The right to life is a central plank of the Canberra Declaration platform. And that of course includes what happens during our dying days. Not only does a caring and compassionate society protect and defend the vulnerable at the very beginning of life, but at the end of life as well.
As with so many of the issues that the Canberra Declaration is involved in, the euthanasia battle is a relatively recent one – at least in terms of government legalisation of it. The first countries in the West to legalise euthanasia were the Netherlands (2002), Belgium (2002), and Luxembourg, (2008). Since then a number of other states and countries have followed suit.
In Australia the first place to legalise it was the Northern Territory in 1995. However, that law was struck down in 1997. But in November of 2017 Victoria passed quite radical legislation permitting euthanasia. A number of other Australian states are looking at doing the same.
While euthanasia is presented as something compassionate, it is anything but. Simply looking at what has already happened in those countries and states where it has been given the green light should cause all of us to want to rethink this lethal trend.
All of these jurisdictions insisted that there would be no slippery slope, that there would be plenty of safeguards in place, and that the vulnerable would be protected. This is patently NOT the case. Consider for example the Netherlands where things have really escalated quite badly since 2002. Now it is not just the elderly who are suffering who can be put down by doctors, but even depressed young people, among others.
To see just how bad things are getting there, a lengthy article in the leftist, and generally pro-euthanasia Guardian newspaper from mid-January 2019 can be mentioned. The headline and opening words are ominous enough: “Death on demand: has euthanasia gone too far? Countries around the world are making it easier to choose the time and manner of your death. But doctors in the world’s euthanasia capital are starting to worry about the consequences.”
The article concludes: “The question for any country contemplating euthanasia legislation is whether the practice must inevitably expand – in which case, as Agnes van der Heide recognises, death will eventually ‘get a different meaning, be appreciated differently’. In the Netherlands many people would argue that – for all the current wobbles – that process is now irreversible.”
The article offers this shocking figure from a recent Dutch study: “Altogether, well over a quarter of all deaths in 2017 in the Netherlands were induced.” Horror stories abound from this country. Here are just a few examples of this:
In 2016, “Holland allowed a 20-something sexual abuse victim to be euthanized last year after doctors convinced her that treatment for her mental disorders was hopeless.” Also in that year, “A doctor in the Netherlands performed euthanasia on a 41 year-old father of two who claimed his alcoholism had made his life unbearable.” And in 2017 “A doctor went through with euthanizing a patient even while the patient fought her, because the doctor didn’t want the patient to get ‘cold feet’.”
One member of the Canberra Declaration team, Bill Muehlenberg, wrote an entire book on this issue in 2016 called The Challenge of Euthanasia. The first half of the volume looks at the social, medical, scientific and moral concerns, and it offers careful documentation of some of the matters referred to above. The book deals with ten major concerns about legalised euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, which can be listed here:
One. The doctor-patient relationship is weakened
Two. The right to die implies a duty to kill
Three. The most vulnerable will be at risk
Four. Legal euthanasia sends out the wrong message
Five. Autonomy, freedom of choice, and self-determination
Six. “Safeguards” and the slippery slope
Seven. Hard cases make for bad law
Eight. Faulty diagnoses and prognoses
Nine. Palliative care
Ten. A faulty understanding of compassion
That book, along with a number of others, makes it clear that we can do much better with those who are suffering than to simply kill the sufferer. The slippery slope inevitably takes place, and so-called safeguards prove to be not worth the paper they are written on.
As ethicist Gilbert Meilaender once put it: “Our task is therefore not to abandon those who suffer but to ‘maximize care’ for them as they live out their own life’s story. We ought ‘always to care, never to kill.’ And it has, in fact, been precisely our deep commitment not to abandon those who suffer that has, in large measure, been a powerful motive force in the development of modern medicine. Our continued task is not to eliminate sufferers but to find better ways of dealing with their suffering.”
Or as another ethicist, Paul Ramsey, wrote: “The conviction that one should always choose life lies at the heart of the practice of medicine and nursing. In that sense, medical ethics must be pro-life.” The Canberra Declaration will continue to work for a culture where the elderly – and everyone else – need never fear that a trip to the doctor or the hospital may be their last trip. We must choose life.