Euthanasia: eliminate the pain not the patient

The seductive smooth salesmanship of the “End of Life Choices Bill” glosses over the ugliness of state-sanctioned suicide. For that is what voluntary assisted dying or euthanasia stripped of its nice words actually is – state-sanctioned suicide. There are no choices being offered. The only option offered by the Bill soon to be debated in the Tasmania Parliament is the finality of death.

First, some clarification.

  •          Refusing treatment has always been allowed and is not the same as deliberately killing someone.
  •          Administering pain relief which may as a side effect hasten death is materially and morally different to administering a substance the only purpose of which is to kill. This has always been allowed.
  •          Poor medical practice and poor palliative care should never be the reason for state-sanctioned suicide.

Heartrending stories of difficult deaths countered by heartwarming stories of last day/hour reconciliations and unanticipated recovery provide an emotional element to the debate. But ultimately any consideration needs to rise above the anecdotal ping-pong to the principle – what value do we place on the life of our fellow citizens?

Once administered, state-sanctioned suicide remains permanent. Death is irrevocable. Let’s campaign for a right to live rather than a so-called “right to die” which will inevitably come to us all.

Opposition to state-sanctioned suicide is based on the premise that every life irrespective of its circumstances is worth living. There is no such thing as an “undignified” human life. Sure, life can be tough, excruciatingly tough. Human dignity is not dependent on an individual’s utility to society or their health but their humanity. Intentionally killing someone even if motivated by a sense of “compassion” is never dignified.

As a society we have a choice. Provide the support, succour and solace to the afflicted affirming their intrinsic value as a precious member of our community or agree with the ailing person that their life isn’t worth living anymore. A truly caring, compassionate community will not adopt the latter. Killing should never be seen as a solution to human misery.

In an era where elder abuse has become such a scourge that public service announcements are necessary to protect the elderly against financial, physical and emotional exploitation, it is unbelievable that “legalised suicide” might be considered let alone allowed. A culture of disdain for the disabled and elderly persons awaits.

Another societal scourge is suicide also necessitating compassionate community messaging offering support.

Yet there are some willing to send the message that suicide is okay if you believe your circumstances are too difficult. What’s more, we will legalise people to facilitate your death. This is mixed messaging madness.

How do you tell a troubled teen their pain and anguish is not as real as someone else’s? It’s impossible. That’s where integrity and consistency of message, especially to protect those with suicidal thoughts, is so important.

Having authored the Senate committee report into this vexed issue some years ago I was able to garner majority support from senators across the divides – Liberal, National, Labor, Australian Democrat and independent. A common concern, even amongst those instinctively attracted to “choice”, was that with the best will in the world you could never provide adequate safeguards against family manipulation, wrong diagnosis and a false sense of fear in the subject that they would become a burden on others.

To deliberately assist in someone’s killing is to deny our common humanity and value.

Surely our task as a humane, compassionate and caring society is to eliminate the pain not the patient.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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