The standard of debate should be high for an issue such as euthanasia, where we are dealing with life and death. However, as with a typical pro-euthanasia piece by Geoff Wall at Online Opinionon Monday and the case for euthanasia in general, the debate doesn’t live up to this. It is a case study in how not to approach policies relating to life and death.
The case for euthanasia always starts, as in Geoff Wall’s article, with a qualification: only a very limited number of people would be able to access it, there would be strict safeguards, etc. It is based entirely on the assumption that euthanasia laws don’t affect society other than people who want to be euthanised. It’s almost as though there is no significance to the fact that we would be abandoning the long held moral taboo that we don’t kill each other.
Having the option of euthanasia would make a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise even contemplate suicide feel pressured to put themselves forward as candidates to be killed. It would change our culture, making the vulnerable of our society feel obliged to end their suffering and burdens on others. Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, a long-time sufferer of a terminal illness and strong opponent of euthanasia, summed it up in an opinion piece in the Age in July last year:
“If euthanasia is lawful then the question about whether our lives are overly burdensome will be in our minds, as well as the minds of those health professionals and those family members on whose support and encouragement we depend.”
“Our doctors would be obliged to suggest death to us because it would be a legal option. The mere existence of the option would affect attitudes to our care, and hence our own willingness to continue.”
Even from a purely individualist perspective, we should reject euthanasia on the grounds that people have a right to die a natural death without any such pressures.
There are indeed many cases, as understandably pointed out in Geoff Wall’s piece, where suffering is extremely severe. This is why there must be a much greater focus on the alternatives to euthanasia: a high standard of palliative care and medical research. The Australian Medical Association, the peak body representing doctors in Australia, remains firmly of this view. They believe the role of doctors is to care as best as they possibly can for suffering patients, not to administer treatment with the sole purpose of ending life.
As with many euthanasia debates, after discussing the more substantive arguments, Geoff Wall goes on to dismiss opposition to euthanasia on the grounds that a) it’s led by the Catholic Church (very original); and b) that opinions polls show most Australians support it (even more original). Even if we accept these as true, they are forms of argumentum ad hominem and argumentum ad populam which, as anyone with any understanding of valid reasoning can tell you, are both logical fallacies.
We should be thankful that, to date, every Australian state parliament has dismissed these frivolous lines of reasoning and rejected euthanasia when obliged to seriously analyse the issue. If we make a greater effort to lift the standard of debate, hopefully the rest of Australia will have the same reaction, and embrace a culture of life.