In the last two Contacts we looked at the issue of turning off life-support and also the terminology surrounding euthanasia so we could be clear about our thinking – including that euthanasia really means purposeful killing by lethal injection and is not to be confused with withdrawal of futile medical treatment.
In this Contact I want to look at some of the implications of potential legalisation and point to some dangers.
For us as Christians we must be clear in our own minds that euthanasia is not an option. Ultimately euthanasia represents a rebellion against God: “I will die in my own time and by a method of my choice.” Also the option of very good palliative care in this country makes euthanasia unnecessary. Relief from pain and distress is achievable and obtainable.
But then it might be argued that legislation is only giving an option to those who have no belief in a higher (spiritual) authority and who wish to choose the time and nature of their death and that that option should be given them. But, quite apart from the obvious moral dilemma in introducing legislation that permits evil in order to give legal ‘approval’ for those who wish to choose that evil, there are extreme dangers with this position.
Firstly, there is the pressure on the dying or infirm or handicapped to ask for or consent to be euthanased even when they want to keep on living – the so-called duty to die – in order to relieve emotional, physical or financial distress on relatives or carers involved.
Secondly, the euthanasia option solves a financial problem for government in the provision of facilities and personnel for palliative care. Politicians faced with deficit budgets and an increasing bill for palliative care are likely to opt for legalisation of euthanasia as a way of limiting and even cutting funding for palliative care. This can already be seen in Holland which has recently legalised euthanasia after practicing it for many years and which has an extremely low ratio of palliative care beds per population as compared with Australia and England.
So the duty to die can also reflect a ‘state’ obligation as well as to relatives. Try to imagine the pressure put on an elderly infirm person in a hostile environment with an expectation that they will agree to be killed because it is better for society.
Thirdly, there is the reality of the ‘slippery slope’ with blurring of the boundaries between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia and the concept of a life not worthy to be lived. Who would have thought that when our community accepted abortion under conditions of medical threat to the mother that it would have resulted in abortion on demand with 80,000 abortions being performed in Australia, the vast majority being for ‘social’ reasons? We must not allow a similar ‘slide’ to occur with euthanasia. But the slide has already happened in Holland with roughly 20% of euthanased people being killed without their consent (according to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide).
Fourthly, perception by the patient of ambiguity in the role of the treating doctor would inevitably lead to uncertainty and fear. Patients may justifiably think that doctors might be less enthusiastic in their care if they think the patient should be prepared to die and are supported in this view by society and the law. Dualism in the doctor’s role must inevitably lead to confusion and fear with patients wondering whether their doctor’s attitude might change somewhere along the line of care.
Finally, there are the effects that such decisions for evil ultimately have on society in terms of how we think and how we value human life. M. Scott Peck of The Road Less Travelled fame has written a brilliant book on euthanasia: Denial of the Soul: spiritual and medical perspectives on euthanasia and mortality. Peck argues strongly that we need to look at the issues in detail and see what euthanasia would mean in terms of our society’s denial of the soul. He writes:
‘...advocates of euthanasia on demand... fail to realize.. that the achievement of their ends would quite possibly create a society even more soulless and mechanistic than the one we have now... a society where there is no potential glory in dying, an utterly rational society where people are simply put to sleep upon request without any reference to the irrational mystery of their souls or to God who is their source and that of all true glory.’
Dr Lachlan Dunjey MBBS FRACGP DObstRCOG