Our society is one where people are taught to believe that a person’s body is what the person chooses to make of it. It is "self-owned": it has no inherent meaning, no in-built complementarity, no ‘givenness’. Only what we choose to value has value – there is nothing valuable in itself.Anthony McCarthy is a biothecist and former Research Fellow of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre. He is now SPUC's senior education manager.
In 1791 the French revolutionaries expunged from the penal code prohibitions on suicide and sodomy, regarding these prohibitions as based on mere superstition. The use and abuse of the human body, its desecration, ceased to be seen as absolutely morally wrong. That which isn’t sacred (consecrated) could hardly be desecrated. And the very idea of the sacred was one that the promoters of ‘liberte’ were out to expunge.
Yet there remains, in the minds of many, a particular horror about suicide. Even that great philosopher of pessimism Arthur Schopenhauer, whose world view would seem to encourage "self-slaughter", was against it. GK Chesterton captures the horror we feel about suicide - as opposed to our admiration for those like Christian martyrs who accept their deaths but do not intend them:
“The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.”This most desperate of acts is, of course, a matter of great sorrow for those left behind grieving, whether the suicide was freely chosen or, as so often, the result of a painfully clouded mind. Against this background, it is disturbing to see how, increasingly, groups with their own agendas are utilising the horror decent people feel about suicide in order to forward those agendas.
In Ireland a pro-abortion Bill has been presented which, among other things, proposes that any pregnant mother threatening suicide (although the threat need not be “inevitable or immediate”!) can access an abortion, even up to birth. So, for all the Bill’s talk of "medicine" and "clinical decision making" it ultimately finds that threats of violence may dictate medical decisions.
Would a threat of suicide be enough to justify a doctor in amputating a healthy limb, for example? If we allow this, then medicine loses all internal coherence: suicidal patients can dictate what counts as medicine, just as a terrorist might. And of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that killing an unborn child can ever "treat" the mother’s suicidal state: on the contrary, there is evidence that abortion increases suicidal ideation.
Another area where threats of suicide are often cited is in regard to same-sex marriage. People who support traditional marriage are sometimes told that maintaining this fundamental good for children, parents and society somehow causes young homosexuals to kill themselves. Again, there is no evidence for this whatsoever, though suicide is sadly more common among people who experience same-sex attraction, whether they are living in "liberal" or less "liberal" societies.
In short: if we really wish to show support for same-sex attracted people, and for despairing pregnant women, perhaps we could start by challenging the desecrating ideology of ‘choice’ that does nothing to address the roots of their despair. This is, of course, an area of risk, but we should love our enemies and stand firm. Let us stand up for the truth in these matters, and offer those in distress something a bit more than "desecration on demand".
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