22 January 2010

Assisted dying: Catholic legal bunkum

Where to begin? The debate on assisted dying and the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill will be an interesting – and extended one. For the moment, I just wanted to return to the question of parliament’s legal entitlement to legislate along the lines that Margo outlined. Although it received little coverage in the media – and I think nobody but yours truly mentioned it in the blogosphere – Care Not Killing attempted to silence Holyrood on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights and the limitations it imposes on the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence. Now the Catholic Church is up to the same enterprise. Per the Hootsmon this morning, apparently there...

“... is anger within the Catholic hierarchy that the bill has been allowed to proceed at all. It has received a certificate of competency from Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson – that means it has been judged by parliamentary lawyers as legal for MSPs to vote it through as legislation.”

The Catholic Church spokesman proceeded to style the Presiding Officer’s declaration as “extremely concerning”. It is all very well to make a political argument – lets do this, lets not do that - but these counterfeit and manipulative legalisms are simply contemptible. This po-faced concern is prompted not by questions about legal precedent - but about the moral implications, as the spokesman seems to see it, of people being permitted to determine their own fatal destiny. Its about crossing a “moral boundary that no society should ever breach”, on his conception. Yet this concern finds expression in an occluding mist of bogus legalism which it will be my pleasure to dissipate. Said the spokesman, sadly misguided...

“Ultimately, it is questionable whether the Scottish Parliament even has the power to legislate in this area,” the spokesman said. “The European Convention on Human Rights recognises the right to life as inalienable, that is, it cannot be removed by any authority or relinquished by any person.”

Contemptible, primarily because any examination of the jurisprudence on the European Convention provides one with no good-faith legal basis to reach the religious jurisprude’s conclusions. In response to Care Not Killing, I wrote up the following, rebutting their legal claims with particular examples. I’d direct my same little sting at the argument made by the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland. Its bogus. Moreover, I’d characterize it as a symptom of weakness, not strength’s full expression. While there is an approach to argumentation that believes every stone should be thrown, every rhetorical handful of gravel flung, most folk recognise that choices must be made about the strategic gist of an argument. What submissions will compel. Which combination of arguments is the most robust, the least internally defeating. Surely, if one felt that one’s arguments about elemental morality were likely to persuade the chamber, you’d make those arguments – not resort to discussion-defying expedients, attempting to enforce a legal silence – which can only insult the tribunes’ sense of their dignity and authority. And of course, fail on the law, as I’m convinced their case must fail in law.

Off the top of my head, the 2001 Census found that Catholics represented a slim 15.68% of the population. Of course, in Catholic, dogmatic moral science – the cardinal et al. think they’ve got special access to objective truth, objective morality. God wrote it all down for them, pat. There need be no representative anxieties on their part, therefore. Such arguments will not be constrained to the agents of the Roman hierarchy. I firmly anticipate religiosity to be at the fore of the debate on this one. Given how ambivalent, generally speaking, we are about arguments of piety in public life – this may be just the place, strategically speaking, that Margo wants opposition to be.


  1. Gerritintaeremm!

    How dare these "men" in skirts, whose collective historical imprint on history has been one of suppression of knowledge and the participation in organised, institutional paedophilia, dare to question my right over my body?

    Theirs is the biggest business fraud in the history of humanity.

    Buy debentures in their Club Paradiso PLC but you can only claim your dividend, after you have died, in El Paradiso itself after they have been satisfied their criteria .

    If El Paradiso does not actually exist and, your debentures are therefore then worthless, you cannot return to this Hell on Earth to claim your money back or expose the scam.

    Individual thinking and self determination are anathema to them because they alone have the inside track and monopoly in the truth.

    That is why, the ultimate act of self determination, the act of surrendering one's own life, the fatal destiny, must be denied. It would undermine their infallible right to the truth.

    A pox on them all.

  2. Blimey! Never thought that I'd have to reconsider James MacMillan's rantings on sectarianism, but both Bugger and yourself seem to have gone off on one here.

    Given that we are in fact subject to the European Convention -and whether that's a good idea or not is a different matter- you can hardly object to individuals or organizations seeking to gain the protection of that Convention. Give them their day in Court. I suspect your analysis of the legal position is correct and they'll get nowhere. But what an odd world it's become if you as a lawyer are arguing that parties shouldn't go to law to seek protection for what they believe to be Human Rights.

  3. Bugger, I'm sure, can answer for himself. For myself, I'd repudiate any idea that my argument is animated by animus against a particular sect. After all, I made the argument primarily about Care Not Killing - which I understand includes the Anglican communion.

    That said, I'd accept that I'm very hostile to organised religious attempts to influence politics. In this specific case, it is important to bear in mind also that this isn't about a 'day in court' - but an attempt to shut down legislative conversation. That is a different sort of thing. In that context, it is significant that the basis of their legal argument seems to me at best improbable - more probably entirely in bad faith. So why make it? Presumably in anticipation of the Bill failing, contributing to that failure by engendering an atmosphere of caution and conservatism - even to the extent of indulging in dodgy legalisms.

    That isn't the vindication of rights - its grubby stratagem.

  4. Perhaps slightly disingenuous about the focus of a post entitled 'Catholic legal bunkum' -but put that aside.

    I'm not sure your analysis of the 'grubby' motivation behind the Catholic Church's (putative)seeking to stop the bill is at all plausible. If such an attempt materializes, it will simply be a reflection of Catholic teaching that the bill would violate the right to life. You may not accept such a moral judgment, but for those who do, seeking to prevent the passing of legislation on the ground of such a violation is perfectly understandable.

    The very existence of the Convention deliberately takes the protection of Human Rights out of the political arena and into the legal one. If a group or individual thinks that legislation is violating Human Rights, the proper forum for exploring that view is now the courts and not the legislature. You may regret that, but then the target of your attack should be the European Convention and not those who seek its protection.

    As I said before, I suspect that any attempt along these lines is doomed to failure. But that makes it legally futile, not a grubby stratagem.