Guernsey Press

Killing is killing whether or not it is consented to

I WRITE in response to Mr Bewey’s 7 June letter ‘Belief and superstition are not philosophy’, which was written in response to an earlier letter of mine on 31 May.


In his letter, Mr Bewey begins by accusing me of writing an ‘impassioned diatribe that aim[s] to convince the reader of [my] position … through … fear, without any reasoned argument’. Now, this accusation is left unevidenced and unspecific, rendering it difficult to directly disprove, but I thought it was important to address because Mr Bewey certainly makes a keen observation here: I do indeed wish to convince readers of my own position. Why? Well, because euthanasia is not a matter purely of philosophy (though it is a matter fundamentally of philosophy); it is also a matter of politics. Right now, it is most urgently the latter, and so my primary aim is, unashamedly, to convince my fellow members of our body politic of my view through public discourse (with that view being that killing innocent people is wrong).

Mr Bewey would doubtless object to this characterisation of my view, as he took issue in his letter with my use of the phrase ‘the old and terminally ill can be killed with no moral qualms’, claiming that I ‘[conflate] … voluntary euthanasia, with direct euthanasia where they are indeed, killed at the behest of the state’. What Mr Bewey fails to understand here is that killing is killing whether or not it is consented to. I did not use the morally charged language of ‘murder’ (i.e. wrongful killing) but just ‘killing’, which simply means taking a life. I find it interesting that Mr Bewey himself seems to perceive some moral charge or implication of lack of consent in the word ‘killing’ though it is not part of its literal definition.

Moreover, Mr Bewey goes on to say that advocating for euthanasia ‘does not mean I reject the idea life has intrinsic value. Life has intrinsic value when it has pleasure and utility’. Here, Mr Bewey misunderstands the meaning of the word ‘intrinsic’. Intrinsic means ‘belonging to the nature of a thing’ – it is essential, inherent. Therefore, Mr Bewey’s clause stating ‘Life has intrinsic value when’ is analytically false as it creates a logical contradiction, no matter what follows his ‘when’. ‘When’ denotes a qualifying factor, and ‘intrinsic’ denotes the lack of qualifying factors. If we can agree, for example, that the quality of being a fruit is intrinsic to an apple, it then makes no sense to say that ‘the apple has the quality of being a fruit when xyz’.

But let us indulge Mr Bewey for a moment, and pretend that life does not have intrinsic value, and has instead only qualified value, with the qualifier in question being ‘pleasure and utility’. Earlier in his letter, Mr Bewey expressed this as life being ‘fit for purpose’. I hope I do not misinterpret him, but he seems to be making the case that a life lacking pleasure and utility is unfit for purpose. I would not be surprised if many intuit the wrongness of this, but if you do not, please permit me to lay out just a few of the many issues with this view.

n The pleasure and utility one will perceive one’s life to have will fluctuate enormously over time.

n It is a selfish view. It would conclude that acts of self-sacrifice, for example, are immoral if you personally do not gain from them (because you are not fulfilling your purpose of maximising your own hedonic pleasure).

n It is a despairing view. Picture two people who are, say, dealing with the misfortune of a disability which makes their day-to-day lives difficult and often miserable. One believes his sole purpose is to experience pleasure, whilst the other believes his purpose is something more than himself, whether that be to love others, to cultivate virtue, or something else along those lines. Who do you suppose will better contend with his misfortune? Who do you suppose is the more likely to fall prey to despair?

This is the view upon which Mr Bewey’s argument rests, and as you might see, it is an unfortunate foundation indeed.

Another thing I feel I ought to address in Mr Bewey’s letter is his question ‘Should we not ban euthanasia on all sentient life or does a dog have no intrinsic value if your emotive plea holds?’. To this question, I answer yes: a dog lacks the intrinsic value that humans have, as do rats, and fish, and birds, and worms, and all other sub-rational life forms. Mr Bewey has made a complete assumption that I believe sentience = moral value. Not so. Sentience is a primitive form of cognition shared by all the aforementioned animals, and I struggle to see how any person would argue that a worm and a human being share equal moral value because they are both sentient. Humans are set apart from other life forms in that they are of the nature to be capable of rational thought. Now, I anticipate that some may object to this statement on the basis that there are humans who lack the capacity for rationality (such as unborn and newborn children), but to those who would raise such an objection, I would emphasise the phrase ‘of the nature’ which accounts for any and all exceptional cases.

Finally, I will briefly touch on Mr Bewey’s last column, which consists primarily of a hopping about between making the historically inaccurate conflation between Christian martyrs (who were murdered for their faith by tyrants and mobs) and people who commit suicide, to ranting about God, ‘Abrahamic creed’ and ‘[B]iblical strictures’ ‘encroach[ing] on [his] freedom’. Nowhere in my previous letter (to which Mr Bewey was supposedly responding) was any mention of God or religion made, and I must say that these arguments therefore read rather like a poor schizophrenic guy yelling at a wall. Are the Biblical strictures in the room with us right now, Mr Bewey? Well, if you would consider ‘you really oughtn’t to kill innocent human beings’ a Biblical stricture, then I suppose they are, but I daresay many reasonable irreligious and areligious people would find the implications of that to be rather insulting.

To conclude, I want to say that I appreciate Mr Bewey’s response to my previous letter, though I disagree with it vehemently. It is important that we continue to facilitate open discussion on this issue, instead of letting it be contained within the States’ buildings, and I look forward to reading more public discourse on this in future.

Christina Kennedy