Whenever I returned to Singapore from a long stint abroad, we would always head straight to Beng Hiang Restaurant (currently at 112-116 Amoy Street, but moving to 135 Jurong Gateway Road in June 2015. facebook) from Changi Airport, to inhale some of that absolutely delicious fish maw soup, hei zhou and ngoh hiang, dark hokkien noodles, and tender kong ba bao.
Our family, having eaten there for at least 30 years since they were at Murray Street Terrace, were on nodding terms with the Boss With The Tie, who was always polite enough for a smile and some small talk, even if neither party knew the other’s name.
I was last there a fortnight ago, stuffing some Londoners with the delights of Hokkien cuisine. Later that night, all that good stodgy stuff fuelled a night working on the bioethics of family-assisted suicide (FAS) or physician-assisted suicide (PAS).
Thanks to NC, access to Ronald Dworkin’s Life’s Dominion was a useful starting point. Too often, people are more than eager to shop for a side to take in such a debate, to carry a political part badge, without being about to articulate clearly what their position is, or to engage meaningfully with other parties without a lot of name-calling.
What is necessary for this hot potato as for any other topic is to first identify the issues, to listen carefully to each party’s stance and understand each party’s rationale for arriving at their respective conclusions, before either agreeing, refuting, or rebutting each point in a constructive manner.
Dworkin attempts to reconcile the different vocal (American) camps by saying that actually, everyone believes that human life is sacred and wants to preserve the sanctity of such a life.
The difficulty comes in teasing out the different rationale behind this idea that life is valuable. Dworkin proposes categorising the bases for the inherent inviolability of life in terms of the following:
- critical interests – what makes a life successful rather than unsuccessful – when someone has made something of his life, not just wasted it (p201); a steady, self-defining commitment to a vision of character or achievement that the life as a whole, seen as an integral creative narrative, illustrates and expresses (p205). None of us wants to end our lives out of character (p213). So Dworkin would have approved the integrity of Sandy Bem, the Cornell psychology professor, who chose to die when she found out she had Alzhimer’s, since that was repulsive to her vision of herself as an astute and original thinker (The Last Day of Her Life, New York Times).
- experiential interests – what makes life pleasant or enjoyable minute by minute, day by day (p201).
- dignity – decisions about life and death are the most important, the most crucial for forming and expressing personality, says Dworkin. Therefore, to be denied the freedom to choose how to die is an affront to the self-respect and dignity owed to that person by others.
I could be mistaken about Dworkin, but he appears to conflate “value of life” with “the good life” (in all its philosophical glory). Related to this is the fact that although he raises the “religious” argument of inherent value of life, he doesn’t quite seem to understand how all-encompassing the right of the divine is on our lives.
The Christian believes that:
- contra Dworkin’s self-determined dignity: God gave all life; he knit us in our mother’s wombs; he chose us before the beginning of time! (Ephesians 1:4); he redeemed us with the blood of his Son (Ephesians 1:5), and not only that, made us alive in him, raised and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms! (Ephesians 2). Therefore we do not choose to dispose of our lives in a manner and time fitting to us, because it is not our right to do so;
- contra Dworkin’s human-determined critical interests: his/her critical interests are tied up with God’s purpose for him/her (“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10));
- as Dworkin mentions, experiential interests in pleasure may be outweighed at times by critical interests. But more than that, awkward as it sounds, there is purpose to suffering. For “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5)