MAiD, (Canadian) Bioethicists, and the Banality of Evil

Two or three generations from now, philosophers will look back in horror and shame at the role that Canadian bioethicists and philosophers played in the normalization of medically assisted suicide (a.k.a. MAiD) in Canada.

In the seventh-anniversary installment of Dialogues on Disability that I posted last month, Isaac Jiang, with whom I composed the installment, made some very memorable remarks about evil. Evil, Isaac noted, whatever else it may be, is a problem of infrastructure. As Isaac remarked there,

“Arendt already noted this banal, administrative characteristic of evil in her earlier work Origins of TotalitarianismColonial administrations, she argues, were made possible not only by an imperialist racist ideology, but by its genocidal combination with bureaucracy, or, in her words, that “organization of the great game of expansion in which every area was considered a stepping-stone to further involvements and every people an instrument for further conquest.”

This administrative banality of evil is evident in the ways that bioethicists (including feminist bioethicists and so-called disability bioethicists) and the bioethical discourses that they generate increasingly and persistently empty the practice of MAiD and the evil it embodies of their pernicious content.

In my exchange with Isaac, I noted that the comprehensive understanding of infrastructure that Isaac assumes is more amenable to a historicized and relativized understanding of disability as an apparatus than earlier, more limited, ways in which to understand infrastructure. On an expansive understanding of infrastructure, like the conception that Isaac assumes, a range of phenomena that operate as mechanisms of the apparatus of disability become recognizable.

I suggested, for example, that when we want to identify and analyze the eugenic impetus of the subfield of bioethics and how it is reproduced, we can count how many times over the past several years widely read bioethics journals have published articles that promote medically assisted suicide, how the arguments of these articles are advanced, which arguments get replicated, and what they omit. For even a casual literature review of this sort could reveal the machinery of evil in all its mundane production.

Indeed, bioethics journals play an important role in the institutionalization of the banality of the evil that reproduces and steadily normalizes MAiD and eugenics through bioethical discourse, in the philosophy and bioethics classroom, in the Canadian philosophical community, and in Canadian society more generally. In my Philosophy, Disability and Social Change 2 presentation, I described how The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (IJFAB) has, for example, through its publication of an invited article authored by Jocelyn Downie, promoted the expansion of MAiD in Canada.

The banality of the institutionalization of medically assisted suicide by means of bioethics journals can, however, be even more readily observed if one examines the content of the subfield’s flagship journal, Bioethics. With Canadian bioethicist Udo Schüklenk as one of its two co-editors, Bioethics has published several items in the past year alone that use spurious arguments to recommend medically (and otherwise) assisted suicide, including politically uninformed and irresponsible arguments about the allegedly fallacious character of critiques of MAiD.

While, as I pointed out in the presentation, Downie is the leading proponent of MAiD in Canada in general, Schüklenk is the leading proponent of MAiD in philosophy and bioethics in Canada. That some so-called disability bioethicists and feminist bioethicists aspire to publish their work in Bioethics (and that some of them do publish there) is testament to the ways in which, when combined, prestige, personal advancement, and limited understandings of how power circulates conceal the banality of evil in philosophy and other academic and institutional contexts.

Every philosopher who wants to demonstrate resistance to the incremental banality of evil through its normalization of MAiD in philosophical contexts should boycott Bioethics, refuse to publish there, refuse to review for this journal, refuse to cite it, and even refuse to read it.

The current parliamentary proceedings to, once again, expand MAiD in Canada are a sham, an exercise of dishonesty, negligence, and non-performatives that Canadian bioethicists have substantially facilitated. In the coming days, I aim to compile a list of my past posts on Bill C-7 and MAiD in Canada, including links.

In the meantime, I want to draw to your attention two articles that vividly document the terrible situation with respect to MAiD that prevails in Canada at present, a situation that will become more grave in the months to come:

A CTV News article about a 31-year old woman who applied for MAiD after she was unable to find accessible housing:

An article published in the UK that explains the incremental normalization of MAiD through Canadian legislation – normalization that Schüklenk routinely dismisses:

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