CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Death Party Springs Into Action

Sep 30, 2010

It appears that the party of death never sleeps. Already the Greens have introduced their pro-death bill into Federal Parliament. Bob Brown argued that most Australians support voluntary euthanasia. But I suspect most Australians in fact may not have a clear understanding of just what the euthanasia agenda is all about.

They are certainly not getting the full story from the pro-death lobby. There are many misconceptions and myths out there that need to be dispelled. One is that this will in fact be entirely voluntary, with no pressure or coercion. But this is just wishful thinking.

The truth is, the right to die implies a duty to kill. Let me explain. We live in a rights-mad culture. Everyone is demanding a right for this or that. But there are no rights without corresponding duties. An officially sanctioned right must be backed up by the legally enforced means to ensure those rights can be carried out. Thus if society goes down the path of legalised euthanasia, this right to die will lead to its necessary corollary, the duty to kill.

Indeed, once a society has said that its citizens have the right to die, it will be forced to provide the means to do so. If a state says there is a legal right to die, logically, anyone can bring suit to ensure that governments comply. Just as today society tells us a woman has a right to abort her own child, so it provides, via Medicare and tax-payer funding, the means to carry out this activity.

In fact, once legalised, it is possible that doctors may one day face lawsuits if they violate someone’s rights by not killing them. As commentator John Leo puts it, “Imagine doctors purchasing malpractice insurance that covers ‘denial of death’ suits. That day may not be far away.”

And as ethicist Leon Kass reminds us, the “vast majority of candidates who merit mercy killing cannot request it for themselves.” But we can count on the fact that the “lawyers and the doctors (and the cost-containers) will soon rectify this injustice. . . . Why, it will be argued, should the comatose or the demented be denied the right to such a ‘dignified death’ or such a ‘treatment’ just because they cannot claim it for themselves?”

For all the talk about choice, about freedom to choose, about giving people options, the legal and social legitimisation for assisted suicide will effectively eliminate one option, namely, staying alive without having to justify one’s existence. With legalised euthanasia, the burden will be upon people to justify being alive – we will have to prove that we ought to be allowed to live.

Lest that sound too far out, consider the words spoken in 1984 by the then Colorado Governor Richard Lamm who said, “Elderly people who are terminally ill have a duty to die and get out of the way.” Or recall the comments made here by the then Australian Governor-General Bill Hayden who, thinking of his own advancement in years, spoke of “unproductive burdens” which we need to be “disencumbered” of via euthanasia.

But as Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) has noted, why is Bill Hayden as a senile, incoherent old man in a wheel chair (one day) any less of value and worth than Bill Hayden was as Governor-General? A society that allows such distinctions is one that has “simply forsaken the very principle of civilisation and crossed the threshold of barbarity”.

Moreover, would Hayden set up a test whereby we determine who is an unproductive burden? Will people be forced to give written evidence as to why they should be allowed to remain alive? After all, in a world of scarcity, such proposals are not all that far off. Indeed, some people are calling for such measures already.

Some people, concerned by what they see as a crisis in over-population, have called for a drastic reduction in population levels. Consider some existing proposals: one Australian Museum palaeontologist told a Canberra Parliamentary audience in March 1995 that Australia should aim for a population target of fewer than 10 million by the end of the century. What will become of the other 8 million Australians is anybody’s guess.

In 1995 a Gosford councillor told an inquiry into population control that people who choose to have three children should be compulsorily sterilised and forced to pay the government $200 per fortnight. He also said that couples who choose to have no children should be given a “community service award” of $50,000 and $200 a fortnight until they are age forty-five.

In 1992 the then Leader of the Democrats, John Coulter, told a Sydney audience that no Australian family should have more than two children. All these respected leaders in Australia have come up with fairly draconian measures to cut back population growth. It does not take much imagination to see that euthanasia will be enlisted to support such population-reduction goals.

Again, this is not farfetched. In January of 1994 the Economic Planning Advisory Commission (EPAC) discussed the rising costs of health care for the elderly. In its publication EPAC actually looked at the issue of euthanasia as one option in the whole discussion. There was no talk about alleviating suffering or being compassionate – the whole proposal centred on cost-cutting measures.

Indeed, it is estimated that around half of all health care dollars are spent on people in their last six months of life. Thus cost considerations are increasingly becoming a major part of the decision making process. In a recent case of a brain dead man on life support, a Monash University medical ethicist said that there would be a high cost involved in maintaining the man, so the economic factor would have to be considered in deciding his fate.

Wesley Smith drives this point home: “If assisted suicide were ever permitted to become a legitimate and legal part of medical practice, in the end it would be less about ‘choice’ than about profits in the health care system and cutting the costs of health care to government and families. The drugs for assisted suicide only cost about $35 to $40, while it might cost $35,000 to $40,000 (or more) to treat the patient properly. The math is compelling, and contains a warning we dare not ignore.”

In a culture where worth and value tends to be measured by the bottom line, the call for legalised euthanasia will likely also be assessed in those terms. Financial considerations will tend to trump other concerns, including the right to life. All the more reason to never allow euthanasia to be legalised.

www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/euthanasia-bill-introduced-to-parliament/story-e6frf7kf-1225931934638

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11 Responses to The Death Party Springs Into Action

  • Yes Bill, sad but oh so true,

    I would just like to say thank you once again, for keeping me informed. Well not just me, but the fact is, i would not have the time or the know-how. You must compile huge amounts of data, all the time sifting out the rubbish, so we can read the real news stories.

    And Bill, far-fetched? I would say reality.

    Daniel Kempton, Perth

  • Hi Bill,

    If the economic side of things is considered significant, then the solution would seem to lie in reviewing how health care monies are spent, not in legalising euthanasia.

    Part of this would involve modifying our attitudes towards aging, disease and dying.

    Some questions that might be asked are:
    – Should the state fund expensive chemotherapy for cancer patients, if it will only achieve 1 or 2 extra months of life?
    – Should nursing home residents continue to be treated (involuntarily, as is usually the case) with state funded medicines which do not improve their length or quality of life? eg. cholesterol and blood pressure lowering drugs
    – Should obese smokers receive government funded medication for heart and lung disease if they are making no effort to modify their lifestyles? Should smokers receive government funded surgery for lung cancer?

    These questions are not politically correct, but they need to be asked. And perhaps a more fundamental question that ought to be asked is: should there be so much publicly funded health care in the first place? If people had to take more responsibility for their own health care rather than relying entirely on the public purse, would such economic considerations be as pressing as they are?

    Jereth Kok

  • Hi Jereth,

    You ask: should there be so much publicly funded health care in the first place? Good question.

    The Biblical answer is a resounding no. It is telling that the only publicly funded health care God mandated for Israel seems to be to control the spread of communicable diseases (e.g. the leprousy laws). This makes perfect sense as these services obviously have a public benefit whereas most other health services just benefit the individual. Clearly God means other health care services to be procured privately. Christians who think general health care is the preserve of civil government must explain why they seem to think they know how to run a state better than God.

    If only Christians would realise that it is the Bible that contains the answers to what civil government is for, how it is to be run and the limits of its authority rather than trusting in their own ideas and ideologies.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thank you for a good article hitting the nail right on the head. I had not thought of the point raised by John Leo but it sounds right.

    There is an interesting book by Michael Burleigh on euthanasia in Germany to the end of the Nazi era. Some might feel that what happened in Germany might not be relevant now but the facts show otherwise. Advocacy of voluntary euthanasia slid into the practice of involuntary euthanasia and captured records clearly show cost-cutting for the State being a motive in the killing of “unfit” asylum inmates. The notion of “unfit” was also quite elastic as it will be in our Western civilisation imbued with moral relativism and subjectivism. Never lose sight of the fact that we have a fractious Western culture whose secular intellectuals advocate anything from selfishness, hedonism, emotivism to impracticable ultliatarianism as magical touchstones for the interpretation of the moral good. To licence euthanasia in such a melee of dubious ideas would be like issuing gun licences to the inmates of an asylum.

    The history of abortion might also be a guide for what will happen to the euthanasia idea if it is accepted and institutionalised. The abortion idea was originally pushed as voluntary and a right. Now in one “progressive” country it can be involuntary and a duty to the State. Also those who oppose abortion on grounds of conscience are not having their right of dissent respected.

    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    Yes Burleigh’s volume (Death and Deliverance: ‘Euthanasia’ in Germany 1900-1945. Cambridge University Press, 1994) is very important indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks again for getting to the basics – the clamour for rights. I believe that we Christians need to keep raising the fact that calling for our rights is generally selfishly done. It is closely intertwined by and needs clearly to be stated that rights are basic to our freedoms (related to alienable rights). We only exercise our freedoms when there is no coercion. In the case of right to die, to abortion etc we only have these freedoms when we alone are exercising it without coercion of any kind. As you put it, doctors should be just as free to refuse to ‘kill’ (assist in suicide or abortion).
    Brian Tideman

  • Briefly, rights and freedom are only so when there is absolutely no coercion. For example, doctors must not be placed in a position where they are no longer free to choose NOT to assist in suicide and abortion. These issues seem to have taken on massive proportions all because of the desire of so many to appeal to law to gain their (selfish) rights. We must surely be continually pointing out what true freedom is all about.
    Brian Tideman

  • Not in the least far-fetched!! Unless we resist the secular humanist agenda by every righteous means, our grandchildren will live the Orwellian nightmare. Apathy nowadays is inexcusable.
    Anna Cook

  • Exactly right Anna.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I am with you in finding it abhorrent that doctors are expected to kill people either before birth or when they are elderly.
    I don’t want a side argument but feel I must. We may sometimes take medical care to extremes. Refusing to take extreme measures to prolong life is not the same as euthanasia. However I don’t think cutting out all subsidized health care could be based on the Bible. My first thought was of Jesus ministry. My second was to see in Deuteronomy 11:18 (of God) He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow giving him food and clothing.
    Christians have been the instigators of much health care for the under privileged.
    The problem in this day and age is how to stay away from playing god in either extreme measures to keep a person technically alive or the opposite extreme of killing people off because we think their life is worthless.

    Katherine Fishley

  • Reading this reminded me of this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
    “You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you cant justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it cant be of very much use to yourself.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WBRjU9P5eo&feature=related

    Scary stuff indeed if we do not stand up to these people and reflect God and his love to them.

    Paul Wakeford

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