Shakira Hussein: Why I don't support euthanasia (and you shouldn't either)
by Paul Russell
The Victorian Parliament's Committee looking into end-of-life issues is due to table a report into its 10 month investigation at the end of this month. Time will tell whether or not they have given appropriate weight to the many excellent submissions from professionals and professional organisations working in palliative medicine. I have my doubts.
Recent press from Victoria suggests that the report will recommend some form of 'assisted dying', whatever that means.
Melbourne academic and commentator, Shakira Hussein, in a recent article at Crikey.com notes the momentum behind the push for law change including media focus on particular cases and, of course, the podcast series and other media appearances by journalist, Andrew Denton.
Of these interventions, she observes that, 'they received a sympathetic response from many who fulminated about right-wing religious politicians refusing to allow patients to choose the time and manner of their deaths. And it’s an issue that is gaining momentum' adding that it, 'is widely supported by many who would consider themselves to be broadly left-wing and/or feminist. Yet I would argue that this constituency ought to be very wary of the attitudes and assumptions underlying legalised euthanasia.'
Hussein bursts the bubble of euthanasia mythology that would have us believe that opposition is the sole preserve of the right of politics. There are legitimate arguments and reasons for not supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide from across the full spectrum on political thinking; reasoning that is accessible to anyone with a mind to think beyond the sloganeering.
Under the appropriate and thought provoking title: Why I don't support euthanasia (and you shouldn't either) - (tag line: Euthanasia marginalises an already vulnerable group and should not be legalised) Hussein writes at Crikey about how her own developing disability caused her to reflect on euthanasia and assisted suicide:
"I did not give the issue of euthanasia any serious consideration until after my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Like so many others, I considered that opposition to euthanasia was a cause for right-wing social conservatives, not for leftie feminists like me. However, as the disease becomes more active, I began to see the ways in which the campaign to legalise euthanasia devalues the lives of people living with a disability and/or chronic disease."
This is intensely personal. When disability advocates speak of their concerns it is always so. I have argued elsewhere that consideration of the disability perspective we are not considering a 'lowest common factor' situation but, rather, a 'highest common factor' principle. Not because people in marginalised communities such as those living with disability are inconvenient or different but because they are part of our human story; that hearing their voices cannot fail to provide insight and benefit to the whole nation. I’m arguing that listening well to those deeply held ‘world view’ concerns and accepting that to ignore them is to risk damage to society, we raise a benefit. We actively elevate and esteem those that we listen to. We enhance our understanding by applying empathy. We destroy barriers through gaining understanding. We draw closer together.
Dismissing such voices or patronising them does the precise opposite. That is possibly why Hussein reserves scathing criticism of Denton's response to the disability voices in this debate:
"Those who support the legalisation of euthanasia stress that it would be voluntary and that since they would not impose their beliefs about euthanasia upon me, I am not entitled to impose my beliefs upon them. However, this claim is based on an extremely reductive understanding of the context in which such decisions would be made: we are not all equal players in the healthcare market. Euthanasia advocates loudly proclaim their commitment to maintaining their independence, even at the expense of their lives.
"But “independence” of the type under discussion is perhaps better described as privilege. For Andrew Denton, the fear that legalised euthanasia would undermine the welfare of people living with a disability is a cynical red herring. It would be “voluntary”, after all; disabled people need not fear that we would be coerced into taking our lives. However, this reads to me like a wilful misunderstanding of our concerns. I wish with all my heart that the late, great, disability activist and euthanasia opponent Stella Young were still here to give him the good hard kick up the arse that he so royally deserves for his patronising exclusion of disabled voices."
Hussein then extends her concerns to the African-American situation:
"Studies have found that support for euthanasia is significantly lower among African-Americans than among the general population. Some analysts speculate that this is due to higher levels of religiosity, and this may well play a role. But in a society that is still coming to terms with the idea that “Black Lives Matter”, it is not paranoid for African-Americans to be concerned about the implications of medically assisted suicide."
Not paranoid at all. The so-called Compassion and Choices Organisation, the spearhead campaign organisation pushing assisted suicide in the United States, recently launched a 'People of Colour' initiative. From their website:
"Communities of Colour often have the highest rates of illness, yet are least likely to complete advance directives or discuss medical intervention with loved ones. The disparities that exist are the motivating factor for Compassion and Choices' increase and targeted outreach to communities of colour"
'Targeted outreach' has, for mine, a sinister ring to it. I cannot help but read this as an illegitimate use of social justice principles to further the death agenda. The Press Statement seems to bear this out - it's all about the campaigning:
“Our victory in California can be attributed to the support of legislators of color and our diverse volunteer base. Their voices and partnership were critical to our legislative victory,” said Manansala, a seasoned political expert who has worked in the Obama and Clinton administrations. “Nationally, we will continue to move forward with a similar strategy.”
So, if the 'People of Colour' in the USA become no longer a 'road block' to legislative change through objection, there's one less argument to counter in legislative hearings. At the World Federation fo Right to Die Societies biennial conference in Amsterdam earlier in May, I am reliably told that people there recognise now that the most potent force standing in the way of assisted suicide and euthanasia is the disability lobby. This makes sense for reasons already outlined. Not Dead Yet and its affilliates are out there; they get in the face of politicians and the public with messages echoed in Shakira Hussein's observations.
The question for Victoria is whether it is these voices or the dismissive tones of Denton and others that is being heard. Here Hussein cautions: "The Victorian parliamentary inquiry has not had the time or the resources to adequately assess the impact of legalised euthanasia upon the most vulnerable members of Australian society."
She is right. The committee and parliamentarians in general need to get beyond the platitudes and empty assurances and listen to people like Shakira Hussein, like the good people from Lives Worth Living. Listen, learn and then say 'No'.
Shakira Hussein is a writer and researcher, National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, University of Melbourne.