Originally published in The Examiner 11 August 2020 (Available here)
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.
First, some clarification.
- Refusing treatment has always been allowed and is not the same as deliberately killing someone. There are strong intuitive moral and clinical distinctions between stopping treatment and deliberately killing.
- 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 also 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 heart-warming stories of last day/hour reconciliations and unanticipated recovery provide an emotional yet unhelpful element to the debate.
No question as serious as state-sanctioned suicide/killing should be settled on individual cases, nor emotive scenarios.
Ultimately, a general principle must be found which transcends particular cases.
As with capital punishment, one principle which could be universally applied is that human life should be valued to the extent which puts it beyond the state.
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 intrinsic humanity. Intentionally killing someone even if motivated by a sense of "compassion" is never dignified.
But even then, can there ever be sufficient safeguards to protect the vulnerable?
Inherent in the use of the word "dignity" in this context is the disturbing equating of "dignity" as being without disability.
The proposition that there is a loss of dignity if someone who was previously without disability takes on a disability only serves to devalue those who live in such circumstances.
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 suffering.
Let's be very clear, the proposed change in the law only changes the law for the person undertaking the killing.
The authorising of another person in taking life challenges to the very core our notions of civilisation.
As soon as such a concept takes hold within the psyche of our community, we will irreparably demean the value we place on human life.
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 state-sanctioned 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 authorise 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 person that they would become a burden on others.
To deliberately assist in someone's killing is to deny our common humanity.
Surely our task as a humane, compassionate and caring society is to eliminate the pain, not the patient.