Melbourne Uni’s Shakira Hussein hits the proverbial nail on the head with this incisive commentary on the limitations of genuine choice in the pro-euthanasia argument.
…When debating an issue as emotive as euthanasia, we could usefully start by acknowledging that some experiences are near-universal. Only the most fortunate or unfortunate among us will live our entire lives without experiencing physical decline and pain. Many (if not most) of us will also witness the suffering of loved ones towards the ends of their lives. And yet, conversations about euthanasia often commence with a lengthy description of how horrific these experiences can become, as though that was ever in question.
I do not oppose the legalisation of euthanasia because I fail to understand the desire to circumvent pain and dependence. I oppose it because I believe that it is inherently discriminatory for the state to determine that the desire to end life is in some circumstances a psychiatric condition to be combated, but in other circumstances is a rational choice to discontinue a life that is seen as holding less value.
I oppose it because I do not think that euthanasia is an autonomous choice in a society that so stigmatises diseased and disabled bodies, that sees ageing as decline rather than accumulation, that does not provide speedy and universal access to palliative care, that has long waiting lists for access to pain management clinics, that allows patients to slip through the cracks and does not provide them with the resources to exercise informed and autonomous choices about their treatment.
Euthanasia advocates point out that, according to the international experience, patients seeking euthanasia are well-resourced and even privileged. But even if this should remain the case over time (and I have my doubts that it would), their supposedly autonomous choice undermines the capacity of others to choose by reinforcing the belief that an impaired life is not a life worth living.
Pain and disease appear in our lives as body snatchers that invade the vessels once inhabited by the people we love, rendering them unrecognisable as the strong, healthy parents, partners, siblings and friends that we regard as their true selves. And the body snatchers wait in the wings to claim us, too. Every so often, they inhabit my body for a while, and when they depart they take with them a little bit more of my physical strength and energy.
If and when my remitting-relapsing multiple sclerosis becomes progressive, the body snatchers will have moved in for good. The only way to evict these squatters will be to destroy the dwelling. The temptation to apply for the demolition order may well become overwhelming.
But if and when I reach that point (and I think it will be ”when” rather than ”if”), I do not wish the state to make itself an accessory to my suicide.
Despite the emotion and rhetorical flourishes wielded by the pro-euthanasia camp, it is quite clear for the reasons Hussein outlines above, that in its practical implications, euthanasia appears more and more to be a very bad idea.
Shakira Hussein, a McKenzie postdoctoral fellow at Melbourne University’s Asia Institute, will be a speaker in a Wheeler Centre debate on euthanasia at Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday at 6.30pm.
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