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.


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