John Tambakis, Lauris Kaldijian, Ewan Goligher
Contemporary bioethics generally stipulates that public moral deliberation must avoid allowing religious beliefs to influence or justify health policy and law. Secular premises and arguments are assumed to maintain the neutral, common ground required for moral deliberation in the public square of a pluralistic society. However, a careful examination of non-theistic arguments used to justify euthanasia (regarding contested notions of human dignity, individual autonomy, and death as annihilation) reveals a dependence on metaethical and metaphysical beliefs that are not universally accepted in a pluralistic society. Such beliefs function in non-theistic arguments in the same way that foundational beliefs justify moral convictions in religious frameworks of belief. This parallel is apparent when religious belief is defined broadly (a la John Reeder) as ‘the search for the good in light of the limits and possibilities of the real.’ Seen through this interpretive lens, frameworks comprising Secular foundational commitments function, in ethically relevant respects, like the guiding beliefs found in the comprehensive frameworks of traditional religions. When conscientious practice in healthcare is reconsidered in light of this foundational similarity between the religious and the secular, it is clear that those who object to the foundational beliefs underpinning Secular arguments for euthanasia should not be required to provide, participate in, or refer patients for euthanasia (or other ethically controversial practices similarly dependent on contested frameworks of belief) in pluralistic societies that prize moral freedom as a primary human good.
Tambakis J, Kaldijian L, & Goligher EC. The religious character of secular arguments supporting euthanasia and what it implies for conscientious practice in medicine. Theor Med Bioeth (2022).