ACU (Australian Catholic University)

Insight

Issue 5, Winter 2012

My view

Dr Bernadette Tobin, Associate Professor and Reader in Philosophy at ACU, and Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics, explores the ethics of euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

In all Australian jurisdictions, it is a crime deliberately to take another person’s life or to assist another person to commit suicide. Should the law be changed to permit euthanasia and assisted suicide? And whether the law remains the same or not, how do we best reason about the ethics of undertaking euthanasia and assisting suicide?

In my view, the law rightly prohibits both euthanasia and assisting a person to commit suicide. I have willingly accepted ACU’s invitation to explain my view at the ACU Voice debate, ‘Ethics and euthanasia’.

I think it is worth clarifying the basis on which I will take part in the seminar. To do so, I’ll recall a couple of points about the participation of the Catholic Church and its members in public policy debates made by the Australian jurisprudent John Finnis*.

Finnis points out that, though there are some religious propositions that are not accessible to natural reason, there are others that are. On the one hand, many religious propositions are not accessible to anyone who is unaware of the particular set of historical realities which were the revelation culminating in the life and teaching of Christ.

An example is the proposition that there are three persons in the one God. On the other hand, many religious propositions are accessible to natural reason. An example is the proposition that it is always wrong to enslave a human being.

In fact, the Catholic Church proposes to Catholics to accept in faith a good number of propositions that are accessible to natural reason. Indeed, as Finnis notes, that there are such propositions – ones which are accessible to natural reasons – is itself a proposition of faith!

So, when talking about religious beliefs, doctrines, ideas, claims, propositions, it is important to be clear about these different types of relationship between faith and natural reason.

For clarity helps us to avoid some common mistakes about the contribution of a Catholic to deliberations about public policy.

For instance, it is often thought that any proposition which is proposed by the Church for acceptance by Catholics is, by virtue of that very fact, ‘religious’ in the sense of not rationally grounded or compelling: that is a mistake.

And, again, it is often thought that any proposition which is proposed by the Church for acceptance by Catholics is, by virtue of that very fact, held by Catholics only as a matter of ‘faith’ and not as something that they are authentically willing to defend as a matter of natural reason: that too is a mistake.

When I contribute to discussions of public policy about euthanasia and assisted suicide, I do so without appealing to any religious proposition that is not accessible to natural reason.





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