Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Right to life... and death?

I have been following readers' letters in The Press this week, regarding Nelson Coroner Ian Smith's call for national debate on euthanasia. As usual, those with religious views claim to have the moral high ground here.

In this post I reproduce relevant letters from The Press and provide criticism.

"Should be rejected" - The Press, Tue. 29th Nov.

The call by the Nelson Coroner for a national debate on euthanasia is unfounded and imprudent (Nov 24). It should be rejected.
We don't need yet another national debate on euthanasia. Parliament in 1995 and 2003 rejected death with dignity bills at their first reading.
Euthanasia legislation would be unwise and dangerous public policy and would make doctors the most dangerous persons in the land.
Euthanasia comes from a culture of death. It is about requiring doctors to kill their patients or assisting (sic) in their suicide.
It is always wrong to kill another person; it is contrary to the law of God.
The sanctity of life ethic is the foundation stone of civilised society. This ethic is upheld by the World Medical Association and the New Zealand Medical Association.
The passing of euthanasia legislation would be a threat to the lives of the elderly, the handicapped and the terminally ill.

- Ken Orr, spokesperson, Right To Life New Zealand, Shirley.

Since when is it 'imprudent' to invite debate regarding a topic? Surely, by debating the points in any argument and raising contentious issues, we can expose solutions and determine just what is correct, and what is falsehood. Perhaps Mr. Orr would rather not risk losing the argument.
How is the call unfounded? I'd say that the Coroner is in a better position to judge the need for such debate (measured upon his daily experience of deaths and their causes) than an armchair activist.
Besides, we have a new government, and people are entitled to change their minds. It is certainly possible that another attempt to pass a 'death with dignity' bill would be defeated, but why not let the majority decide?
Mr. Orr's comment that euthanasia legislation would 'make doctors the most dangerous persons in the land' is ridiculous, and nothing more than scaremongering. More dangerous than P-crazed gang members? Than released psychiatric patients, perhaps? Than the large number of unlicenced and drunk drivers on our roads? There would, of course, be stringent failsafes built into any legislation that could potentially have outcomes allowing a person to die of their own accord, such as psychiatric testing, medical evidence, testimony from family and friends, documentation endorsed by the applicant and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace, etc.
I think the key point that Mr. Orr has missed is that voluntary euthanasia would be exactly that - voluntary. Not compulsory, like he makes the case out to be. I find it hard to believe that doctors would be 'required to kill their patients'. This is gross exaggeration. There would have to be a solid case for euthanasing a patient, and of course the willing participation of the patient. Perhaps there are gray areas, such as patients in a prolonged coma, but it could be possible for people to signify in their will what they wish to happen under these circumstances.
'Culture of death?' What exactly does this mean?
The comment that 'It is always wrong to kill another person' can be tested with the 'Would you kill Hitler if you had a chance' thought-experiment. What about the likes of soldiers who, during the Second World War, were compelled to kill, and happened to be christians? Did they all end up in Hell? Mr. Orr states that it is 'contrary to the law of God' to kill another. But not all of us believe in a 'God'.
To cap it off, there's the comment that euthanasia would be a threat to the lives of the elderly and the terminally ill. Strange. I thought that more pressing threats were things like time running out and terminal illness. And they may not see it as a threat. Go figure.

"Turning in their graves" - The Press, Wed. 30th Nov.

The Nelson Coroner's call for debate about euthanasia is worrying.
After 18 months of pain and suffering I helped bury my grandfather, who was a soldier during World War 2. The Allies fought in that war to stop the evils of Nazi Germany. These evils included exterminating not only Jews but also the mentally ill and the physically handicapped because their weakness and dependancy was a burden on the fit and healthy.
I am concerned that euthanasia is the thin end of the wedge. Once we start to eliminate the old and tired, what will stop us eliminating the unintelligent, the unemployed, those of different skin colour, or even our own children?
The Netherlands passed legislation permitting voluntary euthanasia three years ago and is now considering passing legislation that permits infanticide. Perhaps my concern is warranted.
The soldiers who fought Nazi Germany must be spinning in their graves at the suggestion that the extermination of life should even be considered.

- Michael Baker, Lyttleton

Both my grandfathers served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and I'm pertty sure that they were also fighting for freedom of choice.
Mr. Baker seems to be under the impression that if passed, voluntary euthanasia legislation would mean we would see doctors roaming the streets looking for the old, the handicapped, and the sick to kill. This is not Nazi Germany. Neither is this the Netherlands.
Again, like Mr. Orr, the point seems to have eluded Mr. Baker that the debate would be about voluntary euthanasia. No-one would be forced to be euthanised against their will.
And I'd sadly presume that many of the unfortunates who were fatally wounded and subsequently died in that horrific war would have wished to have their pain ended. But then, there were no atheists in the foxholes...

In my opinion, I consider that it is my right as a logical and sentient human being to decide whether or not I should continue to live if to do so would be a significant burden on those whom I love and the rest of you, or if to do so would mean living in terrible pain and suffering, or if to do so would mean being slowly stripped of my dignity, decsending into Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease or other degenerative condition.

I find it quite disgusting that some people would rather inflict such suffering on others who may be robbed of the physical ability to end their own life but have the wish to do so, all the while calling it 'mercy', calling it 'dignified' - the 'Right' thing to do - all to satisfy and quell their own consciences.

I make these final points:

3. Suicide is not a criminal offence under New Zealand law - why should assisting someone to end their life be, under certain circumstances?

2. If I jammed a steak-knife into your leg or arm, your immediate reaction would be to try and remove it, to stop the pain.

1. To force people to needlessly endure pain or discomfort, or prolong suffering, is the definition of torture.

"I'm not afraid of dying - You've got to go sometime."
- Pink Floyd, "The Great Gig In The Sky"
0. Lights out.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Testing... Testing...

Apparently, I am a
You scored 7% Sociability and 76% Sophistication!

Congratulations! You are the semicolon! You are the highest expression of punctuation; no one has more of a right to be proud. In the hands of a master, you will purr, sneering at commas, dismissing periods as beneath your contempt. You separate and connect at the same time, and no one does it better. The novice will find you difficult to come to terms with, but you need no one. You are secure in your elegance, knowing that you, and only you, have the power to mark the skill or incompetence of the craftsman. You have no natural enemies; all fear you.
And never, NEVER let anyone tell you that you cannot appear in dialogue!

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 0% on Sociability
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 89% on Sophistication
Link: The Which Punctuation Mark Are You Test written by Gazda on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Deeply philosophical questions

WARNING: If you don't like to be challenged, you'd better not read this.

I have been philosophizing lately (yes, there is such a word as philosophizing) about the nature of things, including 'god', and these are a few of the questions I have come up with:
  1. With the advent of genetic engineering and advances in science and technology, everything present on earth could in theory be manufactured by humans. Does this mean that humans are equivalent to a 'god' of some kind?

  2. Life is flimsy: Not robust, but easy to corrupt with disease and genetics, and easy to kill. Why would a 'god' make something deemed so important so flimsy?

  3. Most of the infinite expanse of the universe is empty, unordered space, with only small (in comparison with the overall size) areas of more ordered systems. Why would a 'god' waste such resources?

These are sort of rhetorical questions, but if you are in possession of the answers, I'd very much like to hear from you.

I leave you with the riddle of Epicurus (my favourite philosopher):
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

- Epicurus

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"I got the post-traumatic blues..."

Puzzlement and frustration was last week's theme. A package containing a birthday present for my brother got 'lost' (stolen) in the mail. For the [insert large number]th time. NZ Post suck. Couriers suck. If you pay a premium price for a service, you might well logically conclude that some degree of service would take place. But no, not in NZ, where the 'I don't give a tinker's toss' attitude prevails. Wankers.

I also killed my computer on Saturday. Not intentionally, of course, but the experience does remind one that it is really stupid to screw around with things that you don't know anything about, in my case the hidden settings in the BIOS. Although, I'm not 100% sure that it was actually my fault: The machine never resurfaced after flashing some new changes. Refused to boot. Wouldn't do a POST. Didn't even beep on its way out. So I'm coming to you live from a brand new motherboard. (The new motherboard is the next one up in the range from the one I had: It has an extra RAM slot, two more PCI slots, and a newer - and hopefully more incomer-proof - BIOS. And it cost $20 less than the old one. So it's not all bad news.)

Thought for the day:
"Ain't no way to delay that trouble comin' every day"
- Frank Zappa