The newly appointed New South Wales Premier, Dominic Perrottet is being criticised for expediting the process of bringing his out of its extended lockdown. It seems that many in the media think that one hundred plus days is not enough to “flatten-the-curve”. Perrottet though is being neither reckless with people’s health but doing what any responsible leader should.
Meanwhile, Alex Greenwich, the independent Member for Sydney, is currently championing a Euthanasia Bill (i.e. state-sanctioned suicide) in the NSW parliament. To introduce such legislation at the height of a worldwide pandemic in which the elderly are the most at risk, is stunning for its audacity. But such is the moral and political dissonance that we are currently witnessing.
Those who argue for doctor-assisted self-murder do so on the grounds of dignity and compassion. But unlike the response to COVID-19, the reality is anything but the case. In one of the best books on this particular subject, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization, Kevin Yuill states:
Those who advocate allowing assisted suicide do so not out of compassion for the actual dying but out of fear that they might meet the same fate…Self-pity motivates campaigners to call for a change in the law, and not for an increase in compassionate acts by caring individuals – the real meaning of compassion.
Let me outline four ‘compassionate’ reasons, then, as to why the door should remain firmly shut on doctor-assisted suicide.
1 Who Do YouTrust?
The trust between a doctor and their patient is paramount. However, opening the door to euthanasia means that this relationship is fundamentally undermined, especially when people are at their most vulnerable. A profound shift in mindset takes place when a doctor goes from being a person’s ‘healer’ to their ‘executioner.’ As Dr Michael Gannon, President of the Australian Medical Association, has written recently: “Doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life”.
Ethicist Dr Scott Rae tells the story of speaking at a medical conference, and a physician said to him, “If the patient tells me to keep going, but the family member tells me to stop, I am going to stop because the patient is going to die and the family member is still going to be around to sue me.” Rae immediately responded, “I am so glad you’re not my physician, because now I know I couldn’t trust you.”
2 The Vulnerability of Mental Health
Tragically, 2,400 Australians commit suicide annually with 90% of those suffering from a mental illness, usually depression. The rates of depression are, according to Beyond Blue, “Four times higher among people with chronic pain and almost one in three Australian adults with severe pain have higher or very high levels of psychological distress.” Hence, seeing that a person who is suffering from a terminal illness is almost certainly going to be suffering from a mental illness, most likely depression, how can they be considered to be in a “sound mind,” especially in deciding to end their own lives?
3 There’s Nothing Cheaper than Dead
One particular aspect that really needs to be addressed in this whole debate is the insidious influence of greed both at a state level and also at a more personal one. As far as the state is concerned, we face a looming problem as a society with an ageing population and a low natural birth rate. What this means is that at some point in the future the capacity of the state to pay for so many people in care will be exhausted. As many health insurance companies know only too well, there is nothing cheaper than dead.
On a more personal level, there will also be pressure on older Australians to end their lives. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Australians commissioned by Slater and Gordon, 26% of Gen Ys said that they would need to rely on an inheritance to pay off their mortgage. Unfortunately, most of us have seen how quickly relationships can sour when it comes to money. But what does the prospect of potentially receiving a large financial windfall do to the relationship with one’s own mum or dad? In our better moments, absolutely nothing, but in those darker times…well, there’s no limit to what the human heart can conceive, is there?
4 Your life is not your own
At the end of the day (or I should say, “our days”) the life we have been given is a gift, not a right. It is not ours to dispose of in any way we wish. The question then is not so much about dying with ‘dignity’ as it is with being humble enough to receive the love and support of those around us. Or ultimately, acknowledging that there is One who is greater than our ourselves and that we are not in control. As it says in the Bible: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)
Ultimately though, state-sanctioned suicide is a not just a religious issue, but a human one. As the former prime minister, Paul Keating, has previously stated:
The concerns I express are shared by people of any religion or no religion. In public life, it is the principles that matter. They define the norms and values of a society and in this case the principles concern our view of human life itself. It is a mistake for legislators to act on the deeply held emotional concerns of many when that involves crossing a threshold that will affect the entire society in perpetuity.
Unlike Perrottet and Keating—both of whom are Roman Catholic—Alex Greenwich doesn’t understand that life is worth protecting, especially when people are at their most vulnerable. In the light of COVID-19 and the threat to those who are elderly, you’d think that the mainstream media would also recognise that. But common sense isn’t as common as one would hope.
Mark Powell is Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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