A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Problem with Euthanasia

by Fr Neil Vaney SM

A seeming paradox

Recent phone polls asking New Zealanders if they favour legalised euthanasia have found about 70% in favour as against 30% opposed. Interestingly, that is almost the exact opposite of the more than 20,000 people who put in personal submissions to the parliamentary sub-committee in 2018. The reason for this seemingly odd result is, I am sure, as follows. Those who made individual submissions were often people who had been personally involved, such as doctors, health workers, disabled, and those who had studied the impact of similar laws in Holland, Belgium and Oregon. On the other hand, many poll respondents had reacted to the dramatic cases of those seeking legal deaths that had been covered by local media, in newspaper and television.

The pull of the heart strings

It is normal and natural to be deeply moved by the sufferings of the terminally ill or profoundly disabled. We resonate with their desire to be free of burdensome and pain-filled days. Visual and print media excel in depicting their sad stories. What these never cover are the creeping effects upon societies where such laws have been in force for some years.

New Zealanders are very pragmatic people. Many would see David Seymour's amended bill as balanced. It will protect against the taking of the lives of the vulnerable, such as the disabled and aged. At the same time, it will allow those facing imminent death or living with severe pain to opt for a self-chosen end to such trials.

An underlying critical shift

What few see is that we are actually preparing to cross a border that has been an ironclad defensive wall standing in Western social philosophy for many centuries. It has long been seen that individual lives are much more than personal possessions. Every human comes out of, benefits from, and contributes to many different communities. Hence laws hedging rights of life and death were seen as sustaining society, though inevitably some individuals would dissent with or disregard such laws. The proposed legislation begins to shift life and death into the category of personal individual rights. Yes, there are safeguards, but a fundamental shift has taken place. Individuals decide whether life is good or not.

The reality

Once the principle is locked in -- that individuals decide whether life is good or not -- I cannot see how a personal decision to end life can be limited to the small group as is now proposed. Given the personal grounds for such a decision, those with permanent disabilities, chronic diseases or long-term psychiatric disorders would have a legitimate cause to claim such a termination for themselves, based on precisely the same line of thought.

That such legal expansion will inevitably happen is evident when one examines what has taken place where similar laws have been in force for some years.

In Oregon, statistics show that assisted suicides have risen nearly eight times and that one in every six persons allowed assisted suicide was suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated depression. In Holland, such terminations now account for one death in every 26 – and the initial conditions were very comprehensive. The proposed legislation in New Zealand may look like compassion for extreme cases. Inevitably, though, such legislation will legitimise death much more widely and indiscriminately.

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