Thursday, November 17, 2011

Killing off Debate

Is there a more emotive question than whether voluntary euthanasia should be a legal?

Whilst I have of course experienced the death of a relative, I have never had to deal with the horror of seeing loved one, terminally ill, dying in pain.

I can't even comprehend how I would deal with that.  It would be utterly awful.
Miscellaneous photo to illustrate grief.  From here
The pain would only be magnified by that person asking  you to help them die.  Whilst many terminally ill people are unable to communicate, most are, and no doubt many would prefer to end their life "on their own terms".

Such a preference is often (maybe even usually?) totally rational. When one has lived a long, rich life, it is not hard to imagine why someone would rather end at it at the time of their chosing, rather than lingering for an indeterminate period, often in horrednous pain.

In a world where those statements could be trusted, and where we could trust relatives to care for their elderly relatives, there would in my view be little reason to oppose the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

We already allow persons to indicate that they do not wish to receive treatment or be resuscitated.  We allow doctors to withdraw treatment from persons who cannot be revived.  Why the distinction?

In part, the reason is that we cannot always rely on requests to die.

It does not take much imagination to foresee an elderly relative, perhaps a bit doddery or just old and frail, being pressured by a family member to end it - not for the elderly person's benefit, but rather for the relatives.

It may be intentional.  It may be a subtle hint.  It may be just a resignation or frustration hinted by deed or word.
Miscellaneous photo to illustrate elderly.  From here
An even more difficult question is working out whether any euthanasia scheme should be limited to those who are terminally ill.  The old expression is that, over a long enough time line, everyone is terminal - how sick should you have to be? Should pain be a prerequisite?

Moreover, who is going to decide whether the criteria are met?  Bear in mind that persons wishing to end their life are often under significant financial stress, and may not be able to afford the cost of doctor reports, legal representation and psychiatric assessments.

In the alternative, should we allow anyone, in any circumstance, for any reason, to ask to be killed?  Should there be a cooling off period?  A mental health assessment? Are we comfortable people walking in off the street and asking to die?

My person view is that if a sane, rational person wants to die, then I can't see what right I have to stop them. What gives me trouble is how we build a system of laws around that - what sort of regulation or set of rules will achieve the aim of seperating those with a rational, sane desire to die from those in the grips of depression, or a relative wanting a hassle off their hands?

These are difficult questions.  No doubt they are questions we will have cause to mull over once Cate Faeurhmann (GRN) introduces her bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia next year. Hopefully there will be a public consultation period, and if time permits I'll be making a submission.
The lady herself.  From here
Voluntary euthanasia is a topic that fits very neatly with the Greens progressive agenda, and we can expect the usual suspects to come out in force for and against the bill.

Most likely with the intention of kicking off this debate, a Dying with Dignity Forum was held at Parliament house on Tuesday.  Speakers included Nicholas Cowdery (ex NSW DPP who has long spoken in favour of voluntary euthanasia) and former Northern terrritory Chief Minister Marshall Perron (who was at the helm when the NT briefly had a law allowing voluntary euthanasia).

If Liberal MP's are allowed a conscience vote (as the article suggests) then all bets really are off as to whether the bill will pass.  On one hand, this is a Green bill, and strongly progressive one at that.  Conversely, elderly people tend to support euthanasia is far greater numbers than younger people who have perhaps never seen a loved one die in pain.

If we're lucky, we may even see the kind of vigorous debate we saw when RU486 was debated in the Federal Parliament in 2006.

I don't know what the result will be, and I daren't predict the outcome.  But I'm ready for an enthusiastic flurry of lobbying as those with a vested interest launch a campaign.

Now THAT will be a Hansard worth reading.

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