Saturday, April 04, 2015

Appeal to lawmakers: Evaluate bills on strictly secular criteria

By Mathew Goldstein

Some people argue against implementing any aid in dying law on the grounds that any such law will disrespect the ideal of facing difficulties resolutely. Struggle and tragedy are a part of life.  Being resolute in confronting adversity is the proper approach to living well.  However, living with struggles and difficulties is not therefore a public policy goal to be protected by government laws.  Laws by themselves cannot eliminate all adversity.  But insofar as there are opportunities to implement laws that mitigate or reduce struggle and difficulties we should be favorably inclined to do so.  By implementing laws aimed at reducing suffering we are not challenging or disputing our responsibilities to resolutely confront the ongoing or occasional difficulties that we experience.

People who unconditionally oppose aid in dying laws tend to rely on secular language to avoid limiting the appeal of their argument to religious people.  Their talk of adverse "cultural" impact resembles a veil covering the religious motivation behind their opposition.  There is a dissonance between holding to the conviction that a benevolent God created humans in "His" image and accepting the notion that it is proper to legally authorize terminally ill people to voluntarily hasten their own deaths.  It is this dissonance with the religious beliefs that some lawmakers esteem, not any actual adverse cultural impact, that appears to motivate their unconditional opposition to aid in dying laws.

We all agree that people who are unconditionally opposed to hastening their own death should not do so.  We who are not theists harbor no illusions that humans have a transcendent purpose different from all other animals or that voluntary human self-hastening of death contradicts the desire of a deity.  There is no God imposing suffering on people to build their character, punish them for misdeeds, or qualify them for heaven.  A revised aid in dying bill may be introduced again in the Maryland General Assembly next year.  We appeal to Maryland lawmakers to make an effort to put aside any metaphysical qualms they may have and evaluate all proposed laws, including this one, strictly on secular criteria.

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