How should a liberal democracy react to conscientious objection claims

Panel 3: Theological and Religious Perspectives on Conscience

Royal Irish Academy Symposium


  • Mary McAleese, MRIA, Professor of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow


  • Professor Linda Hogan, Trinity College Dublin
  • Professor David Albert Jones, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre
  • Professor David Novak, University of Toronto

Religious and theological conceptions of conscience; role of conscientious objection within faith traditions; freedom of religion, freedom within religion. Resistance motivated by faith and conscience: military service, health care.

Royal Irish Academy: How should a liberal democracy react to conscientious objection claims

Euthanizing People Who Are ‘Tired of Life’ in Belgium

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, David Albert Jones, Chris Gastmans, Calum Mackellar

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium
Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium

In Belgium and in The Netherlands, a debate is developing about people who express a desire to end their lives although they do not suffer from an incurable, life-threatening disease. In 2000, a court in Haarlem in The Netherlands considered the case of 86-year-old Edward Brongersma who had expressed his wish to die to his general practitioner, Dr Philip Sutorius, claiming that death had ‘forgotten’ him, his friends and relatives were dead, and he experienced ‘a pointless and empty existence’. After repeated requests, Dr Sutorius euthanized his insisting patient and was then put on trial. The public prosecution recognized that Dr Sutorius fulfilled all the legal criteria but one: ‘hopeless and unbearable suffering.’ Therefore, the patient’s request should have been refused. The court did not discipline Dr Sutorius, saying that the patient was obsessed with his ‘physical decline’ and ‘hopeless existence’ and therefore was suffering ‘hopelessly and unbearably’. A spokesman for the Royal Dutch Medical Association reacted to the court judgment by saying that the definition of ‘unbearable suffering’ had been stretched too far and that ‘what is new is that it goes beyond physical or psychiatric illness to include social decline’. The then Justice Minister Benk Korthals said that being ‘tired of life’ is not sufficient reason for euthanasia. Since then, the debate as to whether physicians should comply with euthanasia requests of people who are ‘tired of life’ has been widened and many people in Belgium and in The Netherlands are calling for the law to be expanded in order to include similar patients. The methodology of this research is based on a critical review of the literature supplemented by communications with leading scholars and practitioners. First, concerns are raised about euthanizing people who say that they are ‘tired of life’. Some suggestions designed to improve the situation are offered. The Belgian legislators and medical establishment are invited to reflect and ponder so as to prevent potential abuse.

Cohen-Almagor R, Jones DA, Gastmans C, Mackellar C. Euthanizing People Who Are ‘Tired of Life’ in Belgium. In: Jones DA, Gastmans C, MacKellar C, editors. Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium. 2017;188-201. Available from:

An Unholy Mess: Why ‘The Sanctity of Life Principle’ Should Be Jettisoned.

David Albert Jones

The New Bioethics
The New Bioethics

The aim of this article is to present an account of an important element of medical ethics and law which is widely cited but is often confused. This element is most frequently referred to as ‘the principle of the sanctity of life’, and it is often assumed that this language has a religious provenance. However, the phrase is neither rooted in the traditions it purports to represent nor is it used consistently in contemporary discourse. Understood as the name of an established ‘principle’ the ‘sanctity of life’ is virtually an invention of the late twentieth century. The language came to prominence as the label of a position that was being rejected: it is the name of a caricature. Hence there is no locus classicus for a definition of the terms and different authors freely apply the phrase to divergent and contradictory positions. Appeal to this ‘principle’ thus serves only to perpetuate confusion. This language is best jettisoned in favour of clearer and more traditional ethical concepts.

Jones DA, An Unholy Mess: Why ‘The Sanctity of Life Principle’ Should Be Jettisoned.  The New Biothics, Vol. 22, 2016, Issue 3.