5 Questions to ask before supporting Euthanasia

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.

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?

Prescriptions written vs deaths.png

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

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19 Responses to 5 Questions to ask before supporting Euthanasia

  1. Bronwyn says:

    Thankyou Nick, you make interesting points especially 1) and 3) which I had not considered

  2. Dorothy says:

    Well said . I attended a hui at saint johns theological college about four years ago when the Anglican’s were mooting the matter. Most of the clergy were agin it for the points you raised. For people of faith it’s a good time to review Lennox Lewis and others on the problem of pain and suffering for theological perspectives. I’ll be voting no .

  3. Rose Francis says:

    Thanks Nick for thoughtful comments on the rapidly approaching election issue. thanks to Covid, the pros & cons have not been publicised widely.
    We’d appreciate your frank comments on the other big referendum issue in September. recreational cannabis, which has been deceptively marketed as ‘pain relief’ rather than recreational. (doctors here can already prescribe cannabis oil for pain relief.) I’m amazed at the ignorance and apathy of voters here. Love and prayers for you & Tessa.

    • Bruce van Voornveld says:

      Doctors can prescribe it sure the criteria is very limited. The cost is 275.00 per week. People who are having seizures are being denied it when it is beneficial to them. My son was having up to 8 seizures a day when taking cbd it would be down to 2 a month. I would not be so dismissive of it. Real people are being affected and have died. My son died in 2018 having a seizure

      • ntlaing says:

        Good insights Bruce, I’m looking to write a post about this issue soon as well so it will be interesting to hear more of your thoughts.

  4. Philippa Rodley says:

    Thanks for this Nick. In my work area, we deal with fragile lives, dealing with head and neck cancers, as you may remember. Big surgeries to help support airways and to remove tumour, most with the intent of lengthening life expectancies. The families are often more upset and ,quite frankly horrified at th3 extremes these surges can go to, and will ask us “ is there a way to help them go quietly”. Not the patient, they agreed,and want to live as well and as long as possible. The families,sometimes,cannot face the changed future and stress the illness brings on all the family. A friend of my husbands was the first patient I specialed after his big surgery. He was given up to 5 years post surgery, would have only been a matter of weeks to live otherwise. He didn’t give in or give up, and lived another 15 years, moved house, built a new house, and had two new jobs in that time. A real strong character, among many we see. Don’t give in and don’t give up.
    God bless you in your work, and for Tessa too.

  5. iraperkins says:

    Great points.

    Where are your thoughts on Cannabis?

  6. Myriam says:

    Thanks Nick! I just ordered this book which I thought sounded good https://www.thefinalchoice.nz
    I heard the writer interviewed on rnz and thought it sounded good. Makes some points you do too.
    Myriam 🙂

    • ntlaing says:

      Nice on Myriam. It’s interesting that she discovered over time how there were religious people on both sides as well. It’s really great that she highlights just how complex it is.

  7. Bruce van Voornveld says:

    I was the main care giver for my mother when she had dementia. People have said life was terrible for her. It was hard she had a quality of life was getting out having fun she loved to go to the supermarket walking down the isle twirling her walking stick round her fingers. About 2 days before she died she came back to her full self new everyone. It was a precious time for everyone

  8. Bruce van Voornveld says:

    Thanks for replying. Good sources of information are a documentary by an Australian journalist on cbd and the way it is used around the world. I think the organisation she reports for is sbs or something like that. I have also talked to Liz Craig who is on the select committee dealing with the cannabis law reform. One comment she made was the medical profession say it only helps 20% but she has found it is more like 80%. You used to be able to get from USA but the law changed in may 2018. It was cbd with no thc apparently that was national party leg

  9. Janet says:

    Hi Nick, Might it be also helpful to discuss the difference between euthanasia and the withdrawal of life extending meds. I heard a discussion about this once that I found really useful but I would appreciate your thoughts on this also.

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