Throughout history we have always seen morality as being something given to us through religious teachings and texts, with doctrines like the sanctity of life being greatly influential on our laws, traditions and ways of thinking. However, I believe that in this secular society, in some cases, we must move away from these ideas as we try to encompass a multicultural society that promotes inclusivity of all faiths and of none. So, if we follow through with this, we must make some changes to the way we view issues in order to be more logical rather than our specific idea of what is moral.
The issue over whether we should prolong someone’s life is an example of how morality should rise above being simply logical. It can be argued that the push to extend people’s lives can have a number of downsides; the cost on the NHS is enormous as we have to look after an ageing population with more elderly people in care. This leads to higher taxes for the economically active, along with there being the argument that only the rich would be able to afford the best and newest technology to prolong their lives; thus increasing the gap between rich and poor.
Yet these points are only taken in the logical sense; they simply view the economic side as being the primary reason why we should avoid prolonging people’s lives. From this view, we have completely avoided all morality and emotion in the hope of saving money in the long term.
I take the view that we all have a moral duty to extend people’s lives as much as possible, and so in this sense I follow the religious teachings on the matter. It is a view shared by John Harris, a bioethicist from the University of Manchester, who believes that scientists have the moral duty to extend the human life span as far as it can go, even if it means creating beings that will live forever. As he says “we are committed to extending life indefinitely if we can, for the same reason that we are committed to life saving” because “when you save a life, you are simply postponing death to another point”.
From this sense morality has not, and should not, be undermined by logic, as we are sentient beings and so we instinctively want to look after our fellow people – just as we would want our grandparents and parents to live longer. If we decide to go against our morality in favour of logic, then we have surely lost what it means to be moral, compassionate beings.
This debate changes when we look upon the issue of euthanasia. The issue of whether we should legalise euthanasia is one which I see to be stifled by the religious moral codes on life and death, most significantly the sanctity of life. This doctrine holds that life is sacred and so no human should be able to destroy it, only God. This is problematic as it only considers euthanasia at face value: the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering, such as a doctor giving a terminally ill patient a lethal dose of poison or turning their life support off. For many, this is murder.
However, through simplifying this issue in such a way, we are ignoring the human costs that banning euthanasia has. In the UK, euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal. With this legislation, we are letting a patient experience excruciating pain and suffering, with them asking to be left to die. Yet doctors in this country are not allowed to take any action as this is seen to be immoral and, therefore, illegal, meaning that the patient must undergo this unendurable pain until they eventually die from their illness, without dignity. Moreover, not only does the patient experience great suffering, but their family and friends also do as they watch their loved one deteriorate and endure this.
At this point, it becomes our duty as humans to forget some of the doctrines that have dictated our laws and ways of thinking for so long. We must take the logical view over morality and see that to do the most utilitarian thing we must legalise euthanasia, as it brings about the most happiness for the most people when relieving the patient, their family and friends from their unnecessary pain.
In this case, morality has taken over from logic, and so in this increasingly secular society we must change it. Yet this is not from an uncompassionate, cold heart, as this logical stance is what I also see to be a moral stance. It may not be from the conventional religious sense of morality which puts our priority in decision making as pleasing God, but in making decisions and legislation whereby the human life and their emotions are prioritised. Thus, it is adapted to our secular society so that all humans, no matter their religion or beliefs, are looked after and have their wellbeing put first.