killing for war, and I also assume that you do value human life.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thanks for your insights. I’m going to tinker with the post a bit as a result.

      • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

        Glad to be helpful. : )

    • http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com Alice C. Linsley

      Natural law emerges out of the most ancient observations of a fixed and constant order in creation, such as east-west, male-female, and entities of a “kind” (essence) reproducing their own kind.

      • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

        I don’t think that’s a viable definition of natural law anymore. Such ancient observations were usually accompanied by assertions that a woman was the broken essence of a man, and lesser in dignity.

        And East-West are relative directions. How can something relative be a fixed and constant order of creation?

  • http://spikeisbest.blogspot.com Paul Stilwell

    How many mass murdering dictators were atheists?

    Being atheist does not automatically mean you will murder. But I wonder if being an atheist makes murdering people easier.

    I also wonder then, if you’re an atheist, what differentiates killing a dog and killing a person?

    I wonder how many survivors of mass murdering atheist dictators whose kin and friends were murdered continued to believe in God? Moreover, saying human life is precious is one thing, but trading places with another inmate about to be exterminated is another. Any atheist concentration camp prisoners trading their lives with another prisoner about to be killed? Certainly Maximilian Kolbe was not atheist, no?

    Atheist and Believer alike share the same basic knowing that killing is wrong – and violence to other people (let’s just say). But that knowing is based on something further. The Christian has natural law and the Law Giver, and neither cancel out the other, but reinforce each other.

    I wonder if atheists want to be their own gods. Maybe a few will become dictators one day, and will want to have an easier time of it.

  • 42oolon

    The evolutionary disincentive for social animals to kill kin is easy to understand. A pack of antelope who are instinctively at each others throats reduces its numbers and is more vulnerable to predators than a pack with the opposite instinct. This doesn’t prevent competition among males which can often be violent and deadly. See Pinker’s the Blank Slate or google evolutionary biology for a better explanation.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I understand the evolutionary reason not to kill kin. It doesn’t explain why a human should not kill his competitor or members of an enemy tribe.

      • Jonathan

        Funny, given that, how you make an exception for war…

  • Master Po

    As Lao Tzu has written:
    “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs;
    the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs. ”
    This can be interpreted as: Life is mean and cruel, the wise accept this as the natural order of things.

    The only reason we don’t go around killing each other is that societies evolve as much as individual organisms do. Societies that allow wanton murder literally kill themselves off. Societies that adopt and enforce protection of the individual survive and thrive.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for visiting this blog and making a comment. I think your point is arguable. A society that was ruthless towards it’s neighboring tribe–pillaging and killing–would survive and thrive far more than one that didn’t.

      • jose

        Which is what all the big empires in history, the US being the last so far, have done.

  • Jacob

    “That is to say, one might make the same sentimental and utilitarian arguments for exterminating a whole class of people as one might for putting Granny to sleep.”

    Uh, how? As an atheist who believes in that euthanasia is moral, I really can’t turn “end the suffering of people via ending their life” into “murdering 6 million Jews” or any variation thereof.
    Even if you could make that leap, your argument assumes that a non-believer only relies on your simple sentimental and utilitarian reasoning. I don’t think life has any inherent universal value, but it sure has value to me. And to the ones I love. And to the ones I hate. And to everyone in between. I really don’t have any problem with saying that life has value subjectively.

    Also, you seem to miss an important aspect of euthanasia. The one who is suffering must ASK to die. It must be of their own free will, whether or not the suicide is assisted. If they have no ability to ask for such a thing, they are either already dead, or comatose. In such a case, the one who decides will either be family or predetermined via a will or some other legal document the one in suffering has signed.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment and your observations. I believe the experience in the Netherlands shows us that soon after assisted suicide becomes commonplace that those who are unable to give their consent are also ‘assisted’ on the assumption that they would give their assent if they could. I didn’t say someone who could euthanize Granny would go on to kill millions–only that the argument is the same. Thank you again for your comment.

      • Sus

        This link explains what is happening in the Netherlands and assisted suicides. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/euthanasia-in-the-netherlands-rick-santorums-bogus-statistics/2012/02/21/gIQAJaRbSR_blog.html

        Granny wouldn’t qualify for assisted suicide because she has dementia which means she can’t consent to something like that..
        This is where I get so confused about religion. Why does your religion have the right to decide for everyone? If you and your family would never consider assisted suicide, why does it need to be restricted to everyone? I’ve read that Catholics believe in free will. What happens to free will when wanting to restrict something?
        I don’t murder because it’s illegal or against the laws of religion. It’s my laws inside of me that keeps me from murdering. I wear my seatbelt in cars, not because it’s a law. But, because my father told me when I was 16 that if he ever caught me driving or riding without wearing it, I would never drive or leave the house again. I live on the border of a state that does not have a seatbelt law. I don’t unclick when I go over the border. It really has nothing to do with the law or not a law.
        Fr. Longenecker, I’m not trying to be disrespectful to you, I’m promise. These kind of issues puzzle me and I really want to understand.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          These are good questions. The Catholic Church distinguishes between laws which apply only to Catholics, and laws which are universal. We do not make these laws, but we do speak out when the state seeks to do something intrinsically immoral, and we believe this is one of the roles of the church in society.

          Let’s put it this way: if a state enforces racial discrimination would you want the Catholic Church leaders to speak out against it? I think so. You would hold us irresponsible if we did not. If the State shipped immigrants off to concentration camps you would want Catholic leaders to speak out would you not? I would. What if the state started to lock people up indefinitely without trial, tortured people and executed them without trial. You would want the Catholic Church to be courageous and stand up for the vulnerable, weak and helpless against the strong majority and against a state that legislated cruelty and injustice.

          This principle is at the heart of our resistance to abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

          • Jacob

            “I didn’t say someone who could euthanize Granny would go on to kill millions–only that the argument is the same.”

            I didn’t say you did. I quoted this bit:

            “That is to say, one might make the same sentimental and utilitarian arguments for exterminating a whole class of people as one might for putting Granny to sleep.”

            I then asked how one might link the two arguments in such a way that they are the same. Killing Jewish people because they are Jewish, or killing X group because they belong to said group, is not like helping Granny die the way she’s requested, which is what euthanasia actually is. Can you tell me how the justifications for euthanasia justify genocide? And no, legalization of euthanasia has not led to involuntary euthanasia. Your source for that information was either misinformed or lying (see Sus’ link above).

            Yes, I would like to see the catholic church push for equality for all. I would like the church to stand up for the helpless. I would like the church to push for the right of a man to have his doctor euthanize him when he requests it. http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/22/world/europe/uk-locked-in-death/index.html
            This man starved himself for days before he died. There’s no question that this was entirely voluntary. Instead of a quick, peaceful death, this man suffered greatly. I would like the catholic church to show some compassion to him, and for people to stop worrying about imaginary situations that never happen, and don’t apply to euthanasia.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Thank you for your comment. There are two issues that arise from it. First you asked how the argument for euthanasia and genocide are the same. The arguments are utilitarian and sentimental. That is to say, what is useful and what ‘feels right’ or ‘feels good to me’. The utilitarian argument for killing Granny is, “She has no quality of life. She doesn’t have any money left. The resources for keeping her alive are better spent elsewhere.” The utilitarian argument for genocide is, “These people are inferior. They are contaminating the race. They are using up resources and costing us money. Things would be better without them.” The sentimental argument for killing Granny is “She’s suffering so much! We wouldn’t treat a dog this way. She should be killed quietly and with dignity.” The sentimental argument for genocide is “I don’t like these people. They are sub human. They are disgusting scum. They should be eliminated.” You will see that the underlying arguments are the same.

            Your second point is that you wish the Catholic Church would take a particular position that you consider humane or compassionate. I’m not sure if you are even a Catholic, so why would you wish the Catholic Church to take your position on this moral issue? The Catholic Church is not like the United Nations–where people get together and lobby for a position to be taken in an official document and for money to be spent to promote certain social or ethical causes. I think you may have a very skewed understanding of what the Catholic Church actually is.

          • flyingvic

            “What if the state started to lock people up indefinitely without trial, tortured people …”

            I’ve only just caught up with this thread and I don’t get to hear very much about what your church in America has to say – but what is it saying about Guantanamo Bay?

          • Jacob

            You keep coming back to the same two arguments. Those aren’t the only ones out there, and in fact, they are rarely used (if ever). Your idea of “sentimental” is quite patronizing. No one is advocating killing granny solely because it would end her suffering, but also because she’s asking to end her own life. No one advocates euthanasia unless the latter condition is met. In fact, unless the latter condition is met, it’s NOT euthanasia. You’re discussing a position no one actually holds. That’s fine, but it’s hard to take seriously someone who keeps doing that. And the utilitarian argument doesn’t work either. Letting granny die when she wants (and only when she wants) frees up resources to save the lives of others, increasing the average quality of life across the board. This is goal outlined in your utilitarian argument. Repressing and killing entire groups/races/whatever does not do this. Ever. Sure, if 10 000 people suddenly vanished, there would be more resources for the rest of us. Only at that instant though. Once those are burned through, we come to the point where we have less productive members of society. Less laborers, doctors, scientists, politicians etc. This is not a good thing. Also, stable society is a catalyst for advancement. Oppression and genocide do not lead to stable societies.

            As an atheist, yes, I would like the catholic church to share my morals. I’m sure you would rather that I share yours. I bring this up because in the above post you said this:
            “Let’s put it this way: if a state enforces racial discrimination would you want the Catholic Church leaders to speak out against it? I think so. You would hold us irresponsible if we did not. If the State shipped immigrants off to concentration camps you would want Catholic leaders to speak out would you not? I would. What if the state started to lock people up indefinitely without trial, tortured people and executed them without trial. You would want the Catholic Church to be courageous and stand up for the vulnerable, weak and helpless against the strong majority and against a state that legislated cruelty and injustice.”

            I did not just ask the church to stand for my values. I ask the church to stand for the values you claimed it stood for. The church, as you claim, stands for the weak and the helpless. Why doesn’t the church stand for Tony Nicklinson’s* right to die? Does the church presume to dictate that Tony should live for several decades in mental anguish, as opposed to the peaceful death he requested? That is not compassion. That is patronizing authoritarianism. The fact that you cling to your current position is, as you put it, irresponsible.

            *See link above

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            How naive you are to think that “mercy killing” would only ever happen for those who ask to die. Ten years ago a doctor in England suggested to my mother in law that she administer a potion to her elderly and unconscious mother which would ‘help her pass peacefully.’

            The Catholic Church will never condone an intrinsically evil action in order to achieve a possible good outcome. Tony Nicklinson? Hard cases do not make good law.

          • flyingvic

            Jacob, Tony Nicklinson’s case was not about his “right to die” but his request to have someone given the right to kill him without fear of prosecution. By its nature the law of the land has to apply to everybody; by definition, therefore, it cannot be tailored to suit individual cases. Your special pleading does your argument no favours.

          • Jacob

            “By its nature the law of the land has to apply to everybody…”

            Yep. That’s true. An able bodied man has the right to die in a peaceful way, if he so chooses. Tony Nicklinson did not have that choice. The law should be amended to account for Tony’s disability. The special pleading fallacy applies only when the case in question is not special. Disabilities make cases special. We see it building codes that demand wheelchair access to public buildings. We see it in school testing for kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. We should see it for euthanasia, particularly in cases like Tony’s. Just because a law stating, “One may not kill another under any circumstance,” works in the majority of cases does not mean it works in all. And, in fact, there is legal precedent for this in several countries, including western Canada.

            “How naive you are to think that “mercy killing” would only ever happen for those who ask to die. Ten years ago a doctor in England suggested to my mother in law that she administer a potion to her elderly and unconscious mother which would ‘help her pass peacefully.’”

            Quick question for you. Was your grandmother in law euthanized? If not, I really don’t see your point. I see it happening the way it should happen. It was presented as an option. And I claim that euthanasia does not lead to involuntary killing because we have the statistics to show otherwise.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            You said euthanasia could only happen if the person being put down asked for it. The point about my mother in law is that it was suggested that she should kill her own mother WITHOUT her mother asking to be put down. If you think that was the right thing to do then you have already changed your position from “it should only happen if the person themselves ask to have assistance for their suicide” to “the option should be give to allow relatives to kill someone who has not asked to be put down.” And what would you honestly do about the indigent person with no visitors, no money, no relatives who is unconscious and seriously ill? I suspect you would be very happy for a social worker and a doctor to decide to put that person to sleep.

          • Jacob

            “You said euthanasia could only happen if the person being put down asked for it… you have already changed your position from “it should only happen if the person themselves ask to have assistance for their suicide” to “the option should be give to allow relatives to kill someone who has not asked to be put down.””

            Nope. I said this:

            “If they have no ability to ask for such a thing, they are either already dead, or comatose. In such a case, the one who decides will either be family or predetermined via a will or some other legal document the one in suffering has signed.”

            I’m starting to think that you’re not actually reading my posts. I did shorten the above to quote to, “it should only happen if the person themselves ask to have assistance for their suicide,” out of convenience, though only after clearly stating what would happen in the case where the person in question was unable to personally request it. Granted, I have problems with family members conducting euthanasia, but the assumption that your grandmother in law would trust her daughter for this is not an invalid one. My position is not the one shifting here. Your shift from claiming there was widespread killing regardless of permission to giving personal anecdotes about doctors requesting permission from family members is quite noticeable, however.

            “And what would you honestly do about the indigent person with no visitors, no money, no relatives who is unconscious and seriously ill? I suspect you would be very happy for a social worker and a doctor to decide to put that person to sleep.”

            I find this amusing. I state above, clearly, that permission must be given by the recipient of euthanasia. If they can not, permission is defaulted to family or some predetermined person(s). And yet you claim I’d be happy to kill someone without permission. I would leave said indigent person alone. I would leave them on life support until they awoke or until death came by natural means. Your assumption otherwise tells me that you’re not arguing with me. It tells me you’re actually arguing with a caricature of me you’ve created in your mind.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Thank you for your comment and for visiting my blog.

          • flyingvic

            Jacob: “Disabilities make cases special. We see it building codes that demand wheelchair access to public buildings.” That is not an instance of making cases special: Disabled Access is now an obligatory feature of all new public buildings, so you have just undermined your own argument.

            “Just because a law . . . works in the majority of cases does not mean it works in all.” But whether or not it works in all cases it most certainly applies in all cases; and that is the point.

          • Jacob

            “Disabled Access is now an obligatory feature of all new public buildings…”

            Yes, public access mean access for all, including the special case where one cannot walk. It would be wrong to say, “Everyone is equal under the law. Everyone has access to this building via the staircase.”

            “But whether or not it works in all cases it most certainly applies in all cases; and that is the point.”

            Yes. It should apply across the board. That’s not the same as saying “no special cases.”

            Do you think the current law works in all cases? It seems fairly easy to identify cases where it doesn’t. If you don’t, are you seriously against amending the law so that it DOES work in all cases, or at least in as many as possible? If the law said, “never kill, ever,” murder in self defense would be illegal. The special case of self defense has a long standing legal precedent of being handled differently from run of the mill murder. The law already allows special cases of killing people. Is there any reason not to add another one for doctors to euthanize their patients should they so choose?

            You seem to think all laws are unbending and constant. This does not reflect the reality of any legal system ever devised.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I am not in favor of changing the law to allow euthanasia.

          • Jacob

            I was responding to flyingvic. Xe seems to be admitting the law is inadequate, but that it shouldn’t be amended under any circumstances. I don’t think xe actually thinks that, but that is the direction his argument would have to go in order to remain internally coherent.

          • flyingvic

            The current law in the UK is perfectly clear and adequate: it is illegal to assist someone in taking their own life. It is a law born out of compassion to protect those who are least able to protect themselves when death is approaching but not actually imminent. It works as well as any law may be expected to work; it works for the vast majority of those for whom it was designed to give protection; and therefore there is no good reason to change it. On rare occasions it happens that a difficult and challenging case arises like that of Tony Nick: here a relatively young man, contrary to normal human experience and reaction, apparently wished to end his life rather than carry on living in a largely helpless manner, but was unable to do so without assistance. The law designed to have compassion on the weak is then considered by some to be lacking in compassion for this individual and his family. As has been truthfully said many times, however, hard cases make bad law: there are sound moral, theological and practical reasons why a law that successfully defends the many should not be altered because of the difficult circumstances of the one. this law should remain as it stands.

            And I’m sorry, but you really shouldn’t spin your words to put them into my mouth; nor should you introduce complete red herrings like killing in self-defence into a discussion about legal defence against being killed.

          • Jacob

            “…it works for the vast majority of those for whom it was designed to give protection; and therefore there is no good reason to change it.”

            This right here is the problem. The fact that a law works in the vast majority of cases is NOT a condition for never changing it. It’s merely a condition for leaving it mostly intact, with amendments specifically designed for special cases.

            “It is a law born out of compassion to protect those who are least able to protect themselves when death is approaching but not actually imminent.”

            Who’s protected here? This argument is always phrased around this at some point, and it really makes no sense. First off, imminence of death is irrelevant. Should the patient in question choose to die rather than live out the rest of their life in a way they find detestable, that’s their choice, whether they’d live for another 2 weeks or 20 years. Second of all, protect them from what? From themselves? From their own personal choices? Are we really going to be that patronizing and deny them control over what little they still might control? If you mean to protect them from unwanted euthanasia, that would still remain illegal. No one has proposed otherwise.

            “As has been truthfully said many times, however, hard cases make bad law: there are sound moral, theological and practical reasons why a law that successfully defends the many should not be altered because of the difficult circumstances of the one.”

            No, hard cases MAKE law. In nearly every modern legal system, basic framework for law was established. Then, as hard cases came up, they were amended. Second, theology has no place in law. Should you wish to live your life according to a certain theology is fine, but to dictate that others must do so is oppressive. And how would allowing Tony’s doctor to kill him, or legalizing euthanasia in general, affect everybody else? Euthanasia laws wouldn’t apply in murder cases, or even medical malpractice.

            “And I’m sorry, but you really shouldn’t spin your words to put them into my mouth; nor should you introduce complete red herrings like killing in self-defence into a discussion about legal defence against being killed.”

            The self defense bit was not a red herring. It was an old, well established special case for murdering someone and not being jailed for it. And where did I put my words in your mouth?

          • flyingvic

            Usually it can be quite stimulating to argue with a genius – except when, as in your case, the genius is for missing the point.

            I said, “no good reason”; you spin changed that to “never”. The question in framing a change to a law that works is, “Is it necessary to try to accommodate this rarest of exceptions to the rule within a law that works perfectly well as it is?” The court in the UK decided that that was properly the realm of the legislature to decide, not the judiciary. A law is universal; it is not designed to be able to fit special cases.

            Tony Nick – quite unusually – wanted someone to help him commit suicide; most people want help to stay alive. Protection is currently provided for those too weak to protect themselves from the unscrupulous (usually relatives) who would prefer someone’s “inconvenient” life to be over. Death is certain; if it can be described as “imminent” then it might appear less of a crime to some to hurry things along. Do I really need to spell this out?

            If I wish to argue from a theological standpoint about a point of law, then that is my right and privilege, just as it someone else’s right and privilege to argue in an opposite direction from entirely different premises: neither one is dictating to the other. You do know the difference between arguing and dictating, I take it? And is not the crux of this particular argument the need for protection for the weak against someone dressing up murder as euthanasia? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? And since self-defence is a legitimate reason for killing someone who is attacking you, what possible relevance does that have in a discussion about defending the defenceless against the threat of being killed?

          • Jacob

            “Protection is currently provided for those too weak to protect themselves from the unscrupulous (usually relatives) who would prefer someone’s “inconvenient” life to be over. Death is certain; if it can be described as “imminent” then it might appear less of a crime to some to hurry things along. Do I really need to spell this out?”

            I said above that I don’t like family members consenting in place for another’s euthanasia. This is not a point I really touched on because the argument started about what the justifications for euthanasia would also justify, namely Mr. Longnecker’s ridiculous claim that the justifications for euthanasia implicitly justify genocide. Going into that particular complication was unnecessary at the time. Given the change in focus, I will explain my position on the matter:

            Euthanasia should be legal, under certain conditions.
            1) It must be consented too
            1i) In the event that consent cannot be given by the recipient, consent may be given for them by some legally verifiable predetermined person(s) that the recipient has chosen.
            1ii)Family members may not consent unless the above condition is met.
            1iii) Should the patient be diagnosed with a mental illness known to lead to suicide, the consent given is invalid.
            2) The recipient must of age of majority. That is to say, children cannot give consent. Nor can their parents, as per 1ii.
            3)Under no circumstances is anyone required to pay for another’s life support, with the exception of parents, should their child be under the age of majority.

            I am extremely tentative about 1iii), largely because I don’t like the idea of withhold a right from someone who suffers mental illness only because they suffer from mental illness. Also because I really don’t trust psychologists or psychiatrists.

            Consistently throughout this debate, and most debates on this topic, the only reasonable objection is the issue of family members giving consent. That is not what I am proposing, or arguing for. And before the accusation comes, no, my position has not changed. I at no point stated that family members should be able to give consent. That is merely what most people think of when they think of euthanasia, which was counter to Mr. Longnecker originally claimed.

            “Protection is currently provided for those too weak to protect themselves from the unscrupulous (usually relatives) who would prefer someone’s “inconvenient” life to be over. Death is certain; if it can be described as “imminent” then it might appear less of a crime to some to hurry things along. Do I really need to spell this out?”

            It’s funny you accuse me of missing the point. I took issue with “imminence” because, in the cases of euthanasia, it’s irrelevant. Now, please tell me, should euthanasia be legalized in the fashion that is ACTUALLY being proposed, who currently protected under the law would cease to be protected? Or, more specifically, how would allowing Tony Nicklinson to die in the manner he personally request, BECAUSE he personally requested it, lead to the deaths of helpless people at the hands of unscrupulous family members?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Euthanasia should not be legalized in any form.

          • Jacob

            That wasn’t the question. Good try, though.

          • flyingvic

            I have to say, Jacob, that if your incredibly impracticable and convoluted preconditions would not protect anyone not currently protected by the present law – and therefore by clear implication would actually remove protection from some others – there would seem to be no point whatsoever in making a change. You have nicely illustrated how utterly unworkable the conditions would be when once you try to frame particular exceptions to a law that must apply to everybody; and I thank you.

          • Jacob

            “I have to say, Jacob, that if your incredibly impracticable and convoluted preconditions would not protect anyone not currently protected by the present law – and therefore by clear implication would actually remove protection from some others…”

            How are they impracticable? How are they convoluted? 2 of my 6 conditions are already in the law. They don`t need to be changed. And euthanasia laws are not about protecting anyone, they`re about giving control to those who normally don`t have it. Control over their own life, and when to end it should they choose to do so. So point about not protecting anyone new is also irrelevant. Also, protecting anyone new does not mean that protections for others have been removed. The law I am proposing is orthogonal to protecting the helpless; it has no effect in either direction. I asked you to demonstrate how I might be wrong. You, instead, settled for insisting I was wrong without backing any of it up.

            “You have nicely illustrated how utterly unworkable the conditions would be when once you try to frame particular exceptions to a law that must apply to everybody; and I thank you.”

            Except these laws are in place in some countries and they work just fine. They also apply to everyone. Why you insist otherwise I do not know. Are you incapable of differentiating between murder and euthanasia? Do you really think the laws for the former case would affect the other, or vise versa?

            Acting superior will do you no good here. Superiority is something that must be demonstrated when it comes to arguments. It`s something you`ve failed to do.

    • http://spikeisbest.blogspot.com Paul Stilwell

      “The one who is suffering must ASK to die. It must be of their own free will, whether or not the suicide is assisted.”

      If someone is depressed and asks you to kill him, so then you can kill him, no problem.

      Yes, this evolutionary thing that avoids killing everyone off simply because it would, uh, kill everyone off, is going to work real good.

      • Korou

        Simplifying situations into black and white doesn’t make for a good dialogue. Pointing out that euthanasia requires consent is not the same as saying that you can casually kill people out of hand if they happen to say that they are sick of life.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          This is true, but it is also true that making everything grey keeps things very vague and out of focus.

          • Korou

            Actually, I’m not sure that it is. Shading and focus are two different things.
            Now when Paul Stillwell wrote: “If someone is depressed and asks you to kill him, so then you can kill him, no problem.” he was creating what’s called a strawman – an oversimplification that misrepresents his opponent’s arguments.
            You’re saying that this is okay because at least it gives you a clear and simple answer, even if it’s an untrue one?

  • Korou

    That was a most interesting post. It seemed fair and to consider other points of view. A good thing to see!
    But regarding point 4: when you say that:
    “Another way people may have decided not to kill one another is that they not only decided that life was precious and therefore any loss of life is to be prohibited, but they may also have come to understand that the reason each human life was precious was because it had an eternal dimension.”

    I think you have in fact found a secular reason for the sanctity of life, and a good one. Despite what you say in point 4 and 5, I think that you have hit on it – people treasure life because it is precious to them, and they know that other people treasure life as well; and so you don’t go around killing other people because you wouldn’t want them to go around killing you.
    You say that this would require a knowledge of the divine, but why would it? Since life is precious to all of us already, why would we need to know that that preciousness will be extended into infinity for it to have any meaning?
    I think what happened is that you came to that conclusion honestly but found that it then did justify a secular morality, and so you added the second half of point 4 and all of point 5. But there’s no need to. You’ve got the point already.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I didn’t actually say that the person who thinks life is precious must develop the ‘divine image’ view. I said they may, and that this enhances and gives a reason for why they think life is precious. I think the problem with the minimalistic understanding i.e.–that life is precious and that’s good enough to prohibit killing is that it is a sentimental and subjective judgment. Most people may think life is precious, but what shall we do with those who do not share that view, and consider human life to be disposable? Since it is only a subjective and sentimental position (albeit a very widespread one) there is not much one can do or say to the person who simply and honestly holds a different position. Likewise, what do we do with the person who considers his own life, and that of his loved ones or colleagues to be precious, but believes the lives of his enemies are not?

  • Korou

    Now, I’d like to ask a question: if God told us to kill Granny, would killing Granny therefore be a moral act?
    Where does a theist’s morality come from?
    If God did not exist – let’s just imagine a world in which there was no God, would we know that killing Granny – or doing other acts which we would call evil – was wrong? Would we be able to decide for ourselves that they were wrong? Or do we need God to tell us that they are wrong? Do we need God to, as Longenecker says, make the laws for us?

    If we do, then what stops God from making a law that tells us that evil acts are good? How do you know what morality is?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment. Hypothetical questions are always difficult to answer, and are often a method to divert ourselves and others from simpler truths. However, the quick answer is that the moral principles come from the nature of God himself. God is the source of all Being, and therefore the source of all that is positive, beautiful and living and true. Therefore that which is good is positive, beautiful, living and true. That which is evil is a distortion or perversion, destruction or absence of what is positive, good and true. So, for example, God is Life. He is the source of all that lives. Therefore life is positive and good. Killing is the destruction of life. Therefore killing is bad. But of course, that is the simple version. Thanks again for visiting this blog.

  • Korou

    Thank you for your answer. It’s true, hypotheticals can sometimes be difficult to answer, but they can also be very useful tools in helping us to come to new understandings.

    “…the moral principles come from the nature of God himself. God is the source of all Being, and therefore the source of all that is positive, beautiful and living and true.”
    But that’s not, in fact, an answer – all it does is move the question one step back. How do you know that these moral principles which God embodies are in fact good ones?
    God is the source of all? Alright, let us grant that God exists, in which case you would be right. But in that case, morality does not exist, because you are just saying that goodness is godliness. Therefore, whatever God was would be good. God could be evil, and evil would therefore be good. Therefore, what meaning does goodness have? How can you claim to know right from wrong? .

    “Therefore that which is good is positive, beautiful, living and true. That which is evil is a distortion or perversion, destruction or absence of what is positive, good and true.”
    Essentially what you said is that good things are good. You haven’t yet said how you can know what is good and what is evil.

    “So, for example, God is Life. He is the source of all that lives. Therefore life is positive and good. Killing is the destruction of life. Therefore killing is bad.”
    Congratulations. This is a secular justification. Life is positive and good, therefore killing – the ending of life – is bad.
    Perhaps for you, in order to think that life is positive and good, you need to believe that God exists – although the existence of many perfectly happy atheists would argue with you. But in any case, you are reaching your morality through a process of reasoning – so you don’t actually need God at all.

    • jose

      The “open question” is unanswerable. You can always ask “is that good?” whenever someone tries to define “good”, and the question remains meaningful. Doesn’t matter if people define good as “aggregate well being” (is maximizing overall well being good?) or “that which enhances flourishing” (is flourishing good?) or “harmony with the ground of all being” or anything else. The only response its proponents can give to those questions is “well duh”, which is not an argument but an intuition, a first-hand impression. To them, it seems obvious that “good” means this or that… which, rather ironically, puts them in the subjectivist side.

  • Korou

    Now to respond to the hypothetical scenario about Granny – well, the way you put it it does sound like Granny might welcome a merciful release from the pain that life has become! But that’s a separate discussion. My question would be: If God told you that he wanted you to commit euthanasia, that doing so was the morally right thing to do, then would you do it?
    If morality is what God says it is, then morality has no meaning; God could say anything and it would, by definition, be moral. Right?
    On the other hand if you would disagree with God then there exists a morality outside of Him – a secular morality, reachable by reasoning on human nature.
    Which is it?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve already answered this question. God cannot do something impossible or nonsensical. He can’t make blue square or tell you how big yellow is.

      Morality is not arbitrary. It is not just ‘what God says’. What is good is derived from what God IS. He produces goodness, truth and beauty because he IS goodness, truth and beauty. Therefore, he cannot tell me to kill Granny because that would be contrary to his nature. If a person does believe God told him to kill people, then he is mistaken.

      If you think God is simply making up rules in order for people to have ‘morality’ then your concept of God is limited and distorted. No wonder you don’t believe in that kind of God because the kind of God you imagine does not exist. You are therefore right not to believe in him. This is what I discover with a lot of atheists. The God they reject is not the historical Catholic understanding of God. It’s a distorted, partial or bizarre version of God. I quite understand that they may have gotten this distorted, partial and strange version of God honestly from sincerely mistaken teachers, or that they got this distorted, partial version of God through incomplete study and learning. That’s okay, but I encourage them to ask honest questions–as you are doing–to understand more completely what we believe about God. In doing so they may still disbelieve in God, but they will be disbelieving in what we truly believe rather than what they think we believe.

      • Korou

        “Morality is not arbitrary. It is not just ‘what God says’. What is good is derived from what God IS. He produces goodness, truth and beauty because he IS goodness, truth and beauty. Therefore, he cannot tell me to kill Granny because that would be contrary to his nature. If a person does believe God told him to kill people, then he is mistaken.”

        I never said that morality was arbitrary. I believe that a moral system should NOT be arbitrary, and am happy to discuss how one can be arrived at – in a different discussion. All I’m doing is pointing out something which I think you haven’t yet realized: by your own definitions, by what you yourself have just told me, your morality is arbitrary and without basis. Let me explain:
        - If your morality did have a basis, you would be able to explain why something was right or wrong. Correct?
        - You have attempted to do so by saying that rightness is consistent with God’s character and wrongness is inconsistent with it.
        - If so, the problem that you have is this: if God’s character were different to what you say it is – if God’s character did value evil – then you would be unable to make any moral objection to it. By your own admission, what God is, is goodness. Right? Therefore, if God was bad, bad would be good.
        - You said that if you heard God telling you to do evil you would know that it was not God speaking. But if, hypothetically speaking, the voice could convince you that it was God, you have tacitly admitted that you would have no choice but to obey.
        - Therefore, you do not have a system of morality. You have a system of obedience.
        To answer that this is meaningless because God IS good/goodness and so never would or could be evil is to miss the point. It’s equally meaningless to say that this is all hypotheticals with no bearing on the real world.

        The point is, you are defending your system of morality, and you can’t do it by simply asserting that what you are told is good is good. You must be able to demonstrate the objective reasons for your system of morality. You just be able to look at a hypothetical situation and explain how your system of morality would show you the right action to take. In this case, in the hypothetical situation of God telling you to do evil, your response is that you would do evil. Trying to evade this by saying it could never happen is to miss the point. If you can’t answer this as “No, God, I won’t do that because it would be wrong for (the following reasons)” – which apparently you can’t – then I’m sorry to have to tell you that you do not, in fact, have a basis for your morality. You may be a moral person, and I’m sure you are, but your morality is not one that can be justified.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Chasing our tails now. Over and out.

          • Korou

            Well, I guess this is an admission you would have trouble making, since it would present challenges to your being a priest if you did. I guess I was asking too much.

  • Korou

    On your second point:
    I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood why I don’t believe in God. And although I can’t speak for all atheists, from reading prominent atheist writers I can see you’ve misunderstood their position as well. It’s not that we say, “This is my idea of God; it is ridiculous and I refuse to believe in it.” We say: “I have not yet been presented with an idea of God which has satisfactory evidence, and therefore I am UNABLE to believe in God.”
    Now this is a pretty big misunderstanding for you to have about atheists, and I hope that you will do some additional research to correct it.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      That is not what I said atheists believe. I simply asserted that very often they (for whatever reasons) disbelieve in a God that does not exist because they have not understood what we mean by God.

      • Korou

        I’m afraid you demonstrated that you don’t understand the way most atheists think about God.

  • veritas

    Perhaps it might be relevant to remind the people who are insisting that euthanasia is not connected to exterminating whole races in gas chambers, that Germany, in the 1920′s and 30′s began to condone abortion and then infanticide then killing of the mentally retarded etc. This was long before the gas chambers started up. There is an absolute connection!
    Once the ruling elite (which today is the pro evolutionary, pro euthanasia left) decide that a particular life is no longer worth living, then it is but a short step for them to decide that whole groups, races etc are no longer worth being kept alive.

    • Korou

      The connection of correlation, maybe. You’ll need to show causation.
      It won’t surprise anyone who has been in a debate on abortion before to see a medical procedure being called “murder” and linked to the Holocaust.

  • Korou

    Well, at least I have to congratulate you on having this conversation.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thanks! Have a great day.

      • Korou

        Thanks – you too.

  • Lynda

    There can be no morality without reason; morality is rational, objective and therefore can be taught and understood as truth.

  • Niemand

    There’s something I’ve always wondered about from the religious point of view: Ok, God says “don’t kill”. But isn’t it also theologically true that babies who have never sinned go to Heaven? Particularly a baby who has been baptized so that it will be free of or forgiven for original sin? So, wouldn’t that make infanticide a good thing: kill the child and send it to Heaven before it can be corrupted by earthly desires and temptations and risk Hell? Sure, you might go to Hell for violating God’s commandment, but I’d go to Hell to guarantee my child Heaven if I thought either existed and I could do so. I’m assuming that infanticide for the sake of guaranteeing a child a spot in Heaven is frowned upon in Catholic theology, but I can’t put my finger on where my logic goes wrong…

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Good question, but it’s not that complicated: Catholic Church teaches that it is never right to do an intrinsically evil deed for a good motive. See my latest post for an explanation.

      • Korou

        But the child would go to heaven, right?

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          A possible good outcome does not validate an intrinsically evil action.

          • Korou

            Well, maybe you think not – but if the child does go to Heaven then Niemand was in fact right. He or she will go to hell as punishment and count it fair trade to make sure that her child goes to Heaven.
            And all I can do is agree with Niemand – I can’t put my finger on where the logic goes wrong either. It sounds like a virtuous self-sacrifice.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            It is never right to do a wrong deed with an intended good outcome.

  • Korou

    “It is never right to do a wrong deed with an intended good outcome.”

    Oh well, if that’s the level of dialogue we’re going to have, my answer would have to be:

    “Yes it is.”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Think it through: Instead of posing hypothetical questions and pretend scenarios, why don’t you make a list of all the horrors that have been perpetrated on humanity by people who set out with the sole aim of accomplishing a good outcome.

      • Korou

        No thank you; I’d prefer you to answer the question: what exactly is morally wrong with one person choosing to sacrifice their own life in order to ensure that another person goes to heaven? If we can be sure that the child does go to heaven, then how can it be wrong to “murder” them?
        All you’ve done so far is evade or refuse the issue. Which is an answer in itself.

      • Korou

        Incidentally: it’s interesting to see a priest going on record as saying that heaven and hell are hypothetical situations and pretend scenarios!

      • Korou

        And incidentally, perhaps you should think it through and you might come to see that your proposal – “make a list of all the horrors that have been perpetrated on humanity by people who set out with the sole aim of accomplishing a good outcome” is irrelevant. The people who founded a hospital had the sole aim of accomplishing a good outcome, for example.
        Good things can come from good intentions, good things can come from bad intentions, bad things can come from good intentions and bad things can come from bad intentions; and none of this has anything to do with the question you haven’t yet addressed.

        Well, to be fair you did address it – with a bald refusal; but really, that doesn’t help your case at all. If you can’t say why it would be wrong to do something – and you’ll have to do better than “it would be wrong because I was told it would be wrong,” which is essentially what you said, then you don’t have a moral leg to stand on.

  • Lynda

    There is no such a thing as a right to be murdered; that is an absurd notion. One cannot “consent” to being murdered as a matter of reason and in any objectively-ordered moral or legal code. Rights are functions of the objective good/necessity and cannot conflict with the best interests of the person concerned.


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