A Time to Live: The Case Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
George Pitcher, Monarch Books
Suicide, and that includes euthanasia, has for 16 centuries been seen by Christian thinkers as self-murder.
However, lawmakers have consistently struggled to find an appropriate response to an action which should be a crime. Writing in 1769, William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England explained why:
What punishment can human laws inflict on one who has withdrawn himself from their reach? They can only act on what he has left behind him, his reputation and fortune: on the former, by ignominious burial in the highway, with a stake driven through the body; on the latter, by a forfeiture of all his goods and chattels to the King: hoping that his care for either his own reputation, or the welfare of his family, would be some motive to restrain him from so desperate and wicked an act.
Within a century, highway burial and forfeiture of goods and chattels to the king had ceased to be used. Public revulsion at what was called a cowardly act remained as a deterrent.
More recently the ideas of euthanasia and assisted suicide have become matters of public debate.
The Rev. George Pitcher has written his book in response to a book written by another Anglican priest, Professor Paul Bedham, in which the case for euthanasia was advanced.
There are disadvantages in reviewing a book which vigorously presents one side of a debate on a complex subject, but A Time to Live is written to stand on its own arguments and can be read in that way.
Pitcher is Religion Editor and columnist at The Daily Telegraph and is co-founder of a communications consultancy, Luther Pendragon.
Writing as a journalist can be a disadvantage if the excesses of a journalistic style are not curbed. In some parts of the book the author lets his strong feelings about the topic descend into tabloid prose; for example, “the strident individualism that gave us the high-capitalistic Spice Girls, rightful heiresses to the commercial pop con-trick of the Sixties, and hedonistic ladettes flaunting their girl-power with their heads emetically between their knees in bus-lanes of provincial towns on a Saturday night”.
Not all of the book is as unattractive as this, although the chapter which discusses the way assisted suicide and euthanasia are practised in the USA State of Oregon, Holland and Switzerland is entitled “The Killing Fields”. This is actually a very informative chapter as it highlights the difficulties lawmakers face in avoiding unintended consequences in legislation.
The chapter “Euthanasia at Law” should not be taken as describing the legal situation in the Australian States. It is not the purpose of this review to deal with Australian law, but simply to record this caveat.
A chapter which is well expressed and very significant is entitled “Why suffer — for Christ’s sake?”
Theodicy, the part of theology which attempts to answer the question, “If God is loving, why is there suffering?” struggles to provide answers which offer consolation.
Pitcher introduces a number of approaches which identify different aspects to an age-old reality. The circumstances which give rise to our grief will be varied and the different responses expressed will provide answers to the questions many Christians will ask.
For those who want a vigorously written case against euthanasia, this book will answer their need. For those in favour of euthanasia, this book will remind them of the difficulties that they face in convincing lawmakers that they have the answers. For those who have not given the issue much thought, this book will be disturbing and challenging.
Alan Demack AO
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