Euthanasia is not about making sick and dying people as pain free and comfortable as possible. That is what is known as palliative care, and that is something which is improving all the time. Euthanasia is about allowing other people – doctors, lawyers, even family members – to determine who should live and who should die.
As Pastor Andrew Lansdown explains, “euthanasia has little to do with refusing futile or extreme treatment. The man who rejects a heart transplant or declines a third bout of chemotherapy is not committing suicide, but rather is accepting the inevitability of his own death. The doctor who withholds or withdraws undue treatment at the request of a terminally ill patient is not killing his patient but rather is refusing to prolong his patient’s life at any cost. Properly understood, euthanasia involves an intentional act to end a person’s life. Opponents of euthanasia do not advocate the unnecessary and unwelcome prolonging of human life by artificial means. Rather, they oppose active measures to bring human life to a premature end.”
The horror stories about extended periods of pain and suffering are misleading. As even a pro-euthanasia doctor in Holland admitted, “essentially all pain can be controlled. . . euthanasia for pain relief is unethical”. Medical advances in the area of palliative care are making pain control more and more successful.
The euthanasia mentality leads to the dehumanisation of man and the desacrilisation of life. The sacredness of human life becomes viewed as mere sentimentalism, and expediency takes priority.
Consider, for example, a report issued last year by EPAC, the Economic Planning and Advisory Council, a government think-tank. The report discussed the rising costs of medical care for the elderly, and rising hospital costs in general, and actually suggested that euthanasia might be an option in dealing with this crisis. There was no mention of suffering or the humane treatment of dying human beings. Instead, cold utilitarian considerations of cost-cutting were given as the reason to consider euthanasia.
That is exactly the problem with opening the door to assisted suicide. More and more reasons will be given for why we should get rid of “useless” and “unproductive” lives. Just as Nazi Germany promoted euthanasia for various classes of people not considered worth keeping alive, leading to the “Final Solution” of the death camps, so too this legislation in Australia will lead to more and more cases of doing away with the unwanted for the flimsiest of reasons.
As Dr David van Gend, a Brisbane medical doctor put it, “Having severed any solidarity with our offspring through abortion on demand, and with our spouse through divorce on demand, [euthanasia] will now cut loose our parents through suicide on demand. It corrodes community, so that when [someone] gets lonely and tired of life, the community comes to him or her not with encouragement and involvement, but with a needle. It corrodes character so that the human ideal of facing life to the end with courage and good humour is abandoned as too distressing; it is easier to tear the chapter called ‘Dying’ out of our story; it is easier just to be made dead than to have died.”
It is the responsibility of governments to protect vulnerable and weak people from abuse. But as more and more of these laws are passed, it will become harder and harder to justify keeping alive various groups of people that society no longer considers useful or worth spending money on.
But a civilised society is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable. As one French biologist put it, “I have the weakness to believe that it is an honour for a society to desire the expensive luxury of sustaining life for its useless, incompetent, and incurably ill members. I would almost measure society’s degree of civilization by the amount of effort and vigilance it imposes on itself out of pure respect for life.”
Moreover, euthanasia undermines our trust in the medical profession. When we sanction euthanasia, the frail, elderly and sick cannot be confident that doctors will treat them rather than terminate them. Suffering and sick people need assurance and comfort, not anxiety and fear as to what their doctors may do with them.
Euthanasia is an option for people who don’t have to face it. Consider an opinion poll in Holland which found 70% support for euthanasia in the general public, but found 90% opposition in the nursing home population.
When we legislate in favour of euthanasia we send out the wrong signal to those who may not ordinarily be inclined to suicide. As one doctor put it, “Patients in Holland, and they are well documented, who do not actually want euthanasia are being talked or pressured into it by families, and I find that concept very difficult.”
As the Pope has said recently, we have become “a culture of death”. Abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are all signs of a culture that has abandoned life and embraced death. This is the exact opposite of the Christian gospel which affirms life and eschews death.
The euthanasia ethic is a further expression of the reigning philosophy of our time, the philosophy of complete autonomy; the supremacy of self-determination over any deeper community considerations. Euthanasia is a simple solution for a selfish society, but it is not an option Christians should consider.