The value of autonomy
As we saw in chapter 4, the belief that in some circumstances death is better than life, that life is no longer worth living, is an important strand in the argument for VAE. Another strand, hardly less central, is that VAE respects a patient's right to autonomy or self-determination. The bulk of those campaigning for relaxation of the law weave the two strands together. They stress that they support only voluntary euthanasia: euthanasia is only ever justifiable at the request of the patient as no one but the patient is in a position to judge the worthwhileness of his own life. Only if the patient decides that life has lost its value and asks for VAE should it be performed.
Given the rise, particularly in the West, of an almost absolute respect for personal autonomy and the decline of established religious belief on which respect for the inviolability of life has traditionally been based, it is hardly surprising that support for VAE appears to have grown substantially. The traditional consensus has been undermined by liberal pluralism. Many people now reject traditional views about the inviolability of life – views which they often criticise as 'religious', 'authoritarian', 'absolutist' and unfairly 'imposed' by the law on non-believers. They support the relaxation of the law so as to allow individuals to make their own personal decisions about what to value and how to act, particularly when the decision affects so fundamental and personal a matter as when and how to die. If, they argue, a patient thinks that VAE is immoral, he need not ask for it. If, on the other hand, a patient thinks that continued life in a suffering or incapacitated state is an indignity, inconsistent with his own assessment of what makes life worth living, he should be allowed to obtain VAE. As one leading liberal advocate of relaxation has (rather emotively) put it: 'Making someone die in a way that others approve, but