We have nothing positive to gain by legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, but we have so much to lose.
That’s the message from John Watkins, former NSW deputy premier, and now chair of Little Company of Mary Health Care.
First, he notes the intentionally misleading jargon used by the pro-euthanasia lobby, words that hide the lurking dangers of legalising assisted suicide:
High-profile advocates for change have deemed it a campaign to achieve "dying with dignity". In politics everyone loves a catchy slogan and the advocates for change have got a beauty. How could anyone oppose dignity in death? Of course what we should be asking is what the slogan means and how will it be put into practice. Simplifying complex, multilayered and important matters to three-word slogans has not served us well in recent years.
In any case, you wonder at calls for dying with dignity when there are so many Australians who find living with dignity impossible. Perhaps a greater challenge is to do more to help people live free from the anxiety, poverty and loneliness that characterises too many Australians as they age.
Watkins poses a crucial question: how can we tackle “dying with dignity” when our society can’t even provide “living with dignity” for all citizens?
Medical professionals, the aging, health care professionals, and those with disabilities are but a few of the groups immediately impacted by the very suggestion of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide:
Until now a medical practitioner's essential duty has been to protect life and do no harm. That will change if the law is reformed. The concerns voiced by doctors' groups representing those who will be called upon to administer the regime are legitimate. It would inevitably drive divisions in the profession. It also raises the practical question of where the act of assisted suicide would happen? If in public hospitals or nursing homes it is valid to ask what impact it will have on the culture of care and respect that we have always demanded should characterise these places.
Others who work in our aged care sector legitimately worry about those who are lonely and depressed and who may take the momentous decision to seek an assisted death out of their heartache or loneliness or because they feel a burden to their carers or children. There are too many examples of elder abuse and inheritance impatience before our guardianship tribunals to comfortably ignore this risk.
For those with long-term illnesses or disabilities, there is a sickening fear of what such legislation would do to their lives. Already, we see expansions of assisted suicide in euthanasia in other countries expanding to dementia, cancer, even minor disabilities. For these groups, legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia legalises society to say to them “better for you to die than live the way you are”. This is horrific. This is blatantly wrong. Yet, this is the legislation being considered.
No safeguards can be guaranteed to work. There is no way to ensure that doctors, healthcare professionals, truly anybody will respect and follow the “rules” to protect the most vulnerable groups. As Watkins emphasises, legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide won’t give us a “new dignity to death” – it will destroy our value of human life:
For some the ultimate right of the individual is to control when and how that happens. But many don't want the right to choose when life ends. Generations of humanity have felt this way and most societies and legal systems have recognised this position. All this may be about to change in Australia. If it does, the reformers will be jubilant but there will be many others who will feel that something precious about the dignity of human life has been lost in the cause of reform.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia do not better a society – they destroy it from within. Suicides need to continue to be recognised for the tragedies they are, and have measure taken to prevent them, NOT enable them. Euthanasia is an unthinkable way to abandon the lives of citizens to the whim of whoever is given the power to end another’s life. It is unthinkable, and must remain so.
Australians deserve to have their lives continue to be valued - NOT deemed expendable. We don’t need nor want assisted suicide or euthanasia anywhere in our country. Australians deserve better. Our country has no need for euthanasia and assisted suicide.