Even “Compassionate” Killing Is Wrong

Feb 2, 2023 by

by Eric Hutchinson, Public Discourse:

Human societies have generally acknowledged that unjustified killing is wrong. When they make exceptions for the sake of expediency, they need to be reminded of what the moral law requires. This is true regardless of whether the inquiry concerns the killing of others or of oneself.

Canada has recently been in the news due to its imminent legal expansion of assisted suicide to include the mentally ill, beginning in March 2023. The Canadian government specifies that an “expert panel” will be used to evaluate the requests of the mentally ill “in a safe and compassionate way.” The virtue of compassion, which the Canadian government here invokes on its own behalf, is concerned with the best interests of the sufferer. So the question naturally arises: is it really “compassionate” for the state to offer death as an aid to the sufferer? Is it just?

To answer these questions, one must consider the state’s duty to its citizens. On this topic, there are few better guides than the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero. Some things he gets right (the state’s duty to preserve justice and protect the well-being of its citizens) and others he gets wrong (the occasional permissibility of suicide). But if Cicero’s teachings are supplemented with Christianity’s teachings on suicide, we get a clear understanding of why assisted suicide cannot be counted among the state’s duties to its citizens.

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