Thursday, December 13, 2012

Udo Schüklenk on Bioethics and Margaret Sommerville

Udo Schüklenk is a Professor of Philsophy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His specialty is bioethics.

Udo gave a presentation at Eschaton 2012 on Myths About Atheist Values. He covered three topics ...

1. Are atheists moral? Yes

2. Does life have meaning or purpose? No, not the same kind of meaning and purpose that theists imagine.

3. Do atheists value human life? Yes.

Udo has a blog and one of the services he provides on his blog is to teach us about bioethics. Part of this service is to expose quacks masquerading as bioethicists. It's a thankless job but someone has to do it.

Fortunately, Udo concentrates on Canadian quacks so you won't be overwhelmed. There are only a few hundred, mostly doctors.

Perhaps Canada's most famous quack bioethicist is Margaret Somerville, a Professor of Law at McGill University, (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). She's best known for her opposition to same-sex marriage and she's been advertised on television and in newspapers as a bioethicist who has rational views on the dangers of legalizing same-sex marriage. (She wasn't very persuasive since same-sex marriage is legal in Canada.}1

Udo Schüklenk chaired an experts panel on end-of-life decisions for the Royal Society of Canada [End-of-Life Decision-Making in Canada: The Report by the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision-Making].

Margaret Sommerville didn't like their recommendations. She claims that further legalization of euthanasia will lead to people being killed against their will.

Here's how Udo deals with that issue ...
Evidence has never been Ms. Somerville's strongest point. So, without any evidence to back up her claims she declares on the Catholic website, "One of the things that's wrong with respect to Justice (Lynn) Smith's judgment (in Carter v. Attorney General of B.C.) is that she purports to review the use of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the jurisdictions that have legalized it. She said there is no problem, there is no slippery slope. Well, that's simply not right factually." It turns out, in our Report on end of life decision-making in Canada we reviewed the empirical evidence on the slippery slope matter and concluded that there is no evidence that assisted dying leads us down slippery slopes to unwanted killings. Of course, we reviewed evidence, Ms Somerville is in full preaching mode.
I like this guy! He thinks that real, scientific, "evidence" is an important part of any debate.
1. We're anxiously waiting to see if her predictions about kids of gay parents being traumatized will come true.


  1. A cool name, correct opinions, likes evidence. Thanks for alerting me to another awesome human being!

  2. We're anxiously waiting to see if her predictions about kids of gay parents being traumatized will come true.

    Well we certainly know what happened to the children of Catholic parents who left their children to the tender mercies of the RCC.

  3. Re euthanasia in the Netherlands, the following link may be helpful:

  4. Eric MacDonald who I believe also gave a presentation at Eschaton 2012 is a vocal critic of Margaret Sommerville on his fine Choice In Dying blog (

  5. We have a similar Catholic apologist "philosopher" in Australia, Nick Tonti Filipini, who makes similar "arguments" that quite accidentally tow the Catholic line.

    1. Pedant mode: "Toe the line"...see

  6. How quickly do issues of "science' get used for issues of political and social control!!!
    It is the people who should contend and fight and get/not get their way on these issues.
    In reality the gay marriage thing and most serious issues are decided, very unjustly and illegally, by Judges and NOT the Canadian citizen.
    If the citizen decided by referendum or voting etc then ideas and debates would matter. otherwise its just appointed, and that unjustly, lawyers in black robes.
    I'm confident most Canadians would vote down gay marriage after hearing the facts and case.
    If Quebec left it would be a great majority as they leftize the nation.

    Anyways enough , for me, on non scientific issues.
    i often muse that evolutionary biology is sustained by people who believe it changes great presumptions about society and so its unwelcome to see it criticized .
    I mean a almost sub conscience rejection of poor evidence behind the claims of evolution.
    I muse about that.

    1. "Three-in-five Canadians (61%) want same-sex marriage to remain legal in their country."

    2. I can't speak for Canada but Washington State, Maryland, and Maine in the US just voted to approve same sex marriage. Booby the bigot is as full of s*it about this issue as he is about evolution.

    3. Robert, to what facts regarding gay marriage are you referring? For me to change my mind about my acceptance of gay marriage I would have to be shown how it does demonstrable harm to society and/or individuals. Something substantially better than 'many people are disgusted by it' would be required.

      Got anything?

    4. What I find interesting is that is no substantive difference between the positions of Robert Byers and Margaret Sommerville on the right to die, the right to equal treatment under the law for homosexuals and the right to bodily autonomy for women.

      Robert is more honest than Margaret but on the other hand he can't spell as well and I suspect he is not nearly as photogenic so it would be difficult to trot him out in public.

    5. It's good to see Somerville being taken to task, and hopefully this will become more widespread. She is often trotted out as an "ethics expert" on CBC news and elsewhere to give one side of an argument, without ever making explicit her role as an apologist for Catholic dogma. This is part of the larger pattern of lazy journalism, which mistakes "objectivity" for "giving both sides of an argument equal time, no matter how stupid and unsupportable one side may be."

  7. Anonymous
    Let the people decide.
    I am confident a vote against gay marriage is easily obtainable.
    Polls are polls. Quebec swings everything left wing but even with this I believe 51% could vote it down.
    People never get a good argument against it but lots for it. Its a superficial support or non interest.
    Anyways the courts did it because of a lack of confidence the people would support it.
    Anyways something so radical and divisive should not overthrow our heritage of true marriage by a mere pints thing.
    It should have at least 75% etc support before it would be allowed.
    Anyways coming from the courts and not the people stamps it illegitimate in a democratic and free nation.
    Anyways back to accuracy in origin subjects.

    1. Notice how Booby the bigot ignores the US election results in Washington State, Maine, and Maryland. Notice how Booby moves the goalposts by calling for a 75% plebiscite result on same sex marriage. Notice how Booby fails to make a cogent argument against it and even admits that people never get a good argument against it. That's because there isn't a good argument against it, other then anal sex is icky (which doesn't even apply to lesbian marriage).

    2. It is estimated that 25% of heterosexual couples have had anal sex so if Bobby finds it icky he would be better off trying to ban straight marriage.