Where the Euthanasia Movement Stands

Interview with Philosophy of Law Professor

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MADRID, Spain, MAR. 16, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Dutch lower house´s approval last November of the draft law authorizing euthanasia has worried European lawmakers.

José Miguel Serrano Ruiz-Calderón, professor of philosophy of law at Madrid´s Complutense University and academician of the Vatican Academy for Life, explained to ZENIT the juridical implications of the legalization of euthanasia, which he analyzes in his recent book “Euthanasia and Dependent Life,” published by International University Publications.

–Q: Why publish a book on euthanasia at this time?

–Serrano: At present, there is a general movement in favor of the legalization of euthanasia. With this book, I wish to pass a legal sentence on this topic, ignoring issues like the right to die.

Euthanasia presupposes an exception to the general principle of the protection of life through a series of conditions, which are difficult to control. This presupposes a risk as regards the good of “human life,” which is a value that our legislation specifically addresses, and which traditionally has been one of the functions of law.

–Q: What do you mean by “dependent life”?

–Serrano: The value of dependence is very threatened among us. Dependent beings are not appreciated from the contemporary radical view of autonomy. Indeed, in the name of autonomy, there is a request for permission to kill the most dependent individuals. This is what I cannot understand.

In order to be able to implement euthanasia in a society like the present one, it would be necessary to define which lives are not worthy of being lived — euthanasia is only permitted for specific individuals — and the result is that those whose life seems to be worth less are the most dependent individuals in our society. Moreover, the possibility of requesting euthanasia on their behalf, when they are incompetent, seems to be an unacceptable risk from the legal point of view.

–Q: What juridical implications stem from the legalization of euthanasia?

–Serrano: The juridically relevant euthanasia [being discussed] is the one that is murder. What is desired is the modification of legislation on murder and, in certain cases, the authorization of a person, preferably a health official, to kill another at the latter´s request.

–Q: In this connection, what does the Dutch experience imply?

–Serrano: The Dutch case is an exception in international legislation. It is a step that other legislative bills are not taking. Rather, we have opposite cases, as in Australia where a similar measure was abolished before coming into force.

–Q: How does public opinion feel about euthanasia?

–Serrano: There is a certain trivialization of the topic. Some of the media and part of public opinion support euthanasia because they regard it as a modern issue and part of the individual´s autonomy. Also, there is a philosophical claim for euthanasia posited by individuals, who regard themselves more educated than the majority, and express themselves at an age when they are far from the risk of euthanasia.

However, there is a real problem: the people´s fear of therapeutic cruelty. There is a certain confusion among those who regard euthanasia as no more than a correct way of dying, which does not imply killing anyone. The pro-euthanasia movement equivocates the term.

–Q: Are their financial interests behind euthanasia?

–Serrano: In the present phase of the evolution of the social security systems and European assistance systems, it is very dangerous to open a way that permits the drastic reduction of costs through euthanasia. I am not saying that the whole pro-euthanasia movement is ruled primarily by this consideration, but this is a real factor that must taken into account. Given that the greater part of the expense of the hospital system takes place in the last years of life of patients, undoubtedly to shorten the life of these patients has a very beneficial effect on the public coffers.

To open the way to euthanasia, in a society like ours, which is not all together motivated by altruism, is a grave risk.

–Q: The persons who request euthanasia appeal to the right of liberty. Why is euthanasia requested?

–Serrano: The real circumstances for requesting euthanasia must be analyzed. We are talking about the right of liberty of the weakest and most threatened persons in society, the ones who can be most influenced in this respect. There is a first problem as regards the expression of liberty.

In addition, in advanced illness there are serious processes of depression, depression being one of the main causes of suicides. To speak of liberty in those who are depressed, seems an extraordinary exaggeration to me. Finally, a presumed right to die, which is really the right to kill us, cannot be imposed on the Law, in the theoretical name of liberty
By Inés Vélez

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