Section Eleven: The Humanist Response

The humanist response to such views is dictated by a desire to ensure a quality of life for all human beings, and the right of individuals to choose their own pathways in life. Religious beliefs, humanists hold, should not inform debate and decisions about euthanasia. Most medical procedures from dentistry to heart transplants are unnatural and could be said to be against “divine” ideas for humanity. But ending the pitiful suffering of a fellow human being is a compassionate action that is informed by the best of human principles.

There is a great humanist concern for the goodness of life, but if the goodness of life is lost entirely, and if it cannot be recovered, then the opposites of utter despair and hopeless mental suffering ensue. A god that allows such suffering is no god at all. And while most religions see no sense in prolonging life artificially, or might accept passive euthanasia, this can often be a very cruel death: assisted euthanasia is the gentler and more dignified end to a life.

Humanists believe in only one life and it is therefore important that it ends in the kind of dignity and quality with which that life was lived. In principle, this is compassionate, and humanists claim that it is wrong to deny people such compassion out of fear of abuse of such principles by a small minority. This is unfair to those who are suffering.

Humanists generally support and respect those who reach a deep conviction that the time has come to end their life. To end life humanely, to shorten the grief and suffering of loved ones, and to act out of compassion within prescribed safeguards, is to remove the fear that many might have about the way in which they leave this life. The fundamental principles of humanism are concerned with the happiness and fulfillment of each individual in every possible way. When all hope of such happiness and fulfillment are over, and the reflections of them in the past are blotted out by the pain of the present and its continuing prognosis, then euthanasia is an act of love. It may be that such an act of love goes beyond the bounds of the law and exceeds the bounds of “established” and legal morality: through a principle of the love of humanity, there are certainly times when it is right to kill.

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