1 MARCH 1873, Page 15


SIR,—It is odd that men whose thought is mainly an outcome of modern science should fail to apply what is, perhaps, the most striking conception of modern science—that of titne in relation to growth—to questions such as this of Euthanasia. If the central human instincts on which morality rests are the slowly-won pro- duct of ages of moral growth, a practice out of harmony with the most fundamental of those instincts, however speculatively excel- lent, could not be introduced without mischief. It would sacrifice too much of human feeling before it had time to put itself on a rational footing. Even in the individual philosopher it may be doubted whether reason could remodel instinct so as to make the sense of duty in such a case really complete. In most men the overridden instincts would merely be replaced by selfishness and cruelty to the helpless. They would lose the gentleness of strength, without gaining the least glimpse of the new morality.

In Euthanasia we are offered a refined copy of the customs of some savage tribes among whom life is more difficult to maintain, and so less valuable. But, then, their instincts are on the level of their customs. There is no jar between calculation and sentiment such as we should have. Such a jar would make the practice, if adopted among us, spring from an estimate of personal advantages, and not from the half-thought-out sense of what is best, which is duty to most men. And where such imperative instincts as the desire to keep life for ourselves and our friends at all costs are directly repressed in forming and acting on this estimate, the remit must be moral loss to all except the philosopher who has had time to think his soul to oneness under the rule of reason. Euthanasia might become a wholesome doctrine if time should dissolve our present, perhaps animal, feelings, and replace them by more economical sentiments. But as we are, it could only be an esoteric doctrine for the few who might have opportunities of ending hopeless misery by chloroform without giving needless pain to their friends. That is, it would he applicable only in the way Professor Newman deprecates.

It may, of course, be urged that there has been a latent change in men's notions of life and death which only needs expression, and that if men talked freely, many would be found to talk Euthanasia. But facts like the growing aversion to capital punishment seem to point the other way. It is not because we feel less keenly the horror of murder, but because we are more scrupulous about taking even the least worthy life. Take the growing leniency towards infanticide. It is not because there is a change of opinion as to the duty of keeping even superfluous babies alive, but because we are more reluctant to take a woman's life in vengeance for a child's. Again, the sense that under certain circumstances it would be better for us or those dear to us to die, is surely far from being the true wish for death overwhelming the passionate impulse to keep up life to the last.

It might be said, too, that the apology of Euthanasia stands on the same footing as the apology of cowardice, such as those French towns showed whose people did not think it worth while to hold out. Was it or was it not worth while ?—I am, Sir, &c., F. A. CHANNING.