It’s simple, eu­thana­sia is a form of sui­cide

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WORLD -

There’s a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween keep­ing alive some­one who would oth­er­wise be dead and killing some­one who would oth­er­wise be alive; and be­tween eas­ing some­one’s pain and end­ing a life. So many peo­ple who sup­port eu­thana­sia think of it as “turn­ing off life sup­port ma­chines”.

But we al­ready have that right plus the right to express our views, while alive and well, about how much med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion we want when our lives near their end.

Eu­thana­sia is not that. It’s not “dy­ing with dig­nity”, as its pro­po­nents claim, but a form of sui­cide.

Eu­thana­sia means giv­ing peo­ple a lethal dose of drugs: a lethal in­jec­tion from a doctor (in the case of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s laws, that were over­turned two decades back); or a lethal cock­tail of drugs, on pre­scrip­tion from a chemist that peo­ple then take at home (in the case of new laws in Vic­to­ria).

From last week, peo­ple in Vic­to­ria with less than a year to live, whose suf­fer­ing is deemed “in­tol­er­a­ble”, and who make three re­quests to die, can be given lethal drugs if two doc­tors ap­prove. Any two doc­tors, mind you: not nec­es­sar­ily your own GP, your can­cer spe­cial­ist, or your psy­chi­a­trist, even though so many peo­ple who want to end their lives are suf­fer­ing a form of de­pres­sion. And there’s no re­quire­ment that peo­ple who want as­sisted sui­cide be helped to ac­cess pal­lia­tive care or treat­ment for the fears we all have about pain and death.

Part of the pitch for eu­thana­sia is that a hu­mane and pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety should be able to help peo­ple die when

they no longer want to live. But, as a so­ci­ety, aren’t we sup­posed to be against sui­cide? Don’t we re­gard the rate of sui­cide among young Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, or for­mer mil­i­tary per­son­nel, as a na­tional dis­grace?

Quite apart from the prob­lem of turn­ing doc­tors from peo­ple who en­hance life, to peo­ple who might end it, which is why the AMA re­mains very concerned about these laws, surely there’s a dou­ble stan­dard here — some jar­ring mixed mes­sages? How can we tell our young peo­ple that they have ev­ery­thing to live for; at the same time as we tell old and sick peo­ple, fac­ing the end, that they might-as-well-shuf­fle-off now?

Since The Nether­lands le­galised eu­thana­sia in 2002, el­i­gi­bil­ity has been ex­panded and the def­i­ni­tion of un­bear­able suf­fer­ing has been re­laxed. The num­ber of peo­ple be­ing med­i­cally put-down has sky­rock­eted, from un­der 2000 in the be­gin­ning, to over 6000 a year now.

I’ve worked on the in­side of gov­ern­ment for many years. In­evitably, the availabili­ty of eu­thana­sia will change the way pol­i­cy­mak­ers treat the old, the vul­ner­a­ble and the sick. How long will it be be­fore the fi­nance hard­heads ques­tion putting new drugs on the PBS that merely ex­tend life, rather than save life, on the grounds that eu­thana­sia is a more cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion? Le­gal­is­ing eu­thana­sia will be an easy ex­cuse for ne­glect­ing bet­ter pal­lia­tive care, even though that can ad­dress many of the is­sues around manag­ing death.

How long will it be be­fore some­one’s duty to their fam­ily be­comes to die quickly and qui­etly, with­out spend­ing too much of the would-be in­her­i­tance or caus­ing loved ones too much grief watch­ing you go?

These are the prob­lems with nor­mal­is­ing sui­cide.

Deep down, mod­ern so­ci­ety is in re­volt against the re­al­ity that life is of­ten hard: there’s dis­ap­point­ment and fail­ure; there’s the in­evitabil­ity of sick­ness and death. Ev­ery life has its share of pain; some more than oth­ers, and that doesn’t seem fair. Many of us struggle to see the point in a life de­void of the plea­sures nor­mally taken for granted, es­pe­cially in these anti-re­li­gious times. Death is a dif­fi­cult sub­ject but how we deal with it should be the mak­ing of us, as hu­mans, not the break­ing of us.

Michael Ca­ton and Emma Hamil­ton starred in the Aus­tralian movie Last Cab To Dar­win. which dealt with the sensitive is­sue of eu­thana­sia.

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