An article appeared in the The Dubbo Weekender online last weekend entitled: A good death? The Voluntary Euthanasia debate. Though a number of local people's views were included in the article the first section presented uncritically the views of some in the pro-euthanasia lobby in NSW. A Dignity with Dying information session will be held in Dubbo in mid-August.
(Dubbo is situated about 300km North-West of Sydney in New South Wales)
I submitted the following article to the editor to hopefully give the people of Dubbo a chance to evaluate an opposing view:
Doing Death in Dubbo
It is often said that if something seems too good to be true – it probably is.
Such are the claims on the pro-euthanasia lobby as explained in your article: A good death? The voluntary euthanasia debate (Jen Cowley 27th July).
Consider: if this were such a good idea and if euthanasia laws could be made safe from abuse and vulnerable people protected, why hasn’t every parliament in Australia already done so?
Yet Australian parliaments, over the last decade or so have failed to pass something like 20 euthanasia bills. This fact cannot simply be written off as a religious lobby standing against a rational idea no more than it can be dismissed as a result of out-of-touch parliamentarians ignoring public sentiment.
Contrary to what the euthanasia lobby would have us believe, there are very real concerns about the public safety of euthanasia and assisted suicide laws. Evidence from places that have already gone down this path show significant problems with monitoring, compliance, containment and adherence to the law. It is these concerns that weigh heavily on our legislators – and rightly so.
Dr Edelman is correct when she observes that ‘autonomy and control over our lives is very important, as individuals – particularly at the end of life when we feel very vulnerable.’ Choice is a very important factor and informed choice about the kind of care and interventions that each of us wants and does not want is an essential part of exercising our choice. But choice, in terms of euthanasia, is an illusion simply because the choice would never be our own. The choice would always belong to the doctor who, in choosing to kill, would be endorsing the idea that our lives were not worth living.
Moreover, attempts to enshrine safeguards in euthanasia law are, in effect, little more than window dressing: giving us all a false sense that somehow killing people is okay – so long as it’s within stated limits. No stated limits are ever truly safe.
Consider the growing problem of elder abuse in Australia where elderly Australians are being ripped off and coerced and abused in all sorts of ways – very often for the financial gain of a relative or carer. Euthanasia laws would be a recipe for the ultimate in Elder Abuse that no so-called safeguard against coercion can ever guarantee against.
I mentioned earlier the paramount importance of informed consent. If, in the debate on any euthanasia bill we were told that there was a distinct likelihood that a percentage of euthanasia deaths would occur without any evidence that the patient requested their own death or consented to it, I think we would all raise an eyebrow or two.
Yet this is precisely what is occurring in the Netherlands and Belgium. A 2010 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that in 32% of euthanasia cases in the Flanders region of Belgium there was no evidence of request or consent. Choice is clearly absent. Using the same data the British Medical Journal also noted that 47.2% of euthanasia cases were not even reported. When the Belgian law provides an effective immunity to doctors who ‘do the paperwork’ it’s legitimate to wonder what’s really going on there.
The Belgians are currently debating extending the provisions of their law to include newborns with disabilities and people with early onset dementia (whose ability to choose may be diminished). The Dutch already allow this and more.
Little wonder that the British House of Lords 1994 inquiry warned that "to create an exception to the general prohibition of intentional killing would inevitably open the way to its further erosion whether by design, by inadvertence, or by the human tendency to test the limits of any regulation."
And, contrary to the earlier assertions (In the Weekender article), the AMA does have a position on euthanasia: “The AMA believes that medical practitioners should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person's life.”
These matters cannot simply be blithely dismissed. Just as there’s a commitment to informed consent within the medical community, we should also commit ourselves and the debate in the public square on this issue, to the same sort of scrutiny. After all, few other issues in social policy are so clearly matters of ‘life and death’.