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Marc My Words

Marc My Words.

No issue is likely to divide and test this nation more than euthanasia. Those with dogmatic religious views will certainly line up on one side along with those who, while sympathetic to the idea, cannot accept its 'slippery slope' implications, nor be comfortable with a state that can legislate the power of life and death over its citizens.

Nevertheless it is a debate we must have because it goes to the heart of the issue of how we value life itself.

The western tradition has, for the most part, advanced a view of the sanctity of life within civil society. Life is sacred and must, at all costs, be upheld and nurtured for the betterment of all. This concept is indivisible with, all things being equal, the value of life and the quality of life which are, in turn inseparable.

The right to choose one's death flies in the face of this. The question posed by the advocates of euthanasia is 'to whom does a person's life belong?'

It can be reasonably argued, I believe, that the claim of proprietorship over one's own life can or should take precedence over the objections of others. In the case of a terminal illness it is the patient who is the only person able to accurately assess the qualitative significance of their own life. A time may come when palliative care becomes insufficient to enable a quality of life that is meaningful to the patient.

From the physician's perspective, there comes a time when the present legal obligation to extend life beyond its worth to the patient comes into conflict with the duty to relieve the patient's unbearable suffering.

Ultimately, the issue is about the control over how and when some of us choose to die, and departure from the inviolability of the sanctity of life ethic.

Very few deaths occur in isolation. Most impact on spouse, children and friends. And while their legitimate concerns must be respected and heard, the ultimate assessment by the terminally ill patient must take priority.

Those who argue that assisted death is 'playing God' have got it quite wrong. It is they who are playing God, (and an uncompassionate God at that), to the extent that they are imposing suffering on an individual who has ceased to derive any meaningful value from their life.

I have recently been accused of departing from objectivity on this issue. But I believe that those adopting that line of argument suggest that ethics will be the first casualty if we place legislation in the hands of those who are in the crucible of suffering.

My response is quite contrary. The ability to choose one's own death when in the maelstrom of unbearable pain, where palliative care ceases to be effective and where death is the only release can never be objective! No person could possibly comprehend the plight of someone for whom life has lost its meaning.

It could be that those who would deny individuals the right to ask for help in terminating their lives because of their physical incapacity, may perversely force ailing individuals to pre-emptively terminate their lives while a quality of life and physical capacity remain. In other words, someone who knows that they will become unable to end their own life may do so while there is still life to be enjoyed.

Make no mistake, the hastening of a loved one to end their life when requested in terminal and painful circumstances, thus depriving oneself of their presence earlier than either nature or medical intervention allows, is an act of love. I can imagine no more difficult a decision.

The Bill should proceed for debate if only to engage public opinion, and then be a matter for a referendum. No matter what each of us believes, the process of pushing the debate into the public arena is necessary to allow for all opinions and beliefs to be considered. Those who have articulated their concern that the euthanasia debate should not advance, do so at the expense of other opinions which, in a democracy, have the legitimate right to be considered. Why do they think they have the high moral ground with only their perspective to be taken into account?

This is too important a topic to be left to the consciences of 120 elected members. It should be a nationwide decision arrived at through the democratic process.

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