Bioethics Blogs

Assisted Dying and Protecting the Vulnerable

Sadly, though unsurprisingly, Rob Marris’s assisted dying bill has been rejected overwhelmingly by British MPs.

The most widely accepted argument in favour of rejecting the bill seems to have been that doing so would protect the vulnerable.

Which vulnerable people did the proponents of this argument have in mind? Those who would feel under pressure to request assisted dying so as to relieve the burden on their family. These people fall into two categories.

The first would be those who are feeling moral pressure, but not actually being pressured in any way by their family. It would of course be up to the doctors involved in the case to explain to the patient that there is no general expectation of such sacrifice in our society, and also to point out that the patient’s family would probably not be in favour of any such sacrifice. This may of course be insufficient to persuade the patient. But we do not elsewhere protect even the vulnerable from the consequences of moral decisions we think mistaken. Consider, for example, wealth-transfers. Some vulnerable people surrender large amounts of money to their relatives, and suffer a drop in their own well-being as a consequence, believing that this is what they ought to do. If we disagree, as I presume many of us often will, do we think a law justifying all such transfers by those who are very old or ill should be forbidden?

But what if the patient believes that, though assisted dying isn’t her duty, it would nevertheless be a good thing to do?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.