AMDs and the Rhetoric of Moralism

November 4, 2008

do-not-resuscitate-7344202Let’s play a game. It’s called ‘Boo the Nut-job’. We played it at our dinner party last night and it was a hoot. It goes like this: Christian Scientologists are said to believe that a woman must give birth to her child in silence. No moaning, no screaming or cursing the husband. All to give the child a peaceful entry into this world. What a bunch of wackos! Boooooo! This is fun! Another one, another one. Remember the polygamist prairie cult in West Texas that had its women dress in pioneer clothes? Oh how terrible! Boooo the nut-job! Another, another! Ok, how about this one: Archbishop Nicolas Chia was reported in The Straits Times (3 Nov 08) as denouncing euthanasia as “immoral”, denying terminally ill patients the right to die in a dignified manner! Booo……erm, awkward silence. You could hear a pin drop. That was when the game ended. Everyone returned to their desserts and we returned to more polite conversation like whether Obama was black enough.


Last night’s awkward silence came down to just one thing. People still believe that major and established religions, as opposed to whacky cults, have a monopoly on morals. And it’s high time we challenged this.

The Catholic Church in Singapore has come out publicly against euthanasia. In doing so, it has added to the debate over Advanced Medical Directives (AMD) or popularly known as a ‘living will’. Currently our local AMD informs doctors that a person does not want his life to be artificially prolonged if he has a terminal illness and is unable to express his wishes. Under the current Medical Directive Act, an AMD can be executed only when a patient is certified with a terminal illness, needs extraordinary life-sustaining treatment, and is incapable of making rational judgment. It’s important to note that the Ministry of Health is only exploring ways to make it easier for Singaporeans to turn down life-support care and has no plans to discuss euthanasia – two completely different things. And who should pop up to deepen the debate but the Church with the euthanasia strawman.

The debate over the rights and wrongs of euthanasia does not concern me. As a humanist, I believe that human suffering should be alleviated. More interesting to me however is the use of ‘morality’ by the Catholic Church (or any major religion for that matter) whenever it weighs in on any public debate, as though it is the beacon of morality in a sea of immorality.

The popular, and might I add, lazy idea that religions are standard bearers of what is right and good should be seriously challenged. Just looking at the Catholic Church we can immediately cite a list of immoralities like witch-burning, arresting and torturing of scientists who announced that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa, its silence as Nazis massacred Jews, and more recently, one Joseph Ratzinger’s efforts to keep the Church’s investigations into child sex abuse hushed up.


The point here is not to criticize the Church because every religion is guilty of carrying its own dogma to its logical conclusion – the marginalization and persecution of people different from them. On good days they preach that non-believers are going to hell, on bad days we get the Crusades. This desire to bring about their dogma to its logical conclusion is never going to end and there is nothing we can do about it. Instead, the point is no religion can ever, should ever, raise morality as though it has a monopoly on it, and by implication, suggest that others are deficient of it. And if it does, thinking people everywhere should call it out.

This is not to mean that religions should not have any input into public debate. It would be ideal if they did not given their reliance on emotion and dogma but they do form a great part of people’s identity and we have no choice but to accept the harsh reality that rationalism and humanism alone will never be enough to satisfy religious folks when it comes to civic affairs and public policies because they seek their answers from the unseen and unknown. Furthermore, the tenets of tolerance and multiculturalism oblige us to give space to such views in the public arena. However, we should not ignore their arguments when they assume an air of absolutism or determinism because nothing is more dangerous than believing that you are 100%, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, unerringly right. This is dogma, and we should call it out. And no major religion can claim not to have ever breached the moral standards that it preaches out loud today. And if you were wrong once, you can be wrong again.

But back to AMD. On a happier note, it was reported in today’s The Straits Times (4 Nov 08) that unlike the other major religions, Hindu leaders had no moral objections to euthanasia. (I’m not a Hindu but my respect for it as a tolerant and enlightened faith has increased tremendously) My response to the Archbishop is this. Unless the Church is willing to pay for the medical and day-to-day care of terminally-ill patients of every ethnic group, every faith, every age and of every illness in Singapore, then I suggest that it saves its rhetoric on moralism for its own congregation. Given the financial and emotional hardship the families of terminally-ill patients undergo, the AMD is a rational and good initiative.

And the only moral thing to do is for religions to stop moralizing about a deeply personal and private decision.  


4 Responses to “AMDs and the Rhetoric of Moralism”

  1. sushibar Says:

    你的文章让我想起sam harris的书the end of faith: religion, terror and the future of reason.

  2. Alfred Pang Says:

    Dear Friends,

    I assure that the Catholic has always responded towards inhumane treatment of the dying by providing the dying with free hospice care as examplify in the life of Mother Teresa.

    Mother Teresa has never advocated euthanasia or advanced medical directory. In the age where money is everything, Mother Teresa shows that love is everything.

  3. Agagooga Says:

    “MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?”

  4. Alfred Says:

    There was a group of reporters, who accused Mother Teresa of corruption, etc. Mother Teresa led them to the room of starving children and told them this that

    “The money is in the stomach of these hungry children. Come and get it.”

    Please check the accuracy of these false accusation before jumping into conclusion. If you cannot help the poor, do not criticise those who done an excellent job. If Mother Teresa is really corrupted, would the government of India gave her a grand national burial?

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