MEDICAL ETHICS: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
Euthanasia laws - coming to a state near you
, February 20, 2010
Arguing against legislative proposals to enact provision for euthanasia and assisted suicide continues to present challenges for pro-life activists for a number of significant reasons.
The first and probably the most significant hurdle pro-lifers face is dealing with the supposed strong public support for such a law. Taking a pro-life stand against the more than 80 per cent of Australians who supposedly support voluntary euthanasia would seem to be as futile as King Canute setting his throne by the sea shore and commanding the incoming tide to halt.
We know, of course, that the wording of questionnaires on people's attitudes towards euthanasia at the very least obfuscates the issue; but pro-life activists to date have failed to find a way to overcome the widespread misunderstandings surrounding the subject. Opposition to euthanasia is all too readily dismissed as the voice of the "carping Christian minority" who should simply bow to "the will of the people".
The voluntary euthanasia movement is a chameleon. It continues to develop new ways of re-badging both itself and its objective, using new language, slogans and strategies in a bid to re-colour its mission in soft and compassionate hues.
The most recent example of this sort of sophistry occurred in South Australia in late 2008. The 10 or so euthanasia bills tabled in the SA Parliament over the previous decade had all been stand-alone ones.
However, upper house Greens MLC Mark Parnell's first attempt in 2008 to legalise euthanasia came in the form of an amendment bill to the existing Palliative Care Act.
This was a clear attempt to have euthanasia and assisted suicide thought of as simply "other tools" in the application of end-of-life primary medical care. My reading suggests that this sleight-of-hand is set to become the standard modus operandi of the voluntary euthanasia (VE) movement over the next few years, just as the bare-faced falsehood, "Dignity in Dying", has been its catch-cry in recent times.
And so, pro-life activists adapt their responses, re-word their arguments and try to hold back the tide. The question, thought, that many of them grapple with is whether or not they can ever devise any breakthrough arguments that could shift the debate onto more favourable territory, and put them on the front foot, as it were.
In fact, there are convincing arguments which centre on the very basic emotional and personal reasons that people respond as they do to surveys on attitudes to euthanasia.
Favouring euthanasia when we're young, fit and healthy is a decision of a radically different nature to favouring it when we're old, sick and approaching death. We know from surveys that the young and fit, generally speaking, fear the prospect of pain and the loss of faculties, whereas the aged and those diagnosed with terminal illnesses fear more the loss of autonomy and control over what happens to them.
Over and above that, people fear the ultimate: death itself. Rather than seeking to alleviate that fear, some seek to take control of the object of that fear through euthanasia or assisted suicide.
It should come as no surprise to News Weekly
readers to note that in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been widely practised for many years, palliative care services are virtually non-existent. Palliation is not likely to be the focus of public policy when there are cheaper "alternatives".
Arguably, the reverse should also be true: that where palliative care is well developed, calls for euthanasia should diminish.
Such should be the case in Australia. But while we have excellent palliative care services, few voters or policy-makers have even a rudimentary understanding of the benefits that this field of medicine offers. Hence, at least a part of a pro-life, anti-euthanasia strategy should include efforts to promote a broader understanding of palliative care in an effort to bring about a change in public opinion.New website
The newly-launched website of the Australian Family Association in South Australia, called "To CARE and Not To KILL"
, is an important and welcome step towards promoting a better understanding of palliation.
The AFA has been able to draw together experts in medical ethics, philosophy, disability care and bioethics, both local and international, to make the case in favour of palliative care and against euthanasia.
As the ageing of our population continues to accelerate, and consequently puts more pressure on the nation's health budget, pro-life supporters must be prepared to make their voices heard as the public advocates of quality care.
The AFA has made a good start.Paul Russell is upper house candidate for the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) for the South Australian state election on March 20. The new website, "To CARE and Not To KILL", is at: www.family.org.au/care