The ‘ugliness’ of euthanasia

The Coronavirus pandemic has plunged our world into darkness, with daily news of illness, death, and economic destruction. In the midst of seemingly never-ending bad news stories and alarming statistics, it is the stories of hope and sacrifice that shine ever more brightly. The best of what humans are and can achieve seems magnified when juxtaposed against such darkness. The heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, health professionals and so many other staff working tirelessly around the world is a witness to the sanctity of life, the importance of saving lives, and of using our time, skills and resources to care for the weak and vulnerable in our communities.

What this pandemic is also shining a light on is what is less important, when considered in the context of the life and death battle we are currently engaged in. One area of so-called “healthcare” that seems to have been relegated to the “less important” category is the provision of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Authors Kevin Yuill and Theo Boer contend that ‘COVID-19 has revealed the ugliness of euthanasia’. 

The priority being given to these services at a time when medical resources are scarce and medical professionals are needed elsewhere to actually save lives has been severely diminished in some places. 

In the Netherlands and Belgium, some euthanasia services have been suspended due to the Coronavirus. In Ontario, at least 2 places have paused euthanasia services whilst resources are spent elsewhere on saving lives.

As we reported last month, the Euthanasia Expertise Centre has declared that “However harsh: euthanasia care cannot be identified as a top priority in health care.”

Yuill and Boer state as follows:

“This is an extraordinary admission. Those carrying out euthanasia in the Netherlands, where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, and those campaigning to change the law in places like the UK, have long insisted that assisted dying is necessary to alleviate ‘unbearable suffering’. To shut down euthanasia clinics and services because of the danger of infection from COVID-19 means that those who perform euthanasia no longer believe their services are necessary; otherwise many of them would brave the risk and despatch suffering patients.”

Contrast this approach with that of hospices, which have continued to provide their services throughout the course of this pandemic. In places where euthanasia services have been paused or halted, such as the Netherlands and Ontario, hospice services nevertheless continue as normal. In the UK, hospices are busier than ever, and their staff are continuing to work despite the risks to their own health and safety.

What does this noticeably changed approach reveal about the underlying nature of what euthanasia and assisted suicide are really about? The authors suggest the following:

“What the Covid-19 has demonstrated is that the need for euthanasia and assisted suicide is abstract rather than practical. In the Netherlands in the 1980s, assisted dying started out as the ultimate solution to impending horrible deaths. In present times, with a high level of care for the dying available in most countries with good healthcare, assisted dying is not about actual deaths but about deaths that people fear. The reality is that most people die peaceful deaths. But many fear loss of control and find the prospect of others caring for them terrifying.”

Conversely, the pandemic is highlighting just how precious life really is and the way that humans are inherently wired to care, not kill; to save lives, not take them:

“Covid-19 brings the reality of death, the necessity of caring for others and being cared for by others, into our living rooms, making the preciousness of all lives and the tragedy of all deaths real. We see the humanity of the elderly and frail; no longer are they burdens to be despatched from this world, but victims of horrifying disease that all are invested in fighting.”

The authors conclude that once the crisis is over and things return back to normal, it will provide an opportunity for a rethink in our society about life and death:

“In a few month’s time we may return to normal, in which case euthanasia clinics will return to granting people’s wishes to no longer be, to escape this life, or to be in control of their deaths.  Perhaps though, we can remember this time when we made huge sacrifices to preserve every life, no matter how frail and vulnerable. We can remember this time when euthanasia no longer seemed necessary.”