Sunday, October 10, 2010

Discussing euthanasia in Australia

"[Euthanasia] is a case where the Bible's prohibition of killing innocent humans is a no-brainer, even if we agree about little else. For this prohibition generates a community that upholds and cares for others at their weakest and most vulnerable. The prohibition against deliberate killing of innocent human life is what impels us to research and practise good palliative care. It enables trust within patient-carer and patient-relative relationships. It frees the ill person from constantly having to interrogate the hidden motives of those around them, and allows them to accept their care without shame. It says to all of us that, burden or not, we can stop being productive, and allow others to help us."

- Andrew Cameron, "Euthanasia question needs wider debate", SMH 8th October 2010.

Michael Jensen also recently had a piece on popular Australian current issues site The Punch, in which he tried an imaginative and emotive approach to the question (and received responses that were correspondingly even more heated).

I agree that legislation ought not be done by poll, that more discussion about the effects of legalising euthanasia on the community of trust and care is important and that we need careful and compassionate discussion that takes good note of the overlaps and distinctions between suicide, medically assisted suicide, withdrawal of treatment, and palliative care (rather than the simplistic: euthanasia, yes or no?). I also agree that even the most carefully constructed legal safeguards may not entirely prevent abuse and destructive forms of psychological pressure, shifting the boundaries between care and burden in undesirable ways.

Yet are current proposals about euthanasia (namely, the overturning of the federal of the 1995 Northern Territory legislation) really a "no-brainer" case of killing innocent humans? There may be cases of abuse in which this is so. The re-activating of the legislation may lead to "a creeping expansion of candidates for euthanasia". But for a patient voluntarily (and without emotional pressure) to take his or her own life with assistance from another would seem to fall under a discussion of suicide more than murder, making the attribution of innocence to the victim problematic, and the situation considerably more complex.

There may well be other good reasons for considering deliberate suicide (with or without assistance) to be in some sense a failure to cherish the gift of life, or an expression of despair within a broken and hurting world, but I think that the debate about this matter is necessarily knotty since the possible and actual situations themselves are morally complex. I do not support the legalising of euthanasia, but I don't think that the discussion is a no brainer.

Personally, I wonder whether the notions of choice and autonomy that frequently underlie the case for euthanasia are worth exploring and critiquing in greater detail. Is a world based on each of us deciding "what is best for me" really the world that is best for all of us?


Anonymous said...

When I consider euthenasia:
- I agree that our ideals and beliefs lead us to strive to provide good palliative care.
- I feel those ideals and beliefs do not carry through to the fullness of every day life.
- I feel a lot of the reason against euthenasia is the idea that we, as not God, can make everything good enough when we cannot,, that society does not like to hear that it fails.
- We are allowed to take medecation to make us feel better but not stop pain entirely. Yet we are allowed to stop taking medication knowing it will eventually stop the pain entirely,,, and generally faster,, yet that waiting time will see the most pain. Why would we do this?
- I feel that euthenasia should be allowed until ourselves and our society can meet the emotional, physical and other such basic needs of a person in a full and positive way.

Just a few ponderings :)

byron smith said...

Anonymous - Thanks for your ponderings. Am I right that you are suggesting we can give partial support to well-designed euthanasia laws as a retrieval ethic, that is, as trying to pull the best out of a bad situation while acknowledging that it would be better if there were no need for euthanasia due to better palliative care? Or have I misunderstood?

Anonymous said...

In bare bones, yes, though I would suggest full support.

The more sensible thing would be to allow it and ensure there is as many adequate supports and friendships and psych services and pall care services to deter people from doing it.

We need to be able to get over our own failings and acknowledge that in our inability to make it better all the time - it is kinder to let some people opt out if they feel strongly enough.


I'm quite sure God is big enough to judge the individual's decision on this but He does let us have choice. Perhaps another pondering on this one is that, whilst we are taught to let others make their own mistakes or choices, we don't like to see them do it if we "know" it will be bad for them (obviously understanding their situation more than them).

And on choice, we teach people good values but if they stuff up we can put people in jail and punish them - such as people who steal or murder. But we don't get to punish someone who succeeds in taking their own life... most people don't like the feelings that leaves generally becuase it reflects the idea of personal failure.

However, where that is a personal "sting", another may see that as a life "released" and in their own control (if that may be the only control they have had over their lives) and a lifetime sense of relief. I think the latter should be thought of more when we are confronted with it.

Again with the control and power and personal values onto someone else.

As another thought, and I don't have the research on this, I had heard that in Denmark??? the rate of people taking up the option when it was available was less than those who wanted it previously. I think just knowing there is an option out there can ease some of the anxiety for people wanting it enough for them to continue.

Also, and I know this would take decades to be even partially accepted, I personally feel that palliative care is not just for physical ailments.

Btw B, if my views/ponderings are a bit confronting or too waffly, let me know. I do welcome that you raise the topics for discussion though :)

byron smith said...

Thanks for your further thoughts, which are neither waffly nor inappropriately confronting.

Can I have another go at trying to paraphrase what you're saying (maybe I'm still getting you wrong). Are you basically opting for a harm minimisation approach similar to the line that some advocate for abortion? I.e. that abortion is a bad thing and it would be better if there were fewer abortions, but making it legal at the same time as actively providing support mechanisms to reduce the number who seek it is better than simply banning it.

I personally feel that palliative care is not just for physical ailments
Are you referring to mental ailments or something else?

Anonymous said...

Both your summisations work - best together. (thank you :) )

And yes, mental illness. Not giving preference of nature/nurture here. I feel strongly for those who suffer long term depression and would rather not exist. Very often they have the pressure of daily condemnation from people becuase they are not positive, especially when they don't get better on cue. I have watched people become terribly isolated by this and further depressed and understandably not wanting to exist where they feel their existance is worthless.

People not experiencing this mental suffering many times say specifically that it is "selfish" for a person to take their own life but do not recognise the daily pain a person may go through.

Very easily and clearly it could be suggested that if people were not judged for being severely depressed and rejected for it but instead loved as a normal human being, there would be less desire for suicide/euthenasia in that area.

It goes to follow that the more a person feels loved and accepted as anyone else, the less despair they feel.

You could argue that faith in God should be enough. But for people in this situation there is very much a need to feel practically loved and appreciated as a person. It would be nice to say this was not a pipe dream that to show God love is to love another person as well - if I must go back to basics on that,,, whoever offers a glass of water,,, you would not give a snake etc. Mind you, it should not be regarded as charity. People feel the difference - it's like a forced apology if not done out of honest appreciation for the person's existance.

We seem to be in a society that encourages us to actively include positive people into our midst, or those who get better easily as they add to our good feelings and are not felt as "difficult" or "energy sapping" etc. Those that do not meet that standard are pushed to the boundaries and not embraced as humans but given the odd charitable recognition and the knowledge that they are a burden.

That experience would leave anyone feeling more isolated and depressed.

I feel these people too, being that it is now human nature to reject them, should have the option of opting out.

However, this particular thinking will not be accepted in even it's most basic form for decades as it is too confronting again to our feelings that we, as a society, are really able to meet the needs of its people.

It is better for me not to raise these thoughts as, for many, it would take away from the ponderings related to the "accepted" idea and place of euthenasia.