It’s high time to deepen the discussion about Euthanasia. Cards on the table, I’m against it, but what I’m most concerned about is that we have a serious conversation rather than reducing the discussion to “People have the right to choose” on one side, or “Doctor’s shouldn’t kill people” on the other, which are both unhelpful oversimplifications. Whether we are currently for, or against euthanasia, there’s a good chance we haven’t thought about it hard enough. Euthanasia is a complex and multifaceted issue, there’s no easy way out of the rabbit hole. Here are 5 questions I think we should all ask ourselves before we decide if we are really in favour of Euthanasia.
1) Why are most professionals who work with the dying against euthanasia?
Most medical professional associations in New Zealand that work intimately with dying humans don’t support euthanasia. It’s important to consider the thoughts and opinions of people who give themselves every day for those who are suffering and dying.
- The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative medicine (Palliative Care Doctors)
- Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand
- NZMA – New Zealand’s largest Medical association
- Hospice NZ
Why is there such a mismatch between the public, who are overwhelmingly in favour of euthanasia, and end-of-life professionals who are mostly against it?
2) Is one Mistake too many?
Mistakes are inevitable in any field, especially medicine. Although tragic, mistakes are acceptable while doctors attempt to save lives. Are mistakes OK while doctors end lives? Last year in New Zealand us medical professionals made many mistakes, including programming a pacemaker wrong which caused a cardiac arrest. One study suggested that 1 in every 25 people sentenced to death in America may be innocent. Is that OK? What if 1 in every 100 humans whose life ended through euthanasia didn’t really want to die? What if perceived or real burden on their family drove them to euthanasia but they never revealed their true thoughts? Or worse received euthanasia after a mis-diagnosed terminal condition?
One 62 year old lawyer was ‘helped’ with assisted suicide in Switzerland after he was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. On autopsy he was found not to have cancer. He wasn’t going to die. Mistakes happen. Is there an acceptable mistake rate when it comes to euthanasia? Do you agree with famous British Surgeon Henry Marsh when he said “Even if a few grannies get bullied into it, isn’t that the price worth paying for all the people who could die with dignity?”
3) Would some people have changed their mind soon after dying?
Many people, after seemingly making the decision to end their life, change their mind and want to continue living. In Oregon, there is a different system from euthanasia where people get prescribed a lethal medication, which they then take themselves. It’s called “physician assisted suicide”. Since 1998, one in every three people didn’t take the lethal drug after being given a prescription. That’s 861 people who went through the whole process of paperwork and psychological evaluation, were given a prescription for the lethal drug then didn’t take it. Obviously it’s fantastic that they changed their mind and chose to keep living, but it disturbs me that so many people could change their mind after such a vigorous process. How many people might have changed their mind a week or a month later after they died of euthanasia?
4) Could euthanasia abuse the vulnerable?
Of all vulnerable populations, elderly are most likely to be abused, mostly by those close to them. A 2015 New Zealand report showed that 1 in 10 people over 65 are abused. Rates among Maori are even higher. Will abusive family members pressure elderly to be euthanised? Even in loving families, could elderly people opt for euthanasia because they silently feel like a burden? Disability rights groups have expressed deep concerns about Euthanasia. In the USA, most disability advocacy groups are strongly against Euthanasia, because they can see the potential for people with disabilities to die prematurely due to abuse of the system.
5) Is this really a Progressive vs. Conservative, or Religious vs Non-religious issue?I think it’s helpful to set aside labels, and ideologies. Euthanasia isn’t automatically a “progressive” or “liberal” win, nor a “conservative” loss. Martin “Bomber” Bradbury, a prominent liberal left wing blogger is against euthanasia. On the other hand a minority of christian organisations support euthanasia, for example “Christians for Voluntary euthanasia” in Australia. One Ex Archbishop of Canterbury (Head of the Anglican Church in England) now supports Euthanansia. Should we draw lines and divide into camps on this issue, or instead think deeply and open up respectful discussions with our family and friends?
I encourage you to think through these questions (and more) deeply before coming to a decision. Euthenasia is a complex issue that I’m not sure any of us can fully understand – but we should try our best before we enter the ballot box