Search

Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for October, 2008

 

A Duty to Die?

Friday, October 17th, 2008 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

Alzheimer’s patients are a drain on Britain’s National Health Service, and should therefore consider ending their lives. So claims the always controversial Baroness Mary Warnock in a recently published statement.

Lady Warnock has been called “Britain’s leading moral philosopher,” and is especially well known for directing the Warnock Committee that set government policy concerning reproductive technologies and embryo research in the early 1980s. Now 84 years old, she is well known as a secular humanist and utilitarian thinker, who does not believe that human beings in the womb are valuable or protectable.

Lady Warnock has now turned her sights on the elderly, especially those suffering from dementia. In a recent interview for the Church of Scotland’s magazine Life and Work, she claims, “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

Here on this side of the pond, these comments are especially chilling to those whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, affecting as many as 5 million Americans. Her comments are the ultimate expression of the rampant utilitarian thinking so common in our society. This view of human value derives entirely from functional productivity, viz., those who have mental defects are less valuable simply because they cannot contribute to human flourishing in a tangible way.

But of course Lady Warnock misunderstands where the real duty lies in patients with Alzheimer’s. The duty lies, not with them, but with their caretakers. And it lies with each one of us, who must remain committed to the intrinsic value of life, where worth is not a functional thing to be earned, but a given to be respected and honored.

Article in the Telegraph