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I can’t COPE any more

7 August 2018

I was beginning to think that if I survived to vote in the 2019 general election, the only party that might be left that one could vote for with a good conscience was COPE, the Congress of the People Party. It seemed to be one of the very few parties that still took the Freedom Charter seriously.[1]

But then I heard this story DignitySA and COPE to bring advance directives Bill to Parliament, which inclines me to cross COPE off the list:

In a secular state, people should of course be free to exercise their religious commitments if those commitments don’t violate the law.

But citizens should also not be forced to adhere to laws that are motivated by non-secular considerations, such as the idea that life is granted and taken away by a metaphysical being, and where humans (who possess the property of existing!) having no say in when and how they die.

The good news is that we are about to inch a little closer to securing personal agency in end-of-life decisions, thanks to Deirdre Carter (of COPE) having lodged a notice of intent to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on advance directives to Parliament. This follows extensive consultation with DignitySA, who have played a key role in getting things this far.

If that is the attitude of COPE, then I couldn’t think of voting for it. For one thing, it disingenuously obscures the distinction between a secular state (one that does not adhere to a religious ideology) and a secularist state (one that adheres to an irreligious ideology). It is very disturbing that COPE should associate itself with an irreligious ideology or militant secularism.

Perhaps the only party left will be the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party). I’ve never voted for them before for the same reason that I’m crossing COPE off my list — they have always stated that they were in favour of capital punishment.

While it is not the only criterion for deciding which party to vote for, I m reluctant to support political parties that endorse the culture of death — which includes the promotion of war, abortion, capital punishment and physician-assisted suicide. I certainly have theological reasons for objecting to such things, but there are others who object to them on purely secular grounds, contrary to the misleading statements by COPE and DignitySA. Other instances can be found here and here. .

So I have two reasons for crossing COPE off my list of possible parties to vote for.

1. Its pro-death stance

2. Its association  with militant and bigoted anti-religious statements like the one quoted above, which is reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric common in Bolshevik Russia and Enver Xhoxha’s Albania.

Actually I don’t have a big problem with what they are proposing immediately — respect for living wills, and not taking extraordinary measures to resuscitate people. That kind of behaviour is actually far more secular than religious — playing God with advanced medical technology. By all means resuscitate people if there is a good chance that they will recover, but keeping people alive indefinitely by artificial technical means is not a religious goal, at least not for Orthodox Christians, as far as I can tell.

So it’s not the immediate goal that I object to so much as the long-term one expressed in the same article, of promoting physician-assisted suicide, and the militantly anti-religious tone of the article.

Also, what is not included in the statement above, but was said by someone speaking about it on TV yesterday, was the idea that we should get rid of all religion and morality in public life. Well, that would certainly give carte blanche for bribery and corruption, which many see as a big problem in South Africa, but the militant secularists of COPE and DignitySA, in their desire to get rid of morals, apparently do not.

But even if those organisations think that it is desirable to be amoral, many South Africans, like people in other countries, do not, and would have reservations about having an amoral code of morality forced upon them by the State. See, for example, this article: Lethal Injection and Physicians: State Law vs Medical Ethics. It may be argued that there is an ethical difference, since in the case of “assisted dying” it is voluntary, while in the case of capital punishment it is involuntary, but for many medical doctors it is governed by the same ethical considerations. I wonder how many people would be happy if only the amoral were allowed to enter the medical professions, which seems to be what Cope and DignitySA are asking for?

For Orthodox Christians there is a good discussion of these issues here: Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and the pursuit of death with dignity, It is ironic that for most English-speaking people nowadays euthanasia, which means “good death”, has become synonymous with physician-assisted suicide (PAS), yet Orthodox Christians pray for a good death at every Divine Liturgy, A Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless and peaceful; and a good defence before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord. And the people respond: Lord have mercy.  That is true euthanasia.



[1] The Freedom Charter is still on the ANC’s web site, but I’m not sure that the ANC takes it seriously any more.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 August 2018 8:16 pm

    I’m opposed to the death penalty.

    I’m pro-choice (the best way to prevent abortion is to promote consent culture and the use of reliable contraception) because of cases like Savita Halavannapar in Ireland.

    I agree that excluding all religion-derived morality from public life would not be desirable. My Pagan values lead me to a strong desire to protect the environment from pollution and destruction. (Though it’s also true that my desire to protect the environment is one of the things that led me to Paganism. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)

    My Pagan values also lead me to support of Indigenous land rights, treating other people honourably, trans-inclusive feminism, anti-racism, etc.

    Of course it’s possible for atheists to have the same ethics and values and morals as either you or me, so I hope they’re not actually saying they want to banish all morals from public life. But even saying they want to banish religiously-inspired morals from public life is daft. The preferred approach should be that suggested by Richard Holloway in his book Godless Morality, which is that of weighing one good carefully against another good, and hoping that we’ve got the right balance.

    Since there are different competing moral systems in every society, we have to weigh them against reality (both seen and unseen).

    • 8 August 2018 6:47 am

      Concerning the notion of religiously-inpired morals in public life I’ve said more here: Liberal or sectarian? | Khanya. The Liberal Party of South Africa had members of many different theological persuasions, but they were still came together because whatever their theology (or lack of it), they were able to work together to support the same political policy. The Liberal Party of South Africa was a secular party, and therefore did not seek to impose a religious ideology, unlike the Lib-Dems in the UK, which appears to be a secularIST party, and seeks to impose an ideology The death of liberalism in the West | Khanya.

      • 8 August 2018 12:50 pm

        Yes the difference between secular and secularist is important

  2. 9 August 2018 6:42 am

    There is a very useful discussion of this, from an Orthodox theological point of view, by Fr John Breck of St Vladimir’s Seminary in the USA.

    Alternative to Euthanasia | Wellspring:

    …a clear distinction must be made between what have traditionally been labeled “active” and “passive” forms of euthanasia. The latter term, “passive euthanasia,” refers generally to a withdrawing or withholding of life-support, rather than to active intervention. As such, it is a misnomer. Modern life-support technology can sustain biological existence even when the patient has lost autonomous cardio-respiratory functioning or has suffered the irreversible loss of upper brain activity. Although the brain stem may still be working, if the cerebral cortex is dead, life-support technology (ventilator, dialysis, antibiotics) is doing little more than sustaining a living cadaver. In liturgical language, this state signals that “the soul is struggling to leave the body,” and there is no longer personal existence in any meaningful sense.


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