At the end of the last chapter, we looked beyond abortion to the issue of infanticide, thus confirming the suspicions of supporters of the sanctity of human life that once abortion is accepted, euthanasia lurks around the corner. For them, that is an added reason for opposing abortion. Euthanasia has, they point out, been rejected by doctors since the fifth century BC, when physicians first took the Oath of Hippocrates and swore ‘to give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel’. Moreover, they argue, the Nazi extermination programme is a terrible modern example of what can happen once we give the state the power to kill innocent human beings.
It is true that if one accepts abortion on the grounds provided in the preceding chapter, the case for killing other human beings, in certain circumstances, is strong. As I shall try to show in this chapter, however, this is not something to be regarded with horror, and the use of the Nazi analogy is utterly misleading. On the contrary, once we abandon those doctrines about the sanctity of human life that – as we saw in Chapter 4 – collapse as soon as they are questioned, it is the refusal to accept killing that, in some cases, is horrific.
When the first edition of this book appeared in 1979, no country had legalized euthanasia, although in Switzerland a physician could prescribe lethal drugs to patients seeking aid in dying.