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The Myth of Autonomy and the Bioethics of Death on Demand

Posted on March 15, 2018 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (16)

Spring Break 2018 for my university is coming to its end. Heading into Break week I had kept all exam grading up to date, had assayed all essays and had prepped my preps for the Monday after Break -- all so that I could write the next chapter in my current project, Z O Ë - E T H I C S :  Philosophy and The Life Himself as Antidote to the Bioethics of Death on Demand.

However, I have spent much of the week in bed with sinusitis and bronchitis, flu and fever. This is an existential and therefore a philosophical lesson. The lesson has to do with the myth of autonomy, on which the bioethics of death on demand depend, just as the Stoics and Epicureans of 1st-century Athens depended on their programmatic denial of life after biological death (Acts 17). Here is an early chapter from my Chapter One, written some time before my Spring Break illness.

"To help us toward a genuinely informed consent in these life and death matters, this first chapter sketches out a philosophical criticism of the dominant and default ethics of medical ethics today. It turns out that most bioethics are not really ethics in the first place, primarily on account of their reduced notion of the human being, which is after all the subject of ethics. I also introduce very briefly my objection that most bioethics do not exhibit an understanding of the moral meaning of the human suffering, notwithstanding their determination to terminate human beings via a normalizing and legalizing of suicide and euthanasia – ostensibly, in order to end suffering! If the reality of suffering is most pressing for you, you may wish to go straight to my fifth chapter, The Problem of Suffering and Moral Meaning, and then return to these first four philosophical chapters."

Autonomy, the principle of self-legislation and self-control on which all bioethics of death on demand intend, comes to greif on the reality of human suffering. We are the passive reciients of suffering. We do not will it. We want to will it away, but here we are, suffering. In the face of human suffering, all the clamoring for a right to die, for euthanasia and for physician-assisted self-harm are revealed to be childish, whistling-in-the-cemetery pipedreams. It's those Stoics and Epicureans again, stubbornly being ignorant of Christ's Resurrection.

As if terminating our biological life could ever end our immortal being. As if really, really wanting to be masters of our own fate and captains of our own destinies could ever make it so. As if naming a principle of autonomy would make any human being wholly autonomous. (Assuming that being completely self-legislating even describes what it means to be human.)

Yesterday, I was too sick to visit our older son's grave on his birthday. The notion of autonomy also comes to grief on the phenomenon of grief. Although I desire to die and be with my loved one in the presence of the Lamb Himself, I am not in control here either.

So, where does this existential realization leave us? Philosophically and honestly, it leaves us without hope of autonomy. Who is kidding whom, that we make the rules for how life should be?

For those with ears to hear, it leaves us dependent on Another. We take our antibiotics, our prescribed does of codiene, pull up the covers and breathe beneath the coughing, "I will lie down in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." And we realize that our times are in the hands of the Lawgiver Himself, who gave His life in the flesh and rose from death -- once and for all us vulnerable, suffering human beings.