I hear from many people in our community who, during times of severe pain, when it seemed like it would never end, felt there was no way out.
But those same people, upon the end of that pain, or at least its management, tell me how grateful they are they did not make a decision to end their life while their otherwise sound judgment was clouded by the kind of incredible pain that would make almost any person falter.
The policy of voluntary euthanasia, which is currently under consideration by the Queensland government, represents a defining moment in who we are as a people. If legalised, it is a fundamental change in the way that we approach human existence.
It sends a disturbing message that there are some people in our community who are better off dead. The impact of that message goes beyond that which can be mitigated by what are often referred to as “safeguards” to assisted suicide.
It means that when a person becomes dependent because of their age, illness or disability, a social pressure will emerge for that person to end their life, lest they become a burden on others. That culture of dying will permeate our medical and social frameworks, leading to a subtle expectation that those who require care should choose not to be resource-intensive by volunteering to die.
Respect for human life cannot be dismissed as a mere matter of religion, although I confess that my faith is an important factor in my opposition to euthanasia. It is about our ethic as a civil society.
Often, proponents of euthanasia frame this issue as a mere matter of personal freedom, of choice. That argument fails to take into account the ways in which extreme pain, depression and the anguish of facing the unknown when in receipt of a negative prognosis can affect an individual’s disposition to the point of clouding judgment.
Sometimes slippery slope arguments are dismissed as though they are not logical. That’s a mistake. Holland, where right-to-die legislation has been in place since 2002, is evidence of the slippery slope we face. There are more examples than I would like to point to of how Holland’s regime has facilitated suicide that seem a far cry from the circumstances of terminal illness that are usually conjured in this debate.
A 54 year old woman with a personality and eating disorder was able to end her life. Holland’s health minister is on the public record to say that multiple psychiatric patients have been euthanased.
A 47 year old mother of two teenage children was euthanased because she found her tinnitus so unbearable that she wished to die. It is chilling to think that any mother of young children would choose to die, particularly when she was not terminally ill. But it makes a mockery of the sanctity of human life that this was not a matter of public outcry.
In Holland, it is permissible to kill a child on the grounds that it is distressing for a parent to watch that child in pain, whether or not that child might have a prospect of being saved.
It says a great deal about the way in which the crossing of this important threshold changes the way that a society values human life. There is not much more ground to be travelled before chronic but non-life threatening illnesses, disabilities or mere age become reasons to end life.
Here, we can and must do better. We must invest in palliative care and health care that provides hope and comfort for those suffering pain and fear.
Assisted suicide does not offer real choice, or freedom, as some might argue. It does not alleviate suffering, or address its causes. Some might say that it provides an easy way out of suffering. The only people I can see that it offers an easy way out to are those politicians who are unwilling to invest in meaningful health and palliative care.
It’s easy to think of this subject in the context of loving families wanting to help a loved one fulfil their desire not to suffer. But this is not the situation in all families. There are many vulnerable people in our community who require protection from family members whose personal financial interests, convenience or impatience would see them push to end the life of that vulnerable person. If the measure of our society is how we treat the vulnerable, then we must not turn away on this occasion.
As former PM Paul Keating put it, the issue is not how many people would choose to die under this law. It is how many people may die who otherwise wouldn’t. I am grateful this is an issue on which we can cross party lines. There is a sanctity to life that goes beyond today, beyond politics, and, for those of faith, beyond our understanding.
A society who values life and a society that allows euthanasia are fundamentally at odds. We cannot in one breath pour our resources and efforts to stop suicide in our community, and in the next provide state sanctioned death. We cannot train doctors to heal and then ask them to kill.
I, for one, cannot support a policy that would see us cross the ethical threshold from fostering life to sanctioning death.