'Easeful Death' sets out the arguments for and against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Exploring the philosophical and legal debates as well as the medical practicalities of this sensitive issue, the authors ultimately conclude that the law should embrace a more compassionate approach to assisted dying.
Hardcover, 155 pages
April 1st 2008
by Oxford University Press, USA
(first published 2008)
If you're looking for an introduction to the medical ethics of Euthanasia, I would not recommend this book. Instead, I would recommend A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics by Tony Hope. And then, if you need further information, take this book as the Secular Humanist view of Euthanasia.
The reason I make this preference known is that clear, helpful definitions are provided by Hope's book, but not this book. It was apparent to me (but I feared not to others reading the book as their first rIf you're looking for an introduction to the medical ethics of Euthanasia, I would not recommend this book. Instead, I would recommend A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics by Tony Hope. And then, if you need further information, take this book as the Secular Humanist view of Euthanasia.
The reason I make this preference known is that clear, helpful definitions are provided by Hope's book, but not this book. It was apparent to me (but I feared not to others reading the book as their first reference point on this subject) that Warnock & Macdonald confused non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia throughout. (N.B. Involuntary = against a patient's competent wishes, Non-voluntary = the patient is not competent enough to make his/her wishes known). Tony Hope's book, while only covering Euthanasia in a (rather large) chapter, makes a much cleaner job of distinguishing voluntary, non-voluntary, involuntary, active and passive euthanasia, and their distinction from suicide, assisted suicide and physician assisted suicide. The reader will get no such clarity here.
That aside, overall, Warnock & Macdonald did write enlighteningly on all the different variations of the "Slippery Slope" argument. In fact, that's what most of the book was about, with many references to see that particular chapter nested in most others. Another good feature was that the authors raised an interesting point about the "doctrine of double effect", in that, in their view, research has shown that modern palliative care does not reduce survival, so religious groups need not fear accepting pain relief and sedation. Whether you can be confident enough to believe this as actually true or not, needs some more scientific literature research on the reader's part. But it was an interesting point nonetheless.
These were the better aspects of the book.
Unfortunately, despite the blurb promising "sensitivity, grace, and level-headed authority", I was immensely let down by how emotive the writer(s) seemed at particular stages -- sometimes even at the expense of the readers' feelings! Relatives of dementia patients may find parts this book insensitive, as was the case for me and my friends. The result is (a few, but they exist nonetheless) baseless and highly-charged passages that seem presumptuous, such as I quote here at the end of Chapter 5:
"Contemplating the wretched lives of patients with dementia who do not have the luck to need artificial nutrition and hydration, who are conscious and capable of swallowing, and whose numbers are increasing every year, we may feel despair. They are allowed to die, many of them, by a slow and horrible death, far from the 'good death' or the 'death with dignity' that euthanasia would afford them. Many of their relatives, if there are any, must long for them to die. But many of them have no relatives, or none that visit them. Even if palliative care for the dying were far more widely available than it is, they would not qualify for it; for they are not, or not necessarily, terminally ill, or suffering acutely. What is to be done?"
Secondly, I sensed that the book was rife with assumptions. The greatest assumption of all was that of Warnock's personal beliefs as the truth. Instead of qualifying statements with "we believe" or other such phrases, many statements were made as fact which truly can only come from belief. For example, the authors state plainly that religion is a human construct. Surely this depends on the question of whether there is or isn't a God -- a question which to answer "yes" or "no" requires some sort of belief.
This leads to the implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumption throughout the book of subjective morality, i.e. the authors, true to Warnock's well-documented personal views, irrationally believe moral duties are not time- or society-transcendent; what is right today/here may not be right tomorrow/elsewhere, and vice versa. Some of the most famous writers and philosophers, including C S Lewis, have contested this very point many a time! I therefore do not understand why it was made to seem as fact to the reader (who may not have been aware of Warnock's personal beliefs). Additionally, the problems this assumption raised towards the end of the book were pretty clear to the writer's mind. The writer therefore tries (hard) to combat this problem. Because, she asserts, what is wrong today may well be right tomorrow, we need not worry about the legalisation of euthanasia causing permissible but immoral customs in future. Why? Well, because, if they're legal and society approves of them, then they must be right! Simple. I don't play the whole Nazism-was-totally-legal-and-democratic-to-German-society-so-must-have-been-moral-if-society-decides-morality card all too often. But if I did... it'd certainly be useful here!
My experience of the book overall is therefore: a subjective, yet useful, Secular Humanist take on Euthanasia. Warnock, an Anglican Atheist (alongside contemporaries such as Richard Dawkins & Philip Pullman), and writer of "Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics" certainly allows her views to be known. Which is fine, but perhaps a more responsible writer would have acknowledged when fact ended and belief began. At the very least, the book is useful in highlighting the slippery slope argument, and in doing so, showing the glaring dichotomy between secularism and religion (her speciality subject), in a topic (Euthanasia) that highlights it best (aside from probably homosexuality). Cynical readers may say: the book was a subtle indoctrination of Warnock's favourite topic of secularism, via the medium of Euthanasia. I don't know if I'll allow myself that presumption or if I'll leave that fine art to this book's writers.