Voluntary euthanasia has been close to my heart for many years and it is now, finally, being discussed more publically. Let me be upfront. If someone can get me Nembutol, so I can have it – if and when I need it – to end my life, I would be very grateful. I’m afraid that when I need it, I won’t – physically – be able to get it. Personally, I’d like to have the choice available. As for what you want to do at the end of your life, that’s up to you. It’s about choice.
Last night’s Q&A (Nov 9) was an excellent – rational – discussion of a variety of views, helped by the absence of politicians. Dr Ranjana Srivastava, an opinion writer for The Guardian Australia, wrote a great piece today (‘Euthanasia isn’t a political wedge issue. Dying patients deserve better.’) and Fiona Stewart had a piece in yesterday’s Age (Nov 9) with similar views. The Victorian Government has an enquiry under way, to which I have made a submission. And various countries (Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) and US states (Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont) have made it legal.
Some facts. First, the issue is about ‘voluntary’ euthanasia, not ‘killing’ or ‘euthanasia’ (animals are ‘euthanised’), though the ‘voluntary’ is often omitted from the discussion, unwittingly or deliberately. Second, although up to 80% of people agree in surveys that voluntary euthanasia should be legal, in places where it is legal only about 2-4% of people use this choice. Third, many people have horrible end of life experiences and die horrible deaths. Fourth, suicide itself is legal, but assisting someone to kill themselves (‘assisted suicide’ supporting ‘voluntary euthanasia’) isn’t.
Arguments Against Voluntary Euthanasia
Religions argue against the practice, believing their ‘God’ will decide for them when they die. Many doctors argue against it, believing that their job is to keep people alive. Doctors are also concerned that carers or beneficiaries may take advantage of aged people who cannot make their own decision (eg dementia). Some palliative care people argue against it, believing that, by offering pain relief, they can allow the person to slip away peacefully. Some people argue against it believing that, as it only relates to a very small number of people, it is a minor issue. But so is gay marriage…
The Overarching Argument For Voluntary Euthanasia: PERSONAL CHOICE
Allowing voluntary euthanasia does not stop any of the arguments against it! They can all be accepted! The main argument for voluntary euthanasia is that it is about personal choice. Allowing it does not harm others. Wherever possible, each person should be able to choose how they want to die, regardless of what other people choose.
If you want to let your God decide for you, that is your choice. If you want to let doctors and the medical profession make decisions for you, that is your choice. If you want to undertake a risky operation with a high chance of death or disablement, that is your choice. If you want to let palliative care people assist you, that is your choice. If you want to starve yourself to death, that is your choice. If you want to commit suicide, that is your choice.
All I am arguing is this: let people decide for themselves. Make information available. Consider social issues as well as medical ones in deciding what choice to make. Ajul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, is really a must-read to understand how the medical system does not currently address patient needs, how optimistic patients are so often given false hope and not warned of the side effects or expected outcomes from medical interventions in end-of-life situations.
In our new, more rational, political climate, let’s hope that voluntary euthanasia can be legalised so that people have another choice about an issue we must all face – we all die.