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Ask Faye 6 – The Soot of Former Moral Authority: or, Smoke, and Dying the Deaths of a Thousand Crimes Made Public


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/02/06

Faye Girsh is the Founder and the Past President of the Hemlock Society of San Diego. She was the President of the National Hemlock Society (Defunct) and the World Federation of RTD Societies (Extant). Currently, she is on the Advisory Board of the Final Exit Network and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. Here we talk about the extensive and deep loss of moral authority.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: One of the main perceived moral authorities – and sometimes, rightly – have been hierarchical and patriarchal (supremely male-run, male-owned) institutions bound to assertions of transcendent, if not divine, powers of ethical judgment.

These continue to die with the onslaughts of modernity, not explicitly perceivable in the raw numbers but, observable in the rights afforded to women against the dictates of their divinely-ordained domineers, protections provided for children from robed predators, science applied to technology to ease life in ways only excused by former sacerdotalism, and… streaming television. 

How has the weakening of the moral authority of religious institutions permitted an opening for questions about individual choice in the most profound topic of human life, death, only equalled by its opposite, conscious life?

Faye Girsh: Wow, what a question!!! Surely the response is that with the increasing power of Humanism, in art, theology, music, literature, etc. the individual is more reliant on their own decisions and judgment. I am not sure it is the authoritarian structure that forms the opposition to assisted dying as much as tradition, unfounded fears, and the tendency to not change things. The U.S. is struggling with this much more than Canada which has taken so many progressive steps forward, and is moving rapidly, toward a rational system of assisted dying. Canada is not hidebound by the reactionary forces we have and is providing people with choices we may never get to in the U.S. By the way, I do think the ancients had doctors who did not allow them to suffer and took matters in their own hands. It is the amazing progression of modern medicine that has reinforced the ethic of Do Everything — Death is a Failure.

Jacobsen: What nuanced qualms around death have most waned in the blazing trails of individual freethought?

Girsh: The idea of an AfterLife has been a constraint to all kinds of behaviour, with the Big Court in the Sky deciding if you will burn in Hell for your Sins. Without this very successful form of social control humans have more freedom to make their own choices with consequences being governed by natural law. Now many are coerced into living by “loving” relatives and a medical system that sees death as defeat.

Right now in our country, we are trying to find a morality that should govern human behaviour even when man-made laws are being flouted. Many people feel it is consistent with their morality to determine the time and manner of their death. They are constrained only by lacking the means to do it.

Others still cling to the idea that they should not be in control of Life, that there is a cosmic order determining when and how we die. Those who reject ending their suffering often do so because they cling to the pleasures of living, or the difficulties of finding a peaceful death while others are still bound by the ideas of Sin and God and the Final Judgment.

Jacobsen: Some theologians, in the past, have, to their credit, emphasized individual conscience as the final arbiter in ethical decisions. How has this influenced the growth and development of theologies for dying with dignity religious groups, rational suicide faith-based organizations?

Girsh: Some supporters of the right to choose your own death have been respected theologians, albeit they are in the minority. One such person has been Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong who has openly supported self-determination and the futility of suffering. In a plea to the U.S. Congress, he stated, “I come to these conclusions as a Christian…My personal creed asserts that every person is sacred. I see the holiness of life enhanced, not diminished, by letting people have a say in how they choose to die….

Many of us want the moral and legal right to choose to die with our faculties intact, surrounded by those we love before we are reduced to breathing cadavers, with no human dignity attached to our final days…Life must not be identified with the extension of biological existence…..”

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faye.

Girsh: Thanks, Scott.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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