"[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?