LIFE ISSUES: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
Are calls for euthanasia just about avoiding pain?
, July 20, 2013
Once, euthanasia advocacy was supposed to be chiefly concerned about sparing people unnecessary pain and discomfort towards the end of their lives.
Pain is really not the issue any longer, if it ever really was.
Palliative medicine has developed, particularly in recent years, to a point where virtually all pain can be dealt with. If any concern remains here, it is really more about ensuring that everyone has access to high quality services.
The arguments for euthanasia these days seem to be more about the fear of growing old or of developing an age or illness-related disability.
Three people who attended a suicide workshop on the Gold Coast, organised by Dr Philip Nitschke, director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International, discussed their motives for attending this event on an Al Jazeera television documentary, “Licence to kill” (May 19, 2013).
Only one of them mentioned difficulties with developing illnesses.
Another said that she was not scared of death, but that “living and not being able to do the things I want to do scares me!”
A third declared, “There’s no way I’m going into a nursing home where I’m lying there like a vegetable — I’m not going to be a burden on my children!”
End-of-life concerns of participants in Washington state's Death with Dignity Act.
A recent report on the operation of the US state of Washington’s Death With Dignity Act, which in 2008 legalised physician-assisted suicide, has echoed similar public sentiments and shown clearly that pain is a lower-order concern, increasingly eclipsed by what are normally considered to be the general issues associated with ageing.
However, disability activists, such as Canada’s Rhonda Wiebe, see this widely-held view as posing a real threat to the very existence of people living with disabilities. Her concerns are shared by groups, such as New Zealand’s Saving Downs, whose mission is to provide life-affirming care and support for parents of children with Down Syndrome.
These fears cannot be dismissed. Those of us who do not live with disabilities can at best only imagine what it is like to live each day with disabilities, and should not presume to speak on behalf of the disabled.
Moreover, as people have come to recognise that discrimination has both objective and subjective elements, we must learn to listen and heed the genuine fears expressed by many disabled people that they could become targets for euthanasia.
As for the ageing process, what is wrong with growing old, anyway? As a society, Australia in particular is better prepared financially than ever before to provide help for the elderly.
Yes, we know that ours is an ageing population. Yet, at the same time, the science and cost-effectiveness of geriatric care continue to improve, as does the quality of palliative medicine.
We have always known that we enter this world completely dependent on others, and that some of us of us will leave in a similar fashion.
Just as parents experience — and willingly embrace — the burden of child-rearing, the burden of caring for our elderly is likewise simply an opportunity to show our care and love for seniors.
In the context of the euthanasia debate, depriving families of the opportunity to care in such circumstances is precisely the opposite of the “selfless act” that physician-assisted suicide is purported to be.
Not that the considerable burdens and challenges of caring for the disabled and the elderly shouldn’t be addressed — indeed, they deserve to be.
But administering poison via a syringe is not the answer.
Paul Russell is founder and director of the Australian network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide www.noeuthanasia.org.au, and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) International. He blogs at http://blog.noeuthanasia.org.au